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David Bouchier: Here Come the Brides


Spring flowers,soft-focus TV commercials, special advertising supplements, and white stretch limousines making wide turns into the catering halls: it all adds up to wedding season. In spite of the enormous social changes of the past fifty years, this one historic ritual still survives.

Weddings have always been important to families and communities, for good reasons. They are both sacred and social events.  At a traditional country wedding in southern Europe the whole village turns out for the celebration. They don’t have to be invited. Their job is to bear witness that this thing is legal and not to put too fine a point on it, that this family is legitimate. We, of course, are way beyond such old fashioned considerations. Now the main point is to put on a good show.

"All the world's a stage," said Shakespeare," and all the men and women merely players. " How true it is. In everyday life we mostly play versions of ourselves, an act we've practiced since childhood. But a big wedding is a true theatrical performance, with a cast consisting entirely of amateurs who have to make up many of their own lines as they go along. Anyone who has been involved with amateur dramatic productions knows just how difficult this can be.

The gigantic wedding industry is dedicated to keeping the show on the road, and the production costs a lot of money. Many people do still get married, in spite of rumors to the contrary. There are two and a half million weddings a year, and the average cost is $29,000, adding up to a $72 billion boost to the sluggish economy. There are several glossy magazines especially for brides, some of them as big as telephone directories, although they must surely have a rather transitory readership. But a wedding is the ultimate shopping opportunity. The bridal magazines are stuffed with advertisements for honeymoon fantasies, romantic mattresses, transcendent flatware and crystal, plus more down to earth promotions for the credit cards that make it all possible. 

But it's the stage set, the flimsy scenery that gives the show away. The essential backdrop never varies: a lawn, a bridge, a fountain, a pond or water view, an arbor or gazebo, some white columns. These items, even when placed right beside a busy highway, are supposed to provide the right romantic atmosphere, and the backdrop for the inevitable photographs, selfies, and videos. 

There is some research evidence that smaller, cheaper weddings lead to longer, happier marriages. But couples still want a big wedding, at least the first time, for all the usual reasons: to please their mothers, to impress their friends, to support the catering, photography and flower industries, and most of all to have this one special day to remember. The traditional wedding is the closest most of us ever come to being the stars of our own show.  It must be perfect. It must be rehearsed, as few other things in life ever are, and it must be recorded and edited until it is exactly the way we would like to remember it. If the subsequent marriage is perfect too, that’s a bonus.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.
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