More Weddings, Apparently – New York Times Vows, 17 November 2013

I suggest that you read this week’s more subdued Weddings post with this as a soundtrack. I’ll explain why at the end.

Lady Gaga put in a surprisingly good performance as performer and host of Saturday Night Live this past week. I do not say this because I wonder about her ability to perform – more than any other pop diva today for practical purposes, Gaga gives the impression of having been born this way – but the show has a newish cast. Gelling with a combination that’s still figuring out its internal dynamics isn’t the easiest thing to do. (For me, the stand-out moment on the show was a sketch titled “The Future”, not available online, which made me admire the performer’s self-knowledge and understanding of the ephemeral nature of fame.) Gaga’s opening monologue, where she pondered the difference between applause that’s earned and what she calls “cheap applause”, also stood out. She rightly condemns “cheap applause”. These are the claps that pander, the ones that you don’t really deserve but that elicit admiration through the audience’s familiarity or because they go according to script. As an audience-member, you know that this isn’t a great story or all that funny, but you laugh anyway. It also distinguishes Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral (genuinely, break-out, situational irony, funny) from Hugh Grant’s voiceover monologues in Love, Actually (which you love, despite the obvious manipulation).

The emotional equivalent of pandering to cheap applause is my problem with this week’s Weddings section of the New York Times, and why I’ve taken so long to put this together. (It’s a wonder that I bothered at all, what with the quality of wedding they’re letting in this mid-November.) For instance, even I don’t have it in me to decry the sweet story of a chap who stood by his girlfriend when she had cancer and proposed with rose petals lining the floor when it looked like she had successfully fought the disease. I don’t have much to say about the normal and unremarkable trend of people working in the media who met in ordinary circumstances finding space, either. Clearly these weddings are being featured as a token of gratitude for the freebies that the newly-weds give the impoverished staff-writers at the Times. (Or maybe one of the happy couple caught the Vows editor’s best friend in a compromising position over a sink with white powder in her nose, or under a sink with something whiter and stickier on his face that time at the benefit for multiple sclerosis in the Hamptons. Please feel free to reverse or duplicate the genders in the previous, arguably incomplete, sentence. I’ve seen it all ways.) This is the nature of the beast. Winter brings on a larger than usual smattering of lawyers, children of lawyers, and Columbia graduates than normal, too. (I fall within two of these groups, so ought not to get too upset about this.) All sit in the realm of the expected announcement, unworthy of special note. All are about cheap applause. It’s difficult to get too excited about these weddings.

Worth slightly more comment is the fact that winter Vows have this strange knack of spending more time than usual recounting the achievements of  the happy couple’s often supercilious parents. Exhibit one is Eliza Gray, whose father’s many years working as counsel for George H W Bush are prominent. (Less prominent is Daddy’s failure to tell 41 that the President’s son was a liability.) I’m puzzled by the puzzling inconsistency between the print and online version of the Bailey-Custer union. In the online edition, the couple is united by their made-for-post-breakup-bad-rom-com-on-a-rainy-long-weekend-and-didn’t-Kirsten-Dunst-seem-much-more-promising-in-1999? Soccer romance. The print edition dispenses with this story, opting instead, for some reason, to fix its clammy gaze on the bride’s parents’ many academic achievements.

Still, those of us who see the weddings as a source of entertainment rather than of people to pity are thrown a small bone this week. Two very Type A women imprisoned their victims husbands this week. One is the woman who had a list of seven non-negotiable traits that her ideal mate would exhibit. Readers are let in on details of four of the boxes that Rusty ticked. (These were: intelligence; self-awareness and self-improvement; fun quotient; wanting kids). Given that Miss From was sure that Mr Stahl met all of her criteria on their second date, I wonder whether or not the fact that he would say absolutely anything in order to get laid on a third date was on the list. At least the other bride has the “self-awareness and self-improvement” to identify as Type A; she has married a man who talks about a “90-degree experience, if you will.” The couple shares an interest in triathlons, working out, and living in Albany, New York. This, of course, makes total sense. What can one do in Albany apart from triathlons and working out?

Rounding things off this week are some signs of hope for people who occasionally wear tuxes and/or are chubby (and who generally laud weddings between the seemingly normal and fun). I found the story of Watson Morgan Fauth and Kevin Coleman Jr enchanting, and not just because Watson Morgan, the bride, is known as Morgan. (When you’re christened with three surnames, why not just pick the middle one?) No, Miss Fauth’s story also reveals that she had the good sense not to speak to the chap who she liked at the next table at a black tie event. She gave him her phone number instead. (She was 24 at the time. He was 23.) Six years and a fizzled Facebook friendship later, they’re getting married. This, it seems to me, is how love stories ought to work nowadays. There’s a certain romance to the ambiguity of the text message unanswered, the Facebook photo unliked. Does he hate me? Is she seeing someone else? With time and enough patience, we scions of the digital age can also have affairs to remember.

And finally, we have John Walsh, whose new 73 year-old wife thought he was “very cute – a little chubby, but very cute” when they first met. On his end, Mr Walsh was just wondering why Ms Crosby was coming out of the men’s room. 13 days – or is it a lifetime? – later, it looks as though they’re going to live happily ever after. I find marriage so much more romantic when it looks as though it’ll be unsullied by children. You know it’s true love when the couple can just focus on each other without trips to horse-riding lessons for respite.

Oh, why the song? Unfortunately, this week’s Weddings summaries (either in the paper or in this blog) aren’t in the normal mode of outrageous self-delusion. Instead they’re a little bit more understated; circumstances require them to be subdued. In this, they are much like a less heralded but still rather beautiful song by the King of Pop. So rest in sequins, Michael Jackson. Gaga might assume Madonna’s mantle, but like Beyoncé – and Hugh Grant at his very best, saying the things about marriage that I’m too scared to say, but actually mean – you remain irreplaceable.

(Normal coverage to resume soon. I’m seeing Betrayal in the near future.)

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