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The wedding-industrial complex

Weddings are more expensive and extravagant. Let's not forget about their meaning.

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It's June. That means somewhere in America, a bride is having her teeth whitened to look her best, or is riding in a real Cinderella coach. A wedding planner is making sure the marbled portable restroom (attendant included) is in place for an outdoor wedding. Then the bills will arrive: about $28,000 worth.

That's the average cost of a wedding and reception in the United States these days – almost twice the cost since 1990. Looked at another way, that's more than seven months' earnings for the median household income.

Weddings are very personal affairs. Who's to say that a bride shouldn't have her Cinderella experience (possible at Disney World), if that's her idea of happiness? Or who's to judge whether a couple that goes to the trouble and expense to be taught a Michael Jackson routine isn't simply expressing a lot of joy and fun when they strut before guests in their first dance?

But taken as a whole, one has to wonder what the trend toward ever more extravagant and costly weddings says about American values – and the $161 billion wedding business. Supersizing Americans have graduated to McMansions and widescreen TVs, but a wedding should be different. A ceremony that calls for a lifelong commitment, which many consider a holy event, and whose successful outcome underpins civilization itself, seems to be losing its meaning beneath yards of personalized aisle runners.

Rebecca Mead takes up this subject in a just-published book, "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding." The work is being compared to Jessica Mitford's 1960 exposé of funeral industry tactics.

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