Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What if weddings were not framed as “The Event That Will Change Everything”? (Thoughts on the Breaking Dawn trailer and continuing wedding fervor ala Twilight)

"Natalie Wilson is literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective, forthcoming from McFarland in 2010. Her interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to her childhood fascination with all types of monsters."

Rivaled recently by Royal Wedding fervor, the Bella Swan/Edward Cullen union will soon have the world agog in all things weddings.
The recently released Breaking Dawn trailer centered attention on the upcoming nuptials with an almost fetishistic focus on the wedding invitation – an aspect of weddings that is of utmost importance (as anyone familiar with the wedding industrial complex or with planning a wedding surely knows).

The trailer’s framing of the wedding as “the event that will change everything”  is hardly surprising given the way the wedding/honeymoon/headboard-busting has been framed as THE climax (pun intended) of the Twilight saga. More generally, popular culture continues to frame weddings as THE EVENT of a female’s life as in all the shows dedicated to getting married (The Bachelor), to planning a wedding (My Fair Wedding), to brides (Bridezillas) – followed in short order, of course, by the NEXT EVENT – the babies (as in shows such as A Baby Story, Bringing Home Baby, and Baby’s First Day).

As documented in books such as White Weddings or as in posts about the wedding industrial complex (as here, here, and here), society is in the grip of severe wedding fever, a fever which is on the one hand very expensive and promotes our consumer-driven society, and, on the other, which keeps humans (and females especially) all wrapped up in a romance narrative framed by ideas about (white) purity, true love, happily ever after, and normative (read monogamous and heterosexual) gender/sexuality roles.

This is one of the many reasons we, as a society, are so seduced by Twilight, it taps into our cultural love affair with weddings and romance BIG TIME.  And, in a few short months, this human-vampire union will be writ large on cinematic screens, allowing fans to wed themselves even more deeply to the immortal love-story between Bella and Edward.

The trailer pays lip service to the very narrative that I see driving a huge part of Twilight’s popularity – that love can last forever and that the best kind of love is that between a female and a male joined in marriage and resulting in the creation of children. New? Hardly. New for vampire tales? Why, yes. And that is a bit allure of the saga – taking things that are subversive and sinister – vampires, werewolves, immortality – and wrapping them in a true love conquers all package. Such a perfect, depoliticized message for our conformist times…

The fever surrounding the cinematic depiction of this wedding will no doubt rival another union that recently captured the public imagination, Kate and William’s royal nuptials. Like the sexy feminist, I was annoyed with this wedding and its hijacking of our mental desktops. As she asked, “when was the last time you saw the media go ga ga over a minority union, inter-racial marriage or gay marriage for that matter?” Hmmm, I can’t recall that EVER happening.

It’s not that weddings themselves are bad, rather, as the sexy feminist puts it so well, it’s that “The global focus on this wedding reinforces the most anti-feminist message around: Get married, ladies, and all your dreams will come true.”

Yet, am I excited about the film’s release and the cinematic depiction of Bella’s marriage to her virginity warrior? Of course. Would I like to get an invite? Sure! Even though I doubt there would be an open bar or that great of food! Like Kiva Reardon’s arguments at Ms. Magazine Blog as to why she was going to watch the Royal Wedding, I contend that we ignore popular culture (and its weddings!) at our peril. Whether one has wedding fever or not, understanding why so many do is key to a feminist analysis of our current societal norms and institutions.

So, come November 18, I will be there. I hope there will be cake.