A Wedding Fit for a Bride: Neoliberal Consumerism, Postfeminism, Dramaturgy and the North-American Wedding
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Despite declining marriage rates and an increased acceptance of common-law couples in North America (Milan, 2013), the wedding is still constructed as a meaningful life event through the use of reality wedding shows, which have increased in number in recent years. Wedding-related media, which is funded by the wedding industry, is responsible for communicating the expectations and standards of the modern wedding which couples are expected to follow (Boden, 2001; Engstrom, 2008;2012; Mead, 2007). Bridal media, as wedding-related media is often called, positions brides as the focal point of the wedding and encourages them to create not just a standard wedding but a “perfect” wedding (Engstrom, 2012). This “perfect” wedding is positioned by bridal media as something that all brides can obtain through the purchase of material goods during the process of wedding planning. Given the emphasis placed on individualism in a neoliberal capitalist context (Hasinoff, 2008; Tudor, 2012), while there is a common notion of what the “perfect” wedding includes, each couple is expected to add their own personal touches, so long as they fall within wedding standards. As women are the focal point of the wedding celebration, it is important to consider how consumption-based feminine gender roles and norms effect wedding consumption given the high costs of the “perfect” wedding. For the purposes of this study, a multi-theoretical approach is taken that focuses primarily on Angela McRobbie’s (2009) take on postfeminism and a critical take on Goffman’s dramaturgy (1959; Paolucci & Richardson, 2006). A critical ethnographic content analysis was done using twenty episodes of the reality wedding television series Rich Bride Poor Bride. The findings of the study suggest that women are responsible for driving wedding-related consumption which relates to consumption-based feminine gender roles in the neoliberal postfeminist context. This study also finds that perfection and happiness also relate to wedding spending and tend to be of particular importance to the bride. As the bride becomes the focal point of the wedding, grooms are excluded, although they do wish to be involved.