Being freshly engaged, I sidled up to the WE network's new slate of bridal-themed brain candy with one hand on my holster. I was eager to reach for dread, scorn, snobbish contempt, old spite for the new rich, an instinctive loathing for ice sculptures, etc., as usual. After all, WE's signature wedding show, Bridezillas, is a reality program dedicated to the proposition that inside every dewy fiancee is a diva to rival a Studio 54-era Diana Ross. Other writers must have addressed the hysteria and implicit misogyny that make the program such an enjoyable bad dream. Yes, I thought, Bride vs. Bride (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET) and Platinum Weddings (Sundays at 8 p.m.) would let me get some bile out of the system. Also, I had on my mind the question of whether to plan for a band or a DJ or both.
AlasBride vs. Brideis a genial dud. The show advertises itself as "the messiest, craziest, most uncivilized way to get a dream wedding!" It looks like the type of game show that would be huge in Japan, a gladiatorial festival in which happy couples square off in a battle to see who can humiliate themselves most thoroughly. In each episode, brides and grooms and their wedding parties don formalwear to dig trinkets out of gargantuan wedding cakes, slide around on their American bellies, and dumbly mug for the nonjudgmental camera. One component of the competition is called the Appetizer Obstacle Course. This was all mildly entertaining—watching adults demean themselves so often is—but nowhere near so transporting as to distract from one from mulling over the relative merits of a shrimp cocktail bar.
Platinum Weddings, however, is a coup. The series isn't about taste, conflict, class, conspicuous consumption, or pride. It's only about money, and each episode documents an extravagant party. Consider the intro to the second installment, wherein we ogle the union of Rico and Michelle. "Most little girls dream about the day they'll marry—the flowers, the dress, the prince, and the ring." (The voice is that of a narrator who sounds rather like a corporate event coordinator three Xanaxes to the wind.) "Some little girls," she continues, "grow up to live that fantasy." A montage demonstrates that Michelle's fantasy is "hot, young, and hip" and involves a gaudy crucifix, a striking garter, an $8,000 mermaid-cut gown with a matching lace bolero jacket and a brown satin sash, and, also, an art dealer we take sincerely to be the love of her life.
Just as no man is a hero to his valet, every bride is a sucker to her wedding planner. Here's a person privy to her every indulgent desire. Four-tiered cake with hand-designed butterflies: $3,700. Linens: $15,000. Booze: $40,000. (The "martini luge" kinda hikes up the price.) Why? "Our main focus is to entertain our guests," say Michelle. The self-made rich are different from you and me: Paying for their own shindigs, the brides and grooms don't have to accommodate either set of in-laws; the fondue fountain spews forth its chocolate at precisely the speed they desire; and the mariachi bands get situated just so.
To repeat: Why? I'm afraid I have to quote Caitlin Flanagan: "[M]embers of the $70 billion-a-year wedding industry … seem to have all but created the contemporary event, weaving together attractive bits of genuine tradition and bolts of pure invention." Five years ago, in the Atlantic, La Flanagan argued persuasively that we have Elizabeth Taylor (in Father of the Bride) and Diana Spencer (in the House of Windsor) to thank for the way the white wedding looms in contemporary culture. What's marvelously pornographic about Platinum Weddings is its out-Heroding of Herod. When Shokoufeh, whose parents are Iranian, marries Mexican-American Luis, the cross-cultural affair involves one Muslim ceremony, one Catholic ceremony, one $30,000 tent, and some dude from Cirque de Soleil. It's so wonderfully gross that when Shokoufeh says, sensibly, that photography is where she refuses to cut corners, you start wondering whom she'll hire. Annie Leibowitz? Cindy Sherman? Perhaps Mathew Brady? * In the event, it was to Di for.