Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bliss Incorporated: One Perfect Day

Though Mr. Library Diva isn't a big reader, he usually enjoys hearing about whatever I'm reading. During the course of reading "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding" by Rebecca Mead, though, he didn't seem to want to hear about it. I found out why a week later: he asked me to marry him, and admitted that anything wedding-related had been making him really nervous!

So, since I will soon be in the throes of wedding planning myself, I was glad to have read this book, depressing as it is. I had the feeling it would be, just didn't realize how depressing. Its central thesis is that as the symbolism of a wedding has eroded, the weddings themselves have gotten bigger and bigger and more out of control. I guess Mr. Library Diva and I are the perfect example of how its symbolism has eroded. We're both in our 30s and have been out of our parents' homes for a while (no transition to adulthood here). We've lived together for four years, so our lives together have already begun in a very real sense. And without being too graphic, let's just say that if asked what my main concerns about marriage were, I wouldn't answer "adjusting sexually," which was the top concern cited by brides-to-be in the 1940s.

So it is kind of a depressing book, but it's a fascinating book, too. Mead runs down trends in weddings and dissects the (often surprisingly recent) origins of things we believe to be "tradition". For example, it was likely that your great-grandmother didn't receive a diamond from your great-grandpa, unless he was a cutting edge kind of guy. That concept was introduced in the 1920s. The unity candles started to be seen in the 1970s. The popular "Apache wedding prayer" is actually from a 1950s Western film.

She also takes a look at how things are sold. We see the cynical, unflattering portrait of brides-to-be and their parents painted by the wedding industry: easily manipulated saps who will buy anything with minimal convincing that it's essential to make the day more special. Videographers quote one client who said that she feels watching her wedding video will help her marriage in the future, should she and her husband hit rough waters. Wedding planner trainers encourage the planners they're teaching to offer free "plan your own wedding" seminars to scare brides with how much work it is to get everything right. One wedding expert compared a bride to a "drunken sailor: everyone's trying to get at her."

She travels all over in the course of the book: to a wedding dress factory in China, to Las Vegas, to Sandals resort, to a small church in Kentucky or Tennessee that is trying to market itself as a wedding destination, through the merchants participating in Bride Magazine's Wedding March on Madison, to conferences of videographers and wedding professional associations, to a seminar for young women who want to be wedding planners. She meets a woman who planned her friend's wedding on a $200 budget. She talks with a wedding minister who has an arsenal of several hundred services, whether you want Orthodox Jew or Wiccan. She interviews the man behind David's Bridals, and a woman who is a giant in the wedding industry and has her own line of champagne flutes, ringbearer pillows, and the like.

I'd definitely say this book is a must-read for anyone who's starting the wedding planning process. She writes all of this in an engaging way, and allows the reader to draw many of their own conclusions without totally failing at providing analysis.

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