Why We're Fascinated by Reality TV Brides, TV Weddings and Badly-Behaving Bridezillas
Monday, December 15, 2008; 11:00 AM
Reality TV shows about brides "satisfy a weird collective longing for the kind of social stratification that America was never supposed to be about," says writer Carina Chocano. Chocano was online Monday, Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. to take your questions about why wedding shows are suddenly so popular and what that signifies about our fantasies and aspirations.
A transcript follows.
Carina Chocano is a former film critic for the Los Angeles Times and a former columnist for Salon.com.
Carina Chocano: Hi everybody, thanks for your questions.
Bethesda, Md.: Why did you decide to write this story? Do you actually watch any of these shows? Like any of them?
Carina Chocano: Hi, I checked out the show ("My Fair Wedding") when I noticed it on the new fall schedule. I was intrigued by the title. I haven't been watching them regularly lately, but for a while there, shortly before I got married two years ago, I became addicted. I think they exert a strange fascination!
Falls Church, Va.: What's your opinion of the Wedding Industrial Complex, as we tend to call it around here? Seems like these shows just exist to foster and promote it. What I don't understand is why women agree to allow themselves to be shown in such unflattering light.
Carina Chocano: I agree 100%. I think that without magazines and shows like these, the idea of what a normal wedding -- and a normal wedding budget -- is would be completely different. Rebecca Mead talks about the "wedding media" and its part in building up the industry in her book, "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding." It's pretty interesting.
?!: These shows sound so materialistic and depressing. Does anyone bother to follow up on these couples to see if they stay married? It's about the marriage, people, not the wedding! The wedding lasts a day. You're still going to wake up next to that person for a while. Better spend your engagement thinking about if it's the RIGHT person, not about if you've chosen the right table settings for your reception.
Carina Chocano: I don't know that anyone has followed up, but it would make for a good study, wouldn't it? But I agree with you. One thing that seems like a constant in these shows, from the relatively tasteful, benign ones to the really mean-spirited, exploitative ones, is the importance that's placed on the day and, specifically, the bride. You hear that phrase, "It's my day," over and over again, but I don't remember hearing "it's our day," like, ever! It's pretty ironic. The other funny thing about it is that some shows ("Bridezillas" comes to mind) don't just seem to focus and thrive on tension, they seem to promote it. That can't be great for the relationship...
Alexandria, Va.: Carina, why do you think women (and men for that matter), agree to be on these shows? Is it just for the money? I mean, sure, the may be able to upgrade the favors and the dress if the production company is paying, but don't they realize that they are turning something sacred into a three-ring circus? It boggles my mind.
Carina Chocano: It is amazing -- although, at this point, it's amazing that it's still amazing, right? I think that the past eight years, roughly since "Survivor" began, has been all about people wanting to turn their lives into TV. On some level, some people may do it for the money. But then, obviously, the filming must completely transform the experience. What I think is interesting is that our default setting has been to think that turning your wedding into a spectacle would be a negative experience. But maybe that default setting has shifted somehow, so that now there are more and more people who think of it as a good thing. It certainly seems that many of the brides featured on the shows play up their bad behavior for the benefit of the camera, don't you think? It's less captured than acted.
Sterling, Va.: Do you think the recession will curb this trend at all? Or will even more of these shows pop up as some sort of escapism? Seems like only the very brave would plan a big blow-out wedding in this economy.
Carina Chocano: It's true. A friend of mine made the comment last night that that the economic meltdown will have a bigger impact on our lives more than 9/11 did, because it will forcibly change the way that people live. It sounds dumb now, but I think the out-of-control celebrity obsession of the past decade contributed to American over-spending by creating an artificial standard to which normal people were suddenly held (or believed they were held.) Expensive weddings were an expression of that. I think the cultural pendulum could swing dramatically. It already seems to be doing that a little bit. What do you think?
Washington, D.C.: I remember when this type of show got going, when TLC started "A Wedding Story." I was in college and the girls on my dorm floor loved to gather around and watch it if we didn't have to be in class. It was 22 minutes of complication-free, everyone's-happy TV. Now the number and variety of shows is ridiculous; if I was a guy and my fiancee wanted to be a on a wedding reality show I'd be concerned. Especially "Bridezillas."
Carina Chocano: So would I!
Olney, Md.: My daughter is getting married to a very special young man from a wonderful family. She and her attendants are wearing Priscilla of Boston, and the reception will be at the Ritz Carlton. My husband and I are paying for it. We are all extremely excited about everything and having a great time with the planning, including the shopping trips, the tasting, everything. I have no idea what this "Wedding Industrial Complex" is. All I know is that this is a happy event for all concerned. Both my daughter and her husband are mature people in their early thirties who have never been married before, do not live together, and have strong religious beliefs, so I have no doubts about the marriage. So why can't they have a lovely event to celebrate the start of their lives together?
I would never in a million years want her to be a "Bridezilla," which she isn't, and we couldn't afford for her to be a "Platinum Bride," by the way.
Carina Chocano: Congratulations your daughter's wedding! I absolutely think weddings should be celebrated. What I think is problematic about these shows is that they promote one standard for everyone, and then show the couples who don't live up to that standard in a negative light.
Atlanta: See, when I see those 'celebrity' ridiculous weddings, I sit there and think: really -- how ostentatious. How disgusting (I grew up around money, but without money, so to speak).
I find it really a little horrific to think that we all want those weddings. I had a nice wedding (did it all myself) -- where my N.Y. relatives thought it was 'quaint' (um, or, like, they thought I scrimped on things for them and were a little, shall we say, looking down their noses...) and the southern contingent thought it was over the top.
I really didn't care. I did what I wanted, spent money where I wanted, and I had a nice day (hope the hubby did too!). In retrospect, I would elope, seriously. Okay, maybe I woulda bought the nice dress... But really, I don't want those crazy weddings, where they spend five times what I spent on my wedding just on the flowers. I find it outrageous.
Carina Chocano: I've noticed more and more friends eloping these days. Maybe it's a reaction to the pressure!
Please!: Please everyone, let's not feed into the wedding industry's brainwashing that we all need giant "fantasy" weddings we can't afford, or else our weddings will be "shabby." They are playing on our insecurities. No one needs diamond rings that cost a year's pay, or weddings that cost more than a house -- these things do not determine your self worth, or your social standing. These shows are just infomercials for wedding planners. Don't give in! Dare to be different! Dare to be frugal! Stop with the present-grubbing! STOP THE BRIDEZILLAS!
Don't make me throw my shoes at your head.
Carina Chocano: If you're going to throw your shoes at my head please make sure you're wearing a tiara.
Crofton, Md.: I think this trend hit the pinnacle of tackyosity (not a word, I realize) when Trista and Ryan got married. While I think it's nice that the two of them found each other and actually tied the knot (unlike every other couple who has ever ended up together on "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette"), I was appalled by how freakishly over the top the whole thing was. Eek.
Carina Chocano: That was the royal reality wedding, wasn't it? Actually, as massively fetishized as the whole longing-to-be-a-bride thing has become, it's hard to think of anyone who pathologized it as much as Trista. The brides on "Bridezillas" may act crazy, but they are strictly bush league compared to her! Trista is like the Hannibal Lecter of TV brides -- smart, sleek, collected, single-minded, scary! Or maybe I'm over-stating it...
Rockville, Md.: You said that there are 18 of these types of shows on the air - are you counting shows like "Rock the Reception" among them? I had a friend who did that show (more of an acquaintance really). She and her husband recreated a scene from a movie for their first dance. Definitely not something my husband and I would have ever considered doing when we got married earlier this year.
Carina Chocano: I did count "Rock the Reception" because it plays into this whole "wedding as performance" thing. This idea that a wedding is the average woman's chance to be a celebrity for a day. I mean, of course, brides have always been the "stars" of their weddings, but it seems like that notion has become very literal lately, doesn't it?
Alexandria, Va.: It is too bad so many brides are spending so much on the wedding because that money will be needed later for the couples therapy and divorce lawyers when the couple realizes they don't know or like each other and it really was all about her getting the ring and "her day" and not about finding someone to like and love and spend every day with for the rest of their lives.
It's about the marriage people, not whether the napkins match the tablecloths.
Carina Chocano: Yes, the "my day" meme feels portentous...
Bowie, Md.: I believe that these shows are having an effect not only on the brides but wedding guests as well. They almost expect a outrageous spectacle and anything less is a waste of their time. What do you think?
Carina Chocano: That's funny. I think you're right. It does seem like guests expect more and more entertainment value for their gift/dress/airfare value!
Yes, there was Trista: but don't forget Star Jones. And Liza Minnelli. But Star Jones took the cake. (Although Trista should be faulted for trying to keep "celebrity" status and thinking people cared.)
Carina Chocano: Or Joan Rivers' daughter... But you're right, Star Jones was over the top. It's interesting to think about what counts as celebrity, too, in this line-up. I mean Liza Minnelli -- she's earned the right to be as disconnected from reality as she wants to be, right? It's the people who get on TV and suddenly they're Princess Diana who are fascinating...
Arlington, Va.: How has YouTube fueled this trend? It seems like more and more brides and grooms are doing crazy things at their weddings and posting them to the Internet. Are these reality shows just an answer to that -- give the public what they want sort of thing?
Carina Chocano: What I've noticed is that there seems to be a mutual influence going. Reality shows have become less about observing the behavior of real people, and more about letting real people emulate the behavior of people on TV. And on that note...
Carina Chocano: ... thank you for all the great questions! It was fun.
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