September 20, 2014

Culture Vulture

Donald Trump got married today-his third wedding. And according to the cover story in Vogue, he seriously considered having the whole thing televised in prime time, live on Saturday night on NBC. It didn't pan out; and while many people consider that a minor but important victory for good taste, I consider it a disaster. Who wouldn't watch? Weddings are the new entertainment, and I follow each and every one.

It isn't difficult. Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, the Style Channel, People, InStyle are all full of them. And along with the rest of us, I have developed strong critical opinions. Star Jones (they call her Bridezilla) was too vulgar, too calculated, too over-the-top (and isn't that guy supposed to be gay?). Kevin Costner: He looks kind of embarrassed and I don't trust that broad one inch, and arriving in the pickup truck was a little too corny. Tori Spelling: surprisingly sincere and tasteful but still-you can see the dollar signs reflected in the bridegroom's eyeballs.

I try and figure out what the fascination is, and the only answer I can come up with is that a wedding is the one event in a person's life that encompasses all it is to be a human. Just look at what's going on at a typical wedding. First, the reproduction of the species, perhaps our highest priority if we want to continue our excellent standard of living. Second, romantic love, although in many places in the world-Borneo, Nepal, Pelican Bay-you don't get that until after the wedding, when you take a lover.

Third: money, power, status. The ultimate Cinderella story is the Cinderella story; and now, thanks to Britney Spears, Kevin Federline and Jason Alexander have proven it can happen to guys, too. And finally, a wedding is the ultimate social event and has been for thousands of years. Jesus went to weddings; and, as you'll recall, even back in those days they were having problems with the caterer.

Weddings wax and wane. When I was growing up in a snobby suburb in Westchester County, they were codified to the extreme. Everything had to be done a certain way. The bridal photograph for the Times had to be taken by Bachrach and a Lester Lanin orchestra had to play at the reception, which had to take place at the country club the bride's family belonged to-to have it in a hotel ballroom was simply not done. The only exception was perhaps a tent in the back yard, which really meant an acre or so of perfectly tended lawn. One did not applaud at the end of the ceremony, that practice of removing the bride's garter did not exist, and a woman never, never wore black to a wedding, unless she was a nun.

Weddings hit a low ebb in the late '60s and early '70s. I can still remember the sand flies biting my bare feet at my brother's wedding, which was supposed to be held at the beach on Maryland's Eastern Shore but actually turned out to be on a mud flat. All during the vows we kept slapping at our ankles.

Luckily, weddings have been slowly rebounding and gathering strength until, due to a force never properly identified but probably Liza Minnelli's train wreck of a wedding back in 2002, they are now at their apogee as a true art form. Here's what I call the Four D's. These are the crucial elements that make up a wedding today.

The Dress. In any culture, wedding dresses are the ultimate female costume. Today, in trying to combine outmoded tradition (a white gown-please, who does she think she's kidding?) with a sense of the fashion forward, wedding dresses can look a little odd, indeed. Just examine the new Mrs. Trump's gown, which weighs 50 pounds and looks like a lampshade on Mae West's dressing table. Lesson number one: Don't design your own wedding dress and don't let anybody else design it. You don't want to look original, you want to look good. Every possible good wedding dress design has already been thought up and is out there on the market, particularly since Vera Wang, who reinvented the form, came on the scene.

Very important point: Keep in mind they'll be staring at your back during the ceremony. Give them some gorgeous detail to focus on-a bustle-type thing, or a satin rose. You certainly don't want their attention wandering to the stained glass windows or, God forbid, a bridesmaid.

Dinner and Dancing. How many times have you been at a wedding you somehow got dragged into attending and you're thinking, oh, God, four more hours of this, and then the food arrives and it's so good that you fall back into a state of bliss, particularly with a little help from the open bar? Yes, don't stint on the food. It's the way to a wedding guest's heart. And you can't feed them too much or too often. I hear there's a new trend to serve hors d'oeuvres and champagne before the ceremony, right there on the sidewalk in front of the church. Bravo!

Weddings are the one time it is expected that the old, the odd, the lame, the prissy and the painfully inhibited will get up and dance like fools, so make sure you have great music. To me, the most difficult decision facing young couples today is-do we ask the band to play the Hokey Pokey and YMCA? Or are we above it, even though we both know it would be the hit of the evening?

The Details. Here's where the money really adds up. The flowers, the photographer, the videographer, the custom-printed matchbooks, the limo, the guy who sings Ave Maria, the calligraphy, the champagne fountain, the chocolate fountain, the Viennese dessert cart, the dove release (don't worry, they're trained to fly back to the van).Well, you get the picture. You can add on as much as you want or can afford. Just keep in mind-everything comes in increments of $1,000.

The advent of same-sex marriage, unions, commitment ceremonies won't change weddings in the slightest. In fact, it's the other way around, with two guys and two girls trying to fit into society's most rigid ceremony.

I'm in favor of same-sex marriage in a political sense; but as far as the look of the thing goes, I wonder. You look at two guys standing there at the altar and you think, "Where's the bride?" You look at two girls and you think, "Which one's the bride?" A wedding needs a bride, just one bride. When this conceptual problem gets solved, same-sex marriage will sail right through.

I feel a little foolish offering the Trumps my best wishes. Something more like, "I love your work!" would be more accurate. For I mean it in the nicest possible way when I say that their massive egos and chronic need for attention have produced a modern wedding masterpiece.

Robert Plunket, author of My Search for Warren Harding and Love Junkie, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and other national publications. 

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