The business of weddings, as I’ve watched it evolve over the last 20 years, has become one of the more disgusting examples of runaway capitalism and usury.
The “your special day” idea has always been there. We breed our women well when it comes to that and indoctrinate them into the belief that the end-all, be-all is their wedding day. It’s almost an anachronistic way to bring up a kid but, when you step back and look at our modern society, it’s a little shocking to realize that we freed our slaves long before we freed our women. Even then, we’ve come to accept integration with those former slaves whereas women are still very subtly second class. More so than the children of slaves in terms of both wages and, for many, social standing.
So it’s no wonder, as the big, old networks gave way to a thousand cable channels, that a subset of wedding-related reality shows began to infiltrate our minds. And, as the cameras turned on the bridezillas of the world, the business of orchestrating that special day ballooned.
Take photographers. In the early 90’s, a wedding photographer was a humble beast. Someone who was doing the job on the side, and charging maybe a grand for the event. Some charged less. Some went way up there into the higher thousands.
Today, it’s no cause for alarm when a wedding photographer charges closer to $10,000. The photographer I see the most – a high profile fuck headquartered in Bethesda – starts at $14,000 per wedding. That’s more than the venue. Much more.
This for four hours of work wandering around the floor and getting in your way.
They say it’s hard to put everything together…but I watch them. That $14,000 guy? He and his team spend most of their four hours at the event sitting back in my office/green room getting a jump start on their duties. Dump the pictures from the camera into the laptop and work feverishly to get everything organized. Then proudly tell me they’ve wrapped up their side of things. The goal: Don’t work more than that four hours.
The “special day” syndrome allows those assholes to earn $3,500 an hour.
Now they’re the extreme. There are higher quality photographers out there who charge much less. They might be earning something like $500 an hour.
And, yes, taking good pictures and not making your guests want to start throwing punches is an art form. I’m not saying anybody can do it. Wedding photography done right is a highly specialized service. Which is why they can charge such ghastly prices. Which is, technically, extortion, right?
Call it a money-grab. The now almost neurotically obsessive desire to have that special day will drive people to spend extraordinary amounts of money. The trick to reinforcing the syndrome is to make the services seem exclusive. As if you – and only you – are getting married. This is a rare event. Two great rulers from two magical kingdoms coming together. Come with me to the show room.
I hate to draw the comparison, but there’s a funereal sense to the whole thing. The funeral director in his fine suit taking you into the shining room of coffins, all displayed and beautifully lit. The back room. The finest on display. Everything better presented and cleaner than the electronics section of a department store. Look at this one…look at the grain…guaranteed to last forever.
Florists, famously, will do this. Come to the showroom. See what we do. These white lilies are for common people. They’re only $50. But these identical white lilies are for beautiful brides such as yourself. They’re $300.
Florists sort of pushed the envelope. Even bridal magazines and wedding reality shows – the cause and supporters of extreme special day syndrome – have taken the stance where you should lie to the florist. We need corsages…for…a dinner party.
Of course, that’s just for you cheapskates who skip the whole ritual of floral decorations. There’s no way to lie to a real florist providing you with a service that goes beyond your stupid ideas for centerpieces and your absurd homemade bouquet. If you want the full show presented in a way that matches the venue and your setup, then you’re stuck with someone coming in and working themselves to the bone at the start and at the end of the event. Now, with florists, you can get some true artists. You can always tell the right ones because they act like true artists – asocial lunatics, lovingly packing away the centerpieces at 1am as the caterers hurry them along in angry Spanish.
Again, the service will cost you an arm and a leg, though florists haven’t yet managed to pull off the insane prices of photographers. The problem with special day syndrome is that it tends to focus your thoughts on the remains of that day and not the day itself. How many brides have stood up there at this great moment, saying their vows, while their heads reel about whether or not the video will turn out?
In my small, hidden corner of the green room, I get to eavesdrop on each new couple as they take a break between ceremony and reception. A quiet moment under the air conditioner, champagne in hand. I’ve supervised over 1400 weddings and what’s the most common conversation that I hear? Discussing the photos, the video, the set-up, the reactions of the guests, the officiant’s manner, the music. The spectacle.
Is it competition? Is it showing off? I don’t see how spending tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding is showing off. It’s more…pathetic. Laughable.
At my wedding, when we go to the green room and think we’re alone, I’m not going to talk about the fucking ceremony. I’m going to hike up that bridal dress and ravage that little tart. Do we really care about what the guests think? No! The fucking freeloaders are swilling the fucking free booze and eating the fucking expensive crab tarts right now. They’re not even talking about us. Half of them probably don’t even realize we’re not there. Now bend over the table and get your ass in the air!
Of course, that’s easier said than done because bride and groom are each wearing stunningly expensive one-use-only outfits that are as uncomfortable as they are impractical. Getting that dress up and that ass in the air is a project, and any lovemaking will be cancelled out by the blisters on her heels and the pins in her hair and the four hours of expertly applied makeup, and the fact that she hasn’t drawn a comfortable breath in half a day.
I hate to draw another inappropriate parallel, but it’s roughly akin to crucifixion, isn’t it? It’s not the actual act of being crucified that gets you…it’s suffocating after you’re too tired to lift yourself up.
I don’t even want to talk about the business of outfitting yourself for a wedding. I’ve seen bridal dresses that are more expensive than the entire wedding itself – and the average cost of those 1400-and-counting weddings I’ve supervised comes to around $40,000.
Here’s an interesting view through the rear window… A few years ago, a Major Bridal Magazine decided to run an issue saying that winter weddings were the in thing to do. The month before they ran the issue, they let all the important people know – including our venue – that this was the cover story. Typically, winter rates are cheaper because, really, winter weddings suck. You’re stuck inside overheated venues, caterers are wall-to-wall holiday parties and quietly hating you, and the weather’s unreliable. That year… Every savvy venue and vendor broke out the summer prices.
The magazine touted the benefits of a winter wedding – amusingly noting that it was cheaper, even though they tipped off every venue and vendor on their mailing list. They discussed winter-themed floral arrangements. (We all associate winter with flowers, right?) They featured bridal gowns covered in fur, and models looking like they were off to some Prussian wedding in 1790.
Every winter, I look forward to a few months off. Our season typically grinds to a halt in October, and, normally, the venue is empty until March, except for the occasional holiday party. The season that magazine came out, the bookings went through the roof. Within a day of it hitting the stands, bookings were coming in left and right. December, January, and February saw our venue with about 70 events booked. We could have done more, but we were bowled over. It’s tough getting staff motivated during the off season.
Each event followed the absurd winter theme, and each dress was a fur-covered monstrosity. The worst offender was a bride clad head to toe in white fur. Real fur, mind you. The wedding planner told me proudly that the dress had cost $100,000.
I should take a moment here and tell you that I’m not talking about rich people. These people I see every weekend aren’t rock stars, or politicians, or dot.com billionaires. These are normal suburbanites. Most of them are living well, of course. They’re all from the privileged classes. But they’re not so high up that they don’t feel the bite of the money leaving their pockets.
It really is a syndrome. And everybody is taking advantage of it. Paying top dollar for venue and catering makes sense, but paying the same prices for the vendors does not. Florists, make up, wedding planners, photographers, and a fucking DJ who earns $1000 to plug in their iPod are all riding a gravy train that’s constantly enforced by the media.
I believe it’s an economic bubble. That, eventually, we’ll get tired of the wedding-reality shows, the wedding comedy blockbusters, and Jim and Pam eloping then going through with the traditional service for the sake of their friends. That, eventually, the wedding magazines will self-destruct in this era where print is fading into pixels, and, finally, women will evolve out of what’s been the sexist equivalent of Jim Crow and make a stand.