You May Now Film the Bride
The appalling New York Times "Vows" videos.
I just love wedding announcements, and nothing satisfies my passion like the New York Times. This gloriously ridiculous section of the paper of record is a vestige of an earlier, more nakedly hierarchical, time. As Slate's Timothy Noah put it four years ago, "The wedding pages remain because a very small aristocracy demands that they remain." He wrote that in derision; I cite it in celebration.
Week after week, these dispatches (a species of open letter: public honeymoon post cards that just happen to announce the partners' pedigree, schooling, and profession) offer an unmatchable voyeuristic delight. Is there a more entertaining way for young members of the Northeastern professional class to size themselves up against their peers? How better to indulge in status-gawking and idle matrimonial fantasies? What fun!
The section has grown gradually more chatty and elaborate over the last 15 years. With the 1992 introduction of the "Vows" column—the reported piece, generally running between 800 and 1,500 words, detailing a "wedding of distinction"—the Times entered the realm of bridal porn, and the page became crazier yet on Feb. 13, 2000, when some listings began to tell anecdotes about how the couples met cute. Now, this act has gone multimedia. To go the video section of nytimes.com and look at the Style channel is to discover a number of short films in which young lovers chat about their courtships and proposals. At this writing, there are 11 of them, all featuring heterosexual couples. Go look at the videos, and then try to tell me they're not bizarre. The New York Times is now providing the kind of entertainment generally reserved for the slide-show portion of a rehearsal dinner.
The bride and groom are always interviewed separately, usually in living rooms emitting the light scent of bourgeois good taste. The clips are split into chapters with titles like "The First Date" and "The Proposal" and "The Karaoke Connection." The music usually ranges from bland jazz to easygoing bluegrass. Sometimes, the producers throw in snapshots of the couple with their heads tossed in shared laughter. On average, the clips run about four and half minutes, which is about one and half minutes too long. Thus, instead of learning more than we needed to know about, say, Gia Miller and Daniel Doron, we learn much, much, much more.
Over the strumming of a jaunty guitar, Gia, a New Orleans native wearing a lovely green blazer, explains that she's lived in New York for four and half years. Daniel, who grew up there, is an attorney, and he's fixed an excellent dimple in his necktie. They met on a blind date at Monkey Bar. (New York magazine: "The simian theme even extends to the drinks menu.") Gia liked that he was cute, funny, and easy to talk to. Daniel was "initially attracted" to her being "a blond Southern Jew": "If you grew up in New York, that's a rare species," he explains, in a way that left me feeling clammy and searching for an apposite Philip Roth reference. On a trip to Gia's hometown, Daniel arranged for a street artist to draw a caricature: He's down on one knee proffering a ring the size of his ear. "I don't even know if I ever said yes," Gia says, "But I'm wearing the ring."
The trouble with this form, dramatically speaking, is that the endings are predictable. The Times does its best to throw in some twists. In the case of Matthew Bronson and Shari Wolfson, this involves a chapter called "The Two Day Breakup." Matthew: "Prior to that, I ... maybe wasn't being the most mature." Shari: "Luckily, for me, Matt IM'd me on Monday morning at work saying, 'You know, let's talk. This shouldn't be it.' " Might his message have read: "lets talk this shldnt b it"? In any case, they were soon back on track and off to the Hamptons. Gabriel Shiff and Ranit Saposh's relationship seemed doomed at the outset. They met when she was a high-school student visiting her older brother at Penn. "At a party which I hosted," Gabriel says haltingly. "I met this junior in high school ... I didn't do anything that would get me arrested, but we definitely hit it off," which I think means he got to third base. My favorite groom is Adam Bye, who is British and talks like Tony Blair doing a Hugh Grant impersonation. "The two of us met at, em, well, at a reception that we both weren't invited to, eh, as it happens ... "
Who are these people? Why are they so pleased with themselves? Why can't I stop watching? It's rather hard to imagine most of these individuals deigning to appear on anything so common as reality TV. They wouldn't be here if they didn't have a particular set of social ambitions and self-conceptions. Everyone's a winner: Their eternal love earns the Times' imprimatur, and we get to sit at the computer speculating on their sex lives, sneering at their pretensions, and wondering when they'll get divorced. I propose that the appearance of the Times "Vows" videos represents the gentrification of exhibitionism.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.