Excerpt: 'One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding'

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The notion of the Bridezilla gained common currency, and it was easy to understand why. Just about everyone knows someone, or knows of someone, whose wedding plans have taken on the proportions of a military operation, whose wedding costs have ballooned beyond economic prudence, and whose attention to wedding day production values would put a Broadway set designer to shame. The term was applicable to brides whose resources permitted the casting aside of a three thousand dollar wedding dress a week before the ceremony in favor of an alternative model, as well as to those budget brides who spent every evening scouring eBay for cut-price wedding favors or who prided themselves on hand-threading ribbon into a hundred and fifty wedding-information booklets for their guests.

But it seemed to me, as I witnessed the urgency with which the Bridezilla term was embraced, that there was more to the phenomenon than the identification of a particularly unpleasant breed of bride. When a stereotype is so swiftly absorbed into the popular culture it is a sure sign that something larger is at stake; and what appeared to be expressed in the vilification of the Bridezilla was a much wider ambivalence among the general public over the direction weddings in America were taking. Blaming the bride, while making for colorful feature stories and cruelly riveting television programming, wasn't an adequate explanation for what seemed to be underlying the concept of the Bridezilla: that weddings themselves were out of control, and that a sense of proportion had been lost, not just individually but in the culture at large.

This isn't to suggest that people all over the country were wringing their hands at the weddings they attended -- though those who were could probably be found everywhere. The majority, though, were throwing up those hands in puzzled bemusement or, at the most, dumbfounded exasperation, while at the same time throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the increasingly elaborate celebrations to which they had been invited. ("When did the softball game become part of a wedding?" one older acquaintance asked me, having recently married off two daughters in weekend-long festivities and found himself swinging a bat on both occasions.) No one wants to find fault with anything so cheering, and so emotionally significant, as a wedding. But at the same time, weddings often prompt a sense of disquiet -- all this, just for one day? -- among the guests, and, when they will admit it, the couple at the altar. So the pillorying of the Bridezilla figure (who has come to seem to me hardly less fictional than her Japanese monster ancestor, Godzilla) provides a way to separate off, into safe quarantine, the disconcerting sense that the way we conduct weddings has somehow gone wrong; that priorities have changed, and purpose has gone awry. The Bridezilla caricature is a stand-in representing a much larger anxiety: that we are all living in a Bridezilla culture.

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