Comments on: Just another occasion to feel entirely alienated from American culture and values History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sat, 20 Sep 2014 06:11:01 +0000 hourly 1 By: Z Mon, 13 May 2013 20:18:48 +0000 I thought it was the working class types who had the expensive weddings? Middle class just goes down to city hall or stands up in church, and has party at a house, cost of a cocktail party … right? And my father took a wedding party to dinner at a restaurant once, after a small and simple ceremony, spending $1K probably; we considered it quite grand to do that. My students on the other hand spend huge amounts for weddings, prom, graduation, etc. But will not pay for study abroad or dentistry, which I would put higher on the list. ?

By: Historiann Wed, 08 May 2013 17:27:29 +0000 OMG, CC. Now you’ve really brought me low!

By: Contingent Cassandra Wed, 08 May 2013 17:22:00 +0000 If I were an unscrupulous person with an entrepreneurial bent, I’d definitely be in the Martial Industrial Complex. It’s a goldmine fueled by guilt, regret, and competition within and between families.

And if you were an unscrupulous higher ed institution (or perhaps one just overly focused on pleasing the “customers”) you might offer a class devoted to wedding planning, and a degree (Event Planning) that might be seen as qualification to become a wedding planner. Yep, such things exist, and not only at my institution (I googled, just to make sure I wasn’t outing myself). I’ve had one or two quite good students with this major, but, as a rule, it seems to be a refuge for rather dim (but often very enthusiastic) bulbs. Of course, there is a real event planning industry; I just wonder whether it should really be served by a college degree of its own (as opposed to, say, a more general business or accounting or even psychology or sociology one).

By: albrt Tue, 07 May 2013 08:19:33 +0000 Nothing personal, we are all just trying to earn our way within whatever institutional framework we’ve landed in, but I would like to question the “unquestionable” value of a college education.

I am an old lawyer. It took me 17 years to get through undergraduate school at four different state colleges. It was cheap. I had a lot of fun, but not because of anything the colleges did. I was also in the military and did a lot of other things.

I had a few classes I enjoyed, but most consisted of formerly insecure (now very self-important) professors explaining why their system of twaddle was better than all the other systems of twaddle, mainly for the purpose of persuading the most insecure young people to go to graduate school and learn the professor’s system of twaddle. The rest of the class be damned.

As far as I can tell most of my critical thinking skills were developed during the in-between years as a result of ongoing Eriksonian adolescent identity crises, with very little attributable to the schools. The primary economic value I got out of the undergraduate process was the certificate that allowed me to go to law school.

I got more than my money’s worth out of law school. I’m pretty confident the same is not true for the average law graduate today, given the debt total and the job market.

College graduates undoubtedly earn more on average than non-graduates, but correlation is not causation. Most of the value appears to be an economic rent associated with a gatekeeping sinecure designed to co-opt insecure smart people who might otherwise cause instability.

Under the circumstances it is probably irresponsible to advise a smart young person not to go to college, but college is hardly an unquestionable value at current prices.

By: nicoleandmaggie Tue, 07 May 2013 00:15:19 +0000 re: that last p.s.

I think it was one of the Smithsonians, but it might have been another museum (after a while, museums seen during conferences kind of blend together), that had a really neat exhibit about weddings and wedding clothing over time. It really did put into stark contrast how the 20th century changed how we view weddings for normal people. In any case, if you ever should get a chance to see that exhibit wherever it was, it was well worth it.

And I have no way to tie that back to the value of the cost of college, though back in the day it was all about the high school movement, right?

By: Linden Mon, 06 May 2013 20:08:57 +0000 What’s the place of a “perfect day” in the lives of people for whom things aren’t perfect?

This completely describes another phenomenon I occasionally see in my neck of the woods: the Big Quinceañera.

By: Historiann Mon, 06 May 2013 15:48:38 +0000 p.s. For those who are interested in a good business history of the modern wedding industry, see Vicki Howard’s Brides, Inc.. From the Penn Press website:

Weddings today are a $70-billion business, yet no one has explained how the industry has become such a significant component of the American economy. In Brides, Inc., Vicki Howard goes behind the scenes of the various firms involved—from jewelers to caterers—to explore the origins of the lavish American wedding, demonstrating the important role commercial interests have played in shaping traditions most of us take for granted.

Howard reveals how many of our customs and wedding rituals were the product of sophisticated advertising campaigns, merchandising promotions, and entrepreneurial innovations. Tracing the rise of the wedding industry from the 1920s through the 1950s, the author explains that retailers, bridal consultants, etiquette writers, caterers, and many others invented traditions—from the diamond engagement ring and double-ring ceremony to the gift registry to the package-deal catered affair. These businesses and entrepreneurs, many of them women, transformed wedding culture and set the stage for today’s multibillion-dollar industry.

The wedding industry began to take shape between the 1920s and the 1950s. Bridal magazine editors and etiquette writers, jewelers, department store window display artists, bridal consultants, fashion designers, and caterers invented new consumer rites and promoted higher standards of wedding consumption. Claiming ties with “ancient customs” and various historical periods, the wedding industry promoted new goods and services as timeless and unchanging. It introduced new ring customs and wedding apparel fashions, and “modern” services, such as gift registries that rationalized gift customs, bridal salons that saved time and made wedding planning more efficient, and wedding packages that standardized ceremonies and reception celebrations.

By: Historiann Mon, 06 May 2013 15:43:39 +0000 It might be worth thinking about why & what it means when some spend big on weddings, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about why the cost of college is always interrogated, even when the value of a college degree is unquestionable, and moreover, it certainly has a better ROI than most weddings.

By: truffula Mon, 06 May 2013 07:23:28 +0000 Susan:
it might be worth thinking about what the big wedding means to people who rack up debt for it

This “big wedding” is based on a fantasy of what “traditional” is, when most middle-class people throughout the 20th century had very small weddings and modest receptions, if any.

I might substitute aspiration for fantasy. There is also something important about external validation in extravagant expenditure.

By: Historiann Mon, 06 May 2013 03:28:09 +0000 “At any rate, if I have to listen to another well-heeled, highly educated mother-of-the-bride sniff that back in her day, she was content with a quick stop by the registrar’s office and a toast of bubbly, in the face of her children’s many months of planning and expense, I’m going to want to clock her.”

Srsly? I think that’s pretty obnoxious. (Why do you think that “months of planning and expense” deserve reverence? I don’t get it.) What difference does it make if she’s “well-heeled” or “highly educated” or not?

The 1970s were a period in which the hippie/downscale wedding was fashionable. The 1980s saw the rise of the big wedding, which has remained a pretty strong consumer trend ever since. This “big wedding” is based on a fantasy of what “traditional” is, when most middle-class people throughout the 20th century had very small weddings and modest receptions, if any.

If I were an unscrupulous person with an entrepreneurial bent, I’d definitely be in the Martial Industrial Complex. It’s a goldmine fueled by guilt, regret, and competition within and between families.