Wedding season is upon us. From the save-the-date card to the band's final Journey cover, has this first "event" of a couple's marriage merely become a detail-oriented presentation of the bride and groom's personalities? Rozann Carter, a self-proclaimed wedding blog addict and huge fan of the cutesy detail, explores the dynamic of the wedding culture as it relates to an age of self-expressionism and to the sacrament of marriage.
There was an article that ran in the New York Times earlier this year entitled “Generation Sell.” In the piece, author William Deresicwicz claims that the unique and enduring characteristic of the millennial generation, distinctive of earlier generations, is a hyper-entrepreneurship, a definition of self that is based on a creative self-salesmanship. He begins by asking the reader to consider “the Millennials’ characteristic social form…: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet. Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business.”
Deresicwicz goes on to relate this social form directly to the cultural personality of our time: “We’re all selling something today, because even if we aren’t literally selling something,…we’re always selling ourselves. We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us. We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted. The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold.”
This idea of the "entrepreneurial self" extends into practically every aspect of our lives—our Facebook “likes”, our iTunes playlists, our resume-building service experiences, our Pinterest boards and Instagram shares. It affects where we shop for our clothes and what model of car we choose. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly advertising what it is that “makes me, me.”
Even a cursory scroll through status updates on Facebook will affirm that that wedding season is now in full swing. Newsfeed rolls in from a friend with wistful eyes and a pair of red shoes who just posted vintage-y engagement pics by an old oak tree; another posts that it is now t-minus five days until her big day wherein she will finally marry the man-of-her-dreams; a third is tagged in a picture where he and a row of similarly-dressed young men are having the time of their lives mid-air.
Behind every one of these photo-worthy posts lies an overwhelming number of nuptial decisions. Every song requested by the bride and groom, the theme of the place cards and table tents, the choice of a regional menu that represents the upbringing of the couple, the invitation suite with a hand-drawn, personalized map, the local fare cutely packaged with specialty labels in a welcome basket for the hotel guests, even the bridesmaids’ sashes and the groomsmens’ ties– all of these things are part of the fanfare, extensions of the age-old traditional celebration, and in this Generational Sell, means of hyper self-expressionism.
Is this a problem?
If so, I am the epitome of the problem. In my apartment, there is a built-in bookshelf where I have a pristine collection of books, arranged in spine color order, that I really want to have read. Above those books, on the top shelf, is an entire row of thick, perfect-bound manuals of pure, hyper-self-promotion flourish heaven. The white spines have five simple, distinguishing words: Martha Stewart Weddings <Season> <Year>. I love every part of every detail, from the creative favors, to the antique typewriter serving as a reception “guest book,” to the sparkler-laden send off with that Jack Johnson song about banana pancakes playing in the background.
But, should I? What is the value, or the detriment, of this self-expressionism in the form of the Pinterest/Etsy/The Knot/Martha Stewart wedding day flourish?
Dr. Denis McNamara, in his video on architectural decoration and ornament, touched on an analogous concept. Flourish in architecture, while serving no immediate, pragmatic purpose, hints at the purpose of a structure in a poetic way, adding beauty, mystery and a symbolic representation of sacrifice to an otherwise utilitarian element. It is, too, a sign of festivity that allows the building to speak, to come alive.
Flourish, then, is useful insofar as it indicates the truth of what it enhances, it represents a sacrificial offering in joy, and it allows the structure to be clarified in a holistic, beautiful way.
It seems to me that the Generation Sell expression of “flourish” as it relates to the self, the personal preferences one presents and elevates to express what is within, will necessarily be a mixture of gravity and frivolity that will shape the eccentricities of attraction. We are entrepreneurs of a combination of all levels of self, from morality-based to purely preferential. And it is this combination that will lead us, in the same poetic, beautiful way, to offer the sacrifice of love to one other person. Frivolity has its place alongside gravity so long as it enhances the “structural” expression.
Back, however, to the Generation Sell wedding culture.
A wedding is not merely a celebration of two distinct personalities. It is the “event” of a marriage, the incarnational display and celebration of an invisible reality. The sacramental structure is in place to offer the couple the grace of the vocation. Like beautiful vestments, fragrant incense, grand décor and lively music elevate our hearts in the great ritual of the Mass, so should the chosen details of the wedding point to the reality of the “event,” not the glorification of the “self.” The wedding is no longer the proper time to celebrate “what makes me, me” or even “what make us, us” (aren’t we so cute?). It is a time to identify, elevate, and exemplify “what makes us, His.” Again, while harmless details are, in fact, harmless, and are often cause for joy and recreation, they shouldn’t exceed their priority level.
Caution must be exercised to keep the wedding from devolving into hyper-self-expressionism or the ultimate manifestation of two peoples’ personalities, as if to pay tribute to their uniqueness and the mystery of their crazy love story. The event is a time to realize that the union involves the ultimate sacrifice of self in order to make way for God’s indwelling in the now singular heart that characterizes the matrimony. It’s no longer two entrepreneurs operating side-by-side, continually re-selling their story to one another and the world; rather it is two people penning an entirely new story, written by God for the good of the world.
So, if personalized dessert napkins and miniature bags of champagne-colored M&Ms don’t detract from that truth, do what you will, and send me an invite.
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
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