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Matrimonial paradoxes

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Monday, Oct 17, 2005

I went to a wedding this weekend and was struck, as usual, by the paradox at the heart of them. Often the urge to conform and accomodate wedding trends (all the guests I spoke to had anecdotes of the hot new things to do at weddings, trends they had spotted recently), to fulfill the culturally prescribed forms, is at odds with attempts to make a wedding a unique and special day, an idiosyncratic testimonial to a unique and irreplaceable relationship. How a couple negotiates the preordained wedding hurdles I suppose gives each wedding its subtle and specific character—the way different pianists can bring out different aspects of the same piece of music and give it their distinctive stamp—and perhaps that is all that should be expected, despite the hyperbolic dogma about eternal love and soul mates and such that often constitutes the ceremony. Weddings are less a promise between the bride and groom than a promise they both make to their community, represented by the assembled guests, to behave in accordance to the expectations they collectively have for “familiy” as a unit. It is a demonstration that the couple is willing to play by society’s rules and assent to the way society is organized by nuclear family and so on, and as such I always figure the ceremony should be as rigorous and traditional as possible—it shouldn’t be about how the couple transcends the rules laid down by society but how much they accept and embrace them. Of course, that runs counter to the romantic notion that love exceeds all boundaries and knows no rules and takes hold because of the character of the eternal souls involved, in spite of society and not because of it. That’s probably nonsense—love requires social definition and context to even become possible, a community provides the impetus for people to develop relationships in the first place. But the wedding is this moment when the contradiction is amplified to a kind of delirious pitch where you are told your love is the most important and unique thing in the world while being shown how tenuous, how reliant on formalities and cooperation with social rituals it really is. Perhaps this allows a person to feel at one with a prefabricated place within society while feeling entirely special and autonomous at the same time. Maybe maximizing the contradiction does something to resolve it, short-circuiting cognitive dissonance.


A related note: during the reception the DJ played “Play that Funky Music,” which is distressing enough as it is, but this was a special new version, surely made expressly for weddings and bar mitzvahs and whatnot, in which “play that funky music white boy” becomes through some clumsy editing “play that funky music, yeah funky music”. What is going on with that? Is any mention of race, no matter how inconseqeuntial, reason for censorship? Are people so unwilling to confront the realities of race in America that we have to edit its very mention out of crappy songs so that we don’t sully our social rituals with it?

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