Sunday, February 08, 2009

So different, yet so the same

This engagement announcement at Jezebel reads like either an apology for being conventional (the writer specifies that she and her fiancé were together for nine years prior, so it looks like there was some resistance, on someone's part at least, to convention along the way, that is, unless they were together since middle school in which case, carry on) or, in a harsher reading, like an announcement that, contrary to appearances, the author is Different ("I have never, in my life, dreamed about my wedding day") or, in a still more unflattering light, like bitterness at having a fiancé who took nine years to propose, and who, when he did, did so with a lollipop ring (because after all, there's a tasteful-jewelry middle-ground between candy and whatever's flashiest at Zales).

So, a belated disclaimer: I don't know the woman who wrote the post, but since it's up there, I'm looking at it as a piece of published writing at a high-traffic blog, intended to make a point, not as a diary entry accidentally left on the Internet. I know nothing of her life with her man, or, for that matter, whether or not she and her situation are entirely fictionalized, 'she' being a 'he', the entire scenario a figment of some elderly man or teenage boy's imagination.

OK, back to the post. I completely agree that the media demands that all women dream of weddings, the endless wedding movies, and so on, are out of control. And I couldn't agree more that the person matters more than the trappings. But the author lost me when, after a prolonged 'no offense' to those having more traditional weddings, she adds, "but for fuck's sake, universe, some of us just don't feel like picking out table settings or touring country clubs or meeting with florists." Obscenities denoting, of course, a woman who shuns convention. Does the universe care whether this woman has a big wedding, a city-hall on-the-go one, or none at all?

So, the question: is there a way to criticize convention that does not involve claiming (implicitly or explicitly) to be the great exception to the herd of sheep that is humanity? One option is to fault followers while admitting to one's own unoriginal tendencies (says she who combined an Uggs-North Face take-down with a Patagonia-laundry-day confession.) But even that comes across as pointless, as in, if you're guilty of the behavior you object to, you're not really making a point.


Anonymous said...

Well, this is like the question of whether it is possible to convey boredom in a novel without putting the reader to sleep. The answer is yes.

Paul Gowder said...

One option is to fault followers while admitting to one's own unoriginal tendencies [...] But even that comes across as pointless, as in, if you're guilty of the behavior you object to, you're not really making a point.

Sure you are. And you're also recognizing your own imperfection. I do this all the time: criticize people for doing something bad while acknowledging that I, too, sometimes do that bad thing and need improving.

Phoebe said...

OK, you're making *a* point, but a different one. Admitting to the offending behavior tends to come across as a way of saying, 'but the behavior's not that bad, after all', basically of laughing it off, ala David Brooks writing on/as today's educated upper-middle class.

Dana said...

I am growing increasingly disenchanted with the "confessional" posts at Jezebel, which seem to be exercises in self-justification with the slapped-anti-lipstick of feminism on top. I like that column by Rebecca Traister on Jezebel's "gross-out" tactics.

I will myself confess that I delight in being a part of other people's big fancy weddings, while dreaming of a backyard garden ceremony + buffet/bbq of my own, or city hall. Oh, how I fantasize about the bbq ribs.

Phoebe said...

"exercises in self-justification", precisely.

Now I'm thinking about steak. Not for a wedding, just for, you know, dinner. Mmm!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's hard at all. You just portray it as a collective action problem in which the participants -- due to circumstances beyond their control -- end up doing things that do not maximize their preferences.

So, in the case of weddings you say: I don't think I'm that unique, a lot of my friends feel the same way, but because of pressure from friends, family, the wedding industry, etc., I ended up having a bigger/fancier wedding than I really wanted to have.