Netflix Deathmatch 1: Interrupted Weddings

Dear Millicent,

You know how you sometimes absorb a novel or movie and let it become an unspoken part of your decision making process? Like, I have had a baggy red sweater for 12 years mostly because I thought a similar one looked so charming and relaxed on Juliette Lewis in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

I’m pretty sure I spend most of my time trying to live in a novel or movie, and most probably, a novel or movie that my brain absorbed between the ages of 4 and 19. Maybe all generations experience this cultural nostalgia, where the timepieces that shaped y/our expectation of the future are so special because they are so specifically y/ours. People even 6 years ahead or behind you have an entire different set of references. There must be a very squishy age (9?) where we absorb all that magic, and the cultural timepieces lock in.  My Tribes is another person’s Square Pegs is another person’s Degrassi High . 

Obviously, we don’t live in movies, blahblahblah, but I do think something interesting happens when we get two conflicting cultural imprints.  This would be the equivalent of absolutely wanting the Lewis red sweater, and then seeing something else that confirmed red sweaters were the stuff of bad, un-Depped, lives. But, on a much larger scale, of course.  This whammy happens to me a lot.   For example, tet’s take a favorite topic of mine, weddings!

This might be my all time favorite wedding scene ever:

Conclusion: it is good to follow your heart, and whatever you do (as pounds of movies have told us) is DO NOT MARRY THE SAFE GUY. Meg Ryan is also very good at proving this (Greg Kinnear, the safest man in cinema?).  Also, the promise that TRUE LOVE OUTS, ALWAYS.

And then we have this famous doozie:

Both narratives are in agreement about one thing, ADULTS SUCK. And both make fun of the same system that, by getting married, the youth are signing up for in the first place.  But we get that in The Graduate, the whole situation sucks some balls. Growing up sucks some balls. Plastics suck some balls.  And, well, ending up with Benjamin as your Dwayne sucks some balls.  He’s a stalker. He slept with your mom.  Elaine…it’s not too late for you, but you should probably grow up to be a sexy single lady who owns a bookstore.

The conflict: Both are iconic, closely related scenes in my head, but one promises bliss and certainty, and the other promises that grand gestures can be as empty as what they hope to work against.

I also like to smack Howards End  in the middle of this Netflix deathmatch, because well, it swings its weight both ways. Margaret marries the safe man, the rich Mr. Wilcox, and it’s terrible. But Helen follows her heart and fully abandons herself to passion, and it, too, is kind of terrible. And poor Leonard Bast. All he got was some sex and misery in his life.

So who wins–what will get to be the grand narrative that wins in my brain? Of course neither, because luckily I can handle conflicting narratives and their ambiguities, but what if they had to? What if we had to either join them all together in some mad life lesson, or at least make some peace with their differences?

Then I would say we snuggle up to EM Forster as much as possible, and let the other two float in the ether. Partnering for comfort or lust is probably a bad idea. I think Forster would approve of Elaine’s escape and Whitley’s change of heart.  Interestingly, they all work on class lines too: if you’re a gal, DO NOT MARRY THE RICH GUY unless you really want to sleep with him and he likes your brain, and for guys, DO NOT MARRY THE POOR GIRL OR OLD LADY, you were probably just with her because you were horny. True love = breaking class expectations. If you’re a guy, SAVE YOURSELF FOR THE RICH GIRL. She’ll probably go ahead and break your heart anyway, but it will be morally correct. At least, it will this time in the annals of Carla Fran’s Culture Clash, or what I like to call The Media Closet of Our Lives.

Join us next time where we take on reproduction: Lost in Translation vs. Friday Night Lights!



PS. All movies agree, never marry a cop.

Bride Revisited

Dear Millicent,

Excuse my punned title. So, I think this is a thing people do: get bridal portraits on their wedding anniversaries.  They get back in their wedding clothes again, hire a photographer again, and look off in the distance or at each other in scenic locations, again.  This seemed like a horrible idea to me.  I would never undergo the barks of my wedding photographer asking me to do quirky things like kneel in a church aisle and kiss my husband on the cheek (who kisses cheeks anyways!). Especially because of the awkward power struggle with a photographer. They ask one to do things that seem humiliating, and then that greatest of humiliations, one does it.

But, BUT, I think I am wrong about these anniversary portraits.  Looking at them on the internet, they kinda broke my heart.  There’s something about seeing a bride or a couple back in the anticipatory frame without the anticipation.  They aren’t scared or hopeful anymore.  The few I could pull up from a cheap Google search were tender and showed couples that were very glad to be where they were, and a bit of an ode to peace with one’s decisions.

My aunt recently did this to celebrate her 10th, and, like all brides, she looks darn beautiful in the shots.  But, she doesn’t exactly look like a bride. In a way, she looks like what we hope we look like as brides. In one, her hand is behind her back and she is looking off to the horizon in a cactus garden.  She said this was because the dress no longer fits, so she had to hold the back together.  I want to say she looks like a domestic goddess, but that is too weak. Her muscles work against the poof of the dress, and her expression is satisfied.  And that may be the thing that is absent in most day of wedding portraits–satisfaction.  Instead there is the sweaty/happy/all-chips-in adrenaline pang or the great-expected-smile.  She looks like a woman who has had a child, who is older and less worried about people seeing her confidence and badassery.  She looks really happy that she got into that dress 10 years ago, and that she is happy to be in it again.

The marker of the same clothes and the same style of photography does wonders to show what an anniversary is often about: a look at where we’ve travailed and travelled, and if we are happy to be here.  So, I have taken to calling this kind of portrait “The Great White Hope.”

Would love to see more of these, and hope Chelsea does the same in 2020.



What I Love About the Clinton Wedding Photos

Dear Millicent,

As you and I have both been through the wringer of being a bride*, I put forward the released photos of the Clinton wedding as a welcome addition to our generation’s large memory book of This Is What Life Is In Our Age. Why? Because they are large scale fairy tale, the kind that we easily assign adjectives like “classic,” “royalty,” and “like a movie.”  These pictures may become as bridally iconic as Princess Diana, and set to slow time glamour of the likes of Jackie Bouvier.  The wedding has already been deemed a “Power Wedding,”–a confusing, and feudal term in a time when marriage seems less and less like a joining of powers as much as a hunch on a horse, or a penchant for marathons (so many metaphors here…again, see word cloud MARRIAGE).  So, on one scale, these images have entered the collective “dream wedding.”  The dress, the vegan menu, the celebrity attendance, the perfect weather, the gluten free cake. Bridal magazines now have a some new stories to twirl on for a decade.

But that is not what makes me happy about these photos.  I like them because in them, I see a bride who is working.  I could have to check myself here  for the Rear Window question***…and, admittedly, I will often suggest that weddings are horrendous work to a happy couple who has had no strife in their nuptial planning. But, there is the larger reason I quickly identify with Chelsea.  She is our age.  We went through adolescence together.  I wore skorts, and had a very similar gawk.  Her parents seemed invested in her life in a way that many parents of our generation are–structured, with the expectation of large things.  I imagine her parents disciplining her through conversation, with Hilary working through teen mother/daughter strife by taking her to Africa, and Bill giving earnest talks of repentance and confession, building a sense of informed withholding, of adulthood that came early.  If we put aside the insane melodramas of adultery, this small family is a kind of 80’s ideal as well (one kid, two successful  parents, a marriage that tumbled but continued,  totally unlazy and engaged, etc.).

And in the pictures, Chelsea looks like she is tired of smiling, and that her makeup is heavier than expected.  I see strain.  And I think strain might be the most honest kind of wedding portrait around.  She is the first of the new model of White House daughter. Not an accessory, and successful in her own right.  And yet the wedding itself doesn’t quite acknowledge this.  It looks like all weddings do.  I don’t see a strong woman, I see a classic bride.  I see a woman who is under stress, who is walking with her father down the aisle, who probably dieted for this day.  I feel as if I am supposed to applaud her shoulders, her collar bone.  And like most wedding photos, we can see the gesture of love–the recreation of the tender thing that just happened.  The hope that this is being authentically captured.  And the fact that this family has been in front of cameras for 20 years or more, and that fancy dress is also a gimme for them, warms my heart.  I love these photos because they show that weddings are really hard, that even brides with tons of brains and money are reined in by tradition, and that pride and love are exhausting (and that bridal makeup is always really, really heavy). I also love that the girl I identified with so much in 1992 is still a model of a different kind of celebrity, still worlds away, but with a face I understand****.



*Note: while I say the work is hard, neither of us is a dried up walnut. Weddings are their own brand of catastrophe**, but one that stays on the planet of its plucked and pruned date. The marriage is a different bramble, and its own conversation (see overlarge word on wordcloud).

**Etymology: Greek katastrophē, from katastrephein to overturn, from kata- + strephein to turn)

***Does Jeffries only see his neighbor’s relationship struggles because he is mired in his own?

****This all might be because I also identify with her actual face, and I am simply reducing her to a glossy famous person that soothes me because I can easily put my face onto her face without difficulty. Poor celebs. The things we do to them in our brains.

Gowns in The Wild: The Ones That Got Away

We do love women running in white poof:

Is it because:

  • Deep in our hearts we think panic equals truth?
  • That women are free if they don’t do what their formal wear is expecting them to?
  • That true love outs when in face of an altar?
  • That satin looks good in the wind?
  • Fleeing in the face of commitment is a universal fantasy and proof of destiny?
  • That it’s just plain old melodramatic and the stuff of a good story that plays to the balconies?

**Also, some of these pictured dames are running towards their beloved, or accidentally floating away post nuptial, but the image is way better than a fella in a tux trucking it, or a dame in jeans among the clouds, no? I distinctly remember when I was 7, seeing a bride order a meal at McDonalds, all alone.  It seemed like the coolest thing to happen to anybody.

Any other ones you can think of?

I dearly love the image of Caroline Todd with her fur jacket, purple feathers, and balloons.  It matches her strange gait, and the oddness that she has just married a dying man, and yet, well, this is where the story ends.   How does such a a show pull it all off?



The Personal and the Political

Dear Millicent,

In regards to our ongoing conversation about the place of personal narrative in abstract ethical argument, as well as our consensus on the trials of weddings, I thought Jessica Valenti’s post today about her recent wedding might be of interest.  In her post “Well, I’m damn sure I’m never getting married again,” she writes about the high profile of her wedding (it was featured in the NYT), and how her public feminism brought a great deal of criticism.  Through various media, people commented on her “self-promotion,” her choice to get married at all, her dress, her caterer. She asserts that she is not a symbol of feminism, speaking for all feminists, and that instead she is an individual deciding to share her own navigations through a tricky wicket.

I think lots of couples, brides especially, deal with this same kind of stress, though on a less grand scale.  While most of us aren’t public figures, couples face a rough road in announcing the choices of their wedding. One of the reasons playing “wedding” as a kid is so fun is because it seems like an adult moment where you have all your glories gathered: this is my dress, my flowers, my bridesmaids, my groom: I am an adult, look at the finished me!  It is a game of the luxury of self, especially attractive in childhood because there we rarely get to control our world.  And then, the cruel joke of a real wedding—-you are supposed to have some adult self to concretely present: an aesthetic, a found beauty, inner grace, humility, and it is supposed to fit everybody else’s wishes and expectations for you.  If you proclaim your self too loudly, you are a bridezilla, lost to the wedding gods.  If you go by the book, you are not authentic enough.  If you ditch it all and go to city hall, there’s a modest twinge of what could have been (“it’s such an important moment, you want it all over in 20 minutes?” and “what kind of pictures will your kids have to look at?” were both questions I heard).  And so, post wedding, the criticisms roll in.  I have never met a bride who didn’t feel a little beat up at the end of it all, and most of the battering came from assuming a defensive gesture.  Defending their dress, their friends, the food, the band, the cost, the wedding date, the travel, and all the other stuff.  We think a wedding is going to be a kind of cotillion, where instead of announcing ourselves as polite “finished” debs, we arrive as welcomed smart adults into the community.  But, debs have strict rules and follow a rigid ideal of ladyhood to be accepted without qualms into the dating pool of cotillionland.  Most of us at our weddings, with our eclectic and fierce assertions of authenticity, announce “hey, this is me!” and then have a lot of explaining to do.

In short, I think it’s damn hard to get married these days, even if your peeps are the best of the best.

But Valenti’s essay brings up more than the post-wedding hindsight of “jeeesh!”  She says:

I’ve always felt that putting yourself out there – even if it means being more vulnerable – was a terrific way to show the nuance and complexity of feminism. And that making yourself more accessible was a way to make the sometimes-dense ideas of feminism more relatable. I knew this would make for a dangerous line to walk – that opening yourself up also means opening yourself up to hatefulness. And over the last five years that I’ve been blogging, that hatefulness has come through. But wonderful, amazing, supportive people have always counteracted it – and that made it worthwhile. But looking back, when I realize that some of the most important and joyful moments in my life have been poisoned by the cruelness of people I don’t even know…well, it just gives me pause.

A wedding is so inherently personal and public, in general, but to have that public critique to continue to other experiences…it sounds brutal.  It’s different here than a case of celebrity, or even of our prevalent public/private twitterblogfaceland, and I admire her perseverance. My question is, is relatability worth the sacrifice? Is relatability the key?

We’ve talked before about how the introduction of the personal often changes the conversation when it comes to broad argument.   This happens a lot, for example, in the comments section of Jezebel, where a post will advocate or critique a particular cause.  The comments section will then fill with people relating stories of people they know, one time events, or personal narratives. On Jezebel, I find it annoying because the larger conversation is lost to single voices proclaiming their own experience, looking backwards and then leaving the conversation. However, I think Valenti presents here the power of these kind of conversations: they can demonstrate and highlight the complexities.  For me, the best use of personal narrative is not when it fragments into every single person’s “I can relate” pitch,  but when the voices together illustrate the importance and power of the issue at hand.

I recently went to a conference on women and power where practically every speaker started their speech with a short anecdote or comment about the difficulties of having a job and a family.  By the end of the conference, about 18 speeches later, the gesture felt hackneyed and a bit predatory: a request for empathy on demand.  Yet, in a keynote speech, Gloria Steinem said that personal narrative was the key to social justice, and that “empathy is the most revolutionary emotion.”

Years ago, I went to another conference where before each speaker spoke, they presented their reproductive history.  The summit’s focus was to bring together pro-choice, reproductive justice, and birthing rights advocates to look beyond the abortion debate and work together. As every person spoke over the three days, the immensity of how deeply reproductive and sexual health policies affect everybody, regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality was strikingly clear. Assumptions were dismantled, and empathy ruled the day (impressive around the abortion debate, no?).  It was one of the best ideas I have ever seen at a conference.

Closing thoughts:

  • Can empathy limit progress?
  • Is it empathy that occurs when people take the mic and  tell their own story? Or is it contingent on the fact that they keep speaking after their story is done?
  • Would modern weddings be better if the conversation didn’t focus on dream dresses, bridezillas, and proclamations of originality (I find these bridal narratives as irritating as the princess wedding version) and more on familial stresses, navigating adulthood, and the other strange beasts that lurk?
  • Did the Houston bride who had her own cakeself worry about any of this, or is she the rare creature—-the satisfied bride? She did get exactly what she wanted, and I’m sure there was somebody trying to talk her out of that cake.