Sunday, April 27, 2014

True Detective and the Investigation of Character

In an interview with the LA Times, True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto made it clear that although the premise for the show is a murder investigation, what he is really doing is investigating character: "To achieve a personal vision that deeply investigates character, it makes sense to choose as a delivery vehicle a genre where an investigation is already underway…You can probably tell I don't give a ... about serial killers, and I certainly don't care to engage in some sort of creative cultural competition for who can invent the most disgusting kind of serial killer," he said. "This is just a vehicle. You could have engaged the same obsessions in a doughnut shop. But the show probably wouldn't have sold."

As we watch Marty Hart and Rust Cohle track down a killer, both men’s inner and outer lives are studied as well as the opposition in which these two lives sit.

Most notable and explicit is Marty’s dualistic concept of women. His wife, Maggie and daughters represent the wholesome, sexually pure females that must exist in Marty’s family life. However, outside this family unit exists the sexually exciting, illicit women who Marty calls up specifically for sex. Marty rationalizes his behaviour: “You gotta decompress before you go being a family man…Sometimes you gotta get your head right…It’s for your wife and kids, too. You gotta take your release where you find it or where it finds you. I mean, in the end it’s for the good of the family.” At one point, presumably in an attempt to be a better husband, Marty tries to resist the advances of Beth, a woman he has succumbed to previously. It is her promise of anal sex, a taboo act that "good" women don't do, that lures Marty back to her. He cannot resist the "whore" who meets his primal desires.

Beth represents an interesting shift in Marty’s eyes from virgin to whore , a transition that proves to be the inverse of her actual circumstances. When Marty first meets Beth, she is an underage prostitute working in a trailer park bordello. He feels sorry for her and gives her money and tells her, “do something else”. Tellingly, Rust asks, “That a down payment?” to which Marty replies, “Is shitting on any moment of decency part of your job description?” Rust’s initial assessment proves prescient when Marty runs into Beth later on in the series. She has given up prostitution and is working at a cellphone store. Marty wastes little time beginning an affair with her, the discovery of which proves to be his and Maggie’s final unraveling.

When Marty’s daughter Audrey is caught having sex in the back seat of a car with two teenage boys (having two men moves the situation from teenage fumble to a level of sexuality beyond her years, deepening the deviation in Marty's eyes), his reaction is over the top – he physically lashes out at her and calls her “captain of the varsity slut team”. And Marty doesn’t stop there: he metes out a severe jailhouse beating on the boys who were in the car with her. Marty’s anger at the boys blinds him to the fact that the desire driving the boys into the tryst with his daughter is the same desire that sends him, often drunk, to the apartment of his much younger lover, Lisa.

Lisa, although not part of Marty’s family unit, begins to take on the role of pure woman when Marty runs into her at a bar and sees her with another man. He breaks down her door that night and attacks the man with Lisa, an explosion of rage against the tarnishing of his pure mistress.

Indeed, a pivotal scene in the series is when Marty’s wife Maggie has sex with Rust, thus ensuring her split from Marty is final. She states it was the only way to make sure they were done: Marty cannot deal with his wholesome wife having fucked his partner – she is forever ruined.

Rust spends many scenes philosophizing about the tension between inner and outer lives. At one point after Marty has just claimed he keeps himself on an even keel and isn’t obsessive about things like Rust is, Marty says to Rust, “You know the real difference between you and me?” To which Rust quickly replies, “Yeah. Denial.” Rust believes Marty is lying to himself. If he really examined who he was, Marty would see the deception within himself.

Rust sees this tension in himself: who he wants to be and who he thinks he is, versus who he really is. When he’s being interviewed, he tells the two police officers about finally ceasing the fight within himself between these two forces:

Rust Cohle: It broke off. It was for the best, you know, I gave her cause. I can be hard to live with. I don’t mean to, but I can be… critical. And sometimes I think I’m just not good for people, you know, that’s not good for them to be around me. You know, I… I wear ‘em down. And they… they get unhappy.

Maynard Gilbough: Yeah, I think the job does that to a lot of guys. It changes ya. Some guys just notice, that’s all.

Rust Cohle: I can’t say the job made me this way. More like me bein’ this way made me right for the job. I used to think about it more, but, you know you reach a certain age, you know who you are. Now I live in a little room out in the country behind a bar, work four nights a week, in between, I drink. And there ain’t nobody there to stop me. And I know who I am. After all these years there’s a…there’s a victory in that.

Rust tried to act like a ‘normal’ person, accepting Maggie’s set up and engaging in a relationship with Laurie, later on in the series. But the essence of him - the Rust who drinks, who has dark thoughts about human nature, who craves being alone - cannot allow him to be part of a relationship in which the other person is happy. We see a change in Rust from 1995 to 2012. When he's younger, he tries to be this 'normal' version of himself, but Rust in 2012 realizes that this desire is just the mask of a constructed life.

The unreliable narrator is a technique used by Pizzolatto which furthers the notion of inner and outer lives. We have the truth of how something happened, but we choose how to present it to others. At the beginning of episode 5, Marty says, “I tell [the story of Ledoux's takedown] the same way that I told the Shooting Board and every cop bar between Houston and Biloxi. And you know why the story’s always the same 17 years gone? Because it only went down the one way.” Then as the episode unfolds, we see that his official version of events is not at all what happened. The same occurs when Maggie is interviewed by police. She tells them she doesn’t know what caused the fight between Rust and Marty when in fact she was at the heart of it.

The final episode, criticized by many as a letdown, is far from a disappointment. In fact, if viewers are to take the overarching theme of the examination of the inner vs. outer life, it is the perfect climax and denouement for the series.

When Rust and Marty finally find Carcosa, it is a warren of tangled branches weaving through an abandoned fort. The gnarled visual imagery is that of the neurons of the human brain, through which Rust and Marty are winding, separately, to the final spot where Errol Childress waits. The second half of the episode is a visual metaphor of the series’ descent into the human mind, or the “locked room,” a phrase which titles the 3rd episode. We are watching Marty and Rust explore the mind.

When Rust finally finds and confronts Errol, representing the darkness in the depths of the human mind, Errol implores Rust to “take off your mask” as he attacks him. Played out in front of us, we see Rust find his inner darkness which recognizes how it is hidden behind the public persona of his mask.

Both Rust and Marty are bloodied and beaten after their encounter, but it is Rust, who can still barely stand because of his injuries weeks after the attack, who looks to the sky and says “It’s just one story, the oldest. Light vs. dark…If you ask me, light’s winning.” He recognizes that this idea - of light vs. dark, good vs. bad, human’s inner worlds vs. their outer ones – affects all humans and that in general, despite Pizzolatto showing us the worst kind of human in Errol, we continue on because it’s the light that seems to be winning.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Brand's No Revolutionary

The video currently making the rounds across the internet is that of Jeremy Paxman interviewing Russell Brand about his position as guest editor of the New Statesman. Almost invariably on social media, it is annotated with a comment supporting Brand’s arguments against democracy. Gawker even suggested Brand may have started a revolution in its headline. But Brand’s half-realized arguments about his political apathy illustrate why he could never start a revolution amongst the people he claims to represent.

Paxman begins by asking who is Brand to be editing a political magazine, to which Brand replies: “I suppose like a person who’s being politely asked by an attractive woman. I don’t know what the typical criteria is [sic]. I don’t know many people that [sic] edit political magazines.” Now Brand is a comedian, so obviously we expect some humour in his responses, but he barely defends the position he’s accepted, reducing his acceptance to a quasi-sexual favour. And to start out by saying that he does not know the typical criteria to be the editor of a political magazine (because a degree in English and an interest in politics seems so far-fetched a concept) sets the stage for his subsequent arguments: half-informed and lacking common sense.

Brand does not vote. And when asked how he can comment on politics when he doesn’t exercise this democratic right, Brand replies: “I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm that only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”

Democracy serves everyone, but only if everyone performs one fundamental act: they vote. The authority of politicians and in turn other authority figures (judges, police officers, teachers) depends upon the fact that members of a society are aware of their own personal belief systems, seek out a leader to further their goals and vote for them. Brand’s spouting of revolution and alternative systems mean nothing if he or others are unwilling to put them into action. And the democratic right to vote is one of the simplest ways to tell the system how you want it run.

Brand is disillusioned with the way British society works, implying that a utopian system shouldn’t “destroy the planet,” “create massive economic disparity” and “ignore the needs of the people.” But when asked what alternate system we could have, he flippantly answers “Well I’ve not invented it yet!” Later in the interview he dodges another point blank question by Paxman: “I’m asking you what it [the revolution] will be like” to which Brand responds: “I think what it won’t be like is…” and then just lists again his grievances with the current system. You can complain all you want, but nothing will change until you take that first step of filling out a ballot.

After Brand advances his position that corporations should be taxed, Paxman asks: “Who would levy these taxes?” to which Brand answers: “I think we need a centralized administrative system.” Ummm, like a government? Brand then gets angry that Paxman would dare to ask him these logistical questions in an interview when all he is calling for is change. (And if I had the space, I would trot out a flurry of examples of people who effected change – it takes both an idea and a means to bring about the change.) Brand also attempts to imply that facetiousness is just as valuable as seriousness – and that we won’t solve world problems with seriousness or facetiousness. Again reverting to humour when there is no viable alternative because he hasn’t actually thought of one.

Brand’s political views are actually quite similar to mine: redistribution of wealth through taxation (and higher tax rates for corporations), responsibility of energy companies and taking care of the underclass. But the fundamental difference, and why I am so disillusioned with everyone lauding this interview, is how completely uninterested he is in making any real and lasting change to British society. He crows about societal inequities and references a woman he just spoke to who’s been “fucked over by the aristocrats,” but is completely unwilling to do anything about it in any practical terms. He says he is trying to change the current system but offers absolutely nothing in tangible proposals or tactics to remedy the current system which he eviscerates so vehemently (and with such big, alliterative words!).

The only point where Brand has a valid argument is when he references the underclass who are as apathetic as he and don’t bother to vote: “Well I was busy being a drug addict [when Brand was 18] because I come from the kind of social conditions that are exacerbated by an indifferent system that really just administrates for large corporations and ignores the population that it was voted in to serve.” He’s right. There is a whole segment of society who, for a variety of socio-economic and psychological reasons, cannot be arsed to vote. And this is where Brand really fails.

He has a chance to really effect change: he knows what it’s like to live in those social conditions. He knows what it’s like to be a drug addict. He knows what it’s like to be apathetic towards the current system because it isn’t serving him. But he is now in a position to support a political candidate who is willing to do the work to effect change in Britain. Maybe Brand doesn’t want to get his hands dirty and reassess the way social programs are administered or how taxes are levied or how government funds are distributed. But he has very real power, gained from within the system he criticizes, to influence the voting habits and political leanings of a great number of people in Britain.

“I’m not voting out of apathy, I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion,” he says. This is not acceptable. Not from someone like Brand who accepts the position of editor for a political magazine, espouses clear political views on a national television program and has the profile and audience to actually start a revolution. Brand says: “When there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that.” So he clearly supports democracy, just isn’t willing to work towards that genuine alternative.

At the end of the interview, Brand just becomes whiney – wondering why Paxman made a career of grilling politicians but then has a go at Brand because doesn’t like politicians. Of course he’s having a go: a real journalist holds his or her interview subject to account, asking uncomfortable questions of the subject. And they certainly won’t accept a call for a revolution from someone whose arsenal is filled only with facetiousness and suggestions of what not to do.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gaz as a Morally Superior Character on Geordie Shore: a Five (okay, Six) Paragraph Essay

For those of you not familiar with the lazy summer indulgence which is endless episodes of Geordie Shore online, let me enlighten you. Based on MTV’s Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore takes the same concept of putting a bunch of twenty-somethings into a house, adding shedloads of alcohol and filming all the shagging, yelling and falling over that ensues. Now in its sixth season (and a seventh one being filmed), the show features eight housemates and is an anthropological study in the all the bad choices we make after the first two decades of living (and, well, all the fun that is had, too).

The paralytic drunkeness is worrisome and the men’s sole focus on “banging birds” makes one wonder how far feminism in the UK has really come since Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of the king’s horse a hundred years ago. Gary Beadle, known as Gaz, is the show’s top womanizer and has expressed his dislike of dates: “I don’t see the point in them. You might as well just skip the bullshit, go home and do [what] yous both wanna do and just bang.” (Although in an interesting inversion, he expresses distaste at being objectified when he is auctioned off at a charity event by his boss. “We’re not a piece of meat, Anna,” he says with indignation and absolutely no realization of his hypocrisy.) Despite his love of shagging random girls, he does, however, conduct himself in a consistently morally correct manner by telling the truth, criticizing others who cheat on their partners, and considering the feelings of Charlotte, his on-again-off-again love interest.

Gaz likes to go out drinking and pull as many women as possible (“pull” is a British term for pick up). In nearly every episode, he expresses this desire and we almost always see him follow through on his plan. In the first series, he has sex with Charlotte and we begin to see them develop feelings for each other. They will often fall into each other’s beds throughout the series if the other hasn’t pulled. However, not once does Gaz lie to Charlotte about their situation. He tells her he likes her, he enjoys their bedroom romps, but he cannot be her boyfriend. Even though Charlotte is clearly enamoured with him and will sleep with him even when she tells herself she shouldn’t, Gaz doesn’t use her infatuation just to have sex.

Although he enjoys his own promiscuity, Gaz is highly critical of other male’s philandering behaviour. When Sophie’s boyfriend Joel is flirting with different girls on spring break in Mexico in the third season, Gaz is not impressed: “For me, Joel’s got a bird, he’s seeing Sophie, he should be in Jay’s mindset [a Geordie Shore character who has a girlfriend at home and refrains from hitting on girls]…Joel’s still in my mindset…Joel keeps forgetting he’s got a girlfriend.” Gaz is similarly unimpressed with Vicky at the beginning of season 2 when she is getting closer and closer to housemate Ricci, but has a boyfriend on the outside. At the beginning of season 4, Charlotte arrives in the house with a boyfriend of two months, however she gets drunk and climbs into Gaz’s bed one night. He leaves the bed and expresses confusion as to why she’s doing this if she has a boyfriend.

Throughout the series, we watch the relationship between Gaz and Charlotte unfold: from their lovemaking to their fighting to their jealousies to their attempts at friendship. What emerges is actually a really sweet and caring relationship. They both enjoy each other’s (clothed) company and make honest attempts at a friendship free of the complications of sex. Gaz has been truthful with Charlotte from the beginning about his inability to commit just to her, but still realizes how much he hurts her when she sees him flirting with other girls. And he is entirely forgiving of her when she freaks out over his conquests: “There’s only so long I can stay mad at Charlotte for, so I give her a little hug and that’s it, forgotten.” At many points in the later seasons, Gaz expresses his fondness for Charlotte above others and his desire to have her around. And it is he who makes the rule later on in season 3 that he won’t sleep with her because he knows how much that complicates things for Charlotte.

Gaz shows himself to be a morally superior character for much of Geordie Shore by consistently telling the truth, expressing his distaste for people who are unfaithful in a relationship and by showing empathy for Charlotte who loves him and wants a more stable relationship. I do use the phrase “morally superior” with just a hint of irony: much of the behaviour on the show would be morally reprehensible to large portions of the world’s population. Morality has to do with what is right and what is wrong and those opposing ideas can be very different throughout humankind. But Gaz lives his life according to his own principles and his behaviour reflects his beliefs. Now if only we could get him to see that he treats women as part of an endless supply of faceless pleasure. And maybe Charlotte is the girl to do it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can't Take a Joke

In a recent column for, Tracy Flory-Clark asks why can’t we quit with all the gay jokes – specifically the uncomfortable comedic scenes popular in modern comedy where heterosexual guys have to feign sexual interest in each other.

Now I’m a pretty big decrier of gay jokes – but there are subtle differences between the gay wedding depicted in Saturday Night Live's video and your standard gay joke. Comedy plays on the opposite of what you expect – for example, when Rob Ford falls over whilst throwing a football (seriously, watch this): it’s funny because he’s a football coach and supposed to be a pulled-together member of society leading our great city (oh well). So if you deconstruct the videos referenced by Flory-Clark, they are not making fun of being homosexual - proliferating stereotypes or portraying gay men as "lesser" - they make fun of known straight guys in a scenario which is the opposite of our expectations. With the spring break rap, it turns the whole idea of sowing one’s wild oats on its head (now that gay men and women can get married in some places) when the male rappers sing: "Down here it's our time/Spring Breakers/Get fucked up/Then find Mr. Right/and get monogamous".

What’s more troubling to me (perhaps as I’m a straight female and not a gay man?) is advertisements like this one that recently came up in my Facebook feed. I actually took some time to analyze my feelings about it, reconciling them to my core beliefs about sports and porn. What’s very obvious is that the director is taking a traditionally male sport and explaining the rules by using scantily-clad female athletes. Already, the athleticism of the game is demoted to a spot well below how these girls look (despite the fact they all seem to be quite athletic). Although they appear serious about the physicality of the sport, the shots of their various body parts detract from any marvel one might have at their skill.

There is a certain amount of sexual viewing that goes along with watching sports (I always catch my breath when Freddie Ljundeberg’s shirt comes off) but that is not the main reason for the Lynx match. We may think sexual thoughts about people in all sorts of scenarios - like a hot doctor in scrubs. But - the primary purpose of doctors in scrubs is not to look good for patients, just as the primary reason we go to sports matches to not to check out the athletes' bodies.

I’m also supportive of porn as long as it is ethically-sourced, so to speak. So why did this ad bother me? Was it not just a chance for boys to look at tits and ass?

And the answer lies in my criticism of Flory-Clark’s piece: this video was not made as comedy, pulling a 180 our expectations of rugby players the way Zach’s video made light of the heterosexual freedom rites before (gay) marriage. It was made to view women’s bodies. And there is already a well-worn field in which to view women’s bodies: porn. Having a bunch of women play a sport in order for men to ogle their bodies instead of marvel at their athletic skill is reductive and sexist.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Boys, Boobs and Bad Decisions (or, Seth McFarlane Hosts the Oscars)

Last night, the Oscars, meant to celebrate greatness in film, reduced half of the people working in the industry to a pair of boobs whose sole purpose was as an object for men to stare at.

In the first hour of the show, host Seth McFarlane sang and danced his way through a list of actresses who had taken their tops off in various films (which, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker points out, were serious, issue-driven movies like Brokeback Mountain and the Accused). This wasn’t a single verse in a number about movie nudity: it was an entire song devoted to degrading the talented, multi-faceted women in the audience, stripping (sorry) them of their dramatic skill and reducing them to a pair of tits.

I get it – boobs are great. And sometimes the sight of them in a serious movie might prompt a fleshly admiration slightly out of line with the tone of the film. But when McFarlane and producers devote a good 4 minutes of the Oscars entertainment to a bit on whose boobs we’ve seen, they’re making a comment on how they value women in the industry (and indeed, women in general).

In the few snippets of the Oscars I watched this time around (I’ve been on a lazy boycott since Titanic won), reducing women to things that we look at seems par for the course: watch this clip of Jennifer Lawrence fielding questions from reporters after her win.

Save for the first question, dealing with mental illness, the rest of the questions were inane and unrelated to her win – and Ms. Lawrence dealt with them expertly. When asked about her fall on the way up to receive her statue, she says: “What do you mean what happened?! Look at my dress! I tried to walk up stairs in this dress, that’s what happened...I think I just stepped on the fabric and they waxed the stairs” followed by a near imperceptible look that says it all: “Really? Is this what you’re asking me after I’ve won an Oscar in a movie which deals with mental illness?”

Many people have defended McFarlane, wondering what one would expect when you have the writer of Family Guy hosting the Oscars – but that doesn’t make it okay. Making jokes that place women’s worth solely on the nakedness of their breasts during an international broadcast is entirely inappropriate. (And so was his Chris Brown and Rihanna joke: Django Unchained was “the story of a man fighting to get back his woman who has been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” So now we're publicly calling out a victim of domestic violence in a distasteful quip?)

I can make the worst jokes and the most inappropriate comments, but I know my audience. I know who knows my actual values and McFarlane should never have risked the kind of offence he caused a significant portion of the population – whether our tits are in or out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sex Ed

There was a minor furor back in April when the Ontario Ministry of Education released an updated Health curriculum after consultations with sexual health experts, educators and other provincial education ministries. Church and “family focused” groups freaked out over children as young as 6 learning to use the words penis and vagina to describe, well, a penis and vagina. That wasn’t the worst of it, though, according to the critics: kids as young as 8 were to learn that there are homosexual relationships (what the children of same sex couples did before learning this, I don’t know) and adolescents were to learn the facts about anal and oral sex as well as the old standby of vaginal sex.

Rev. Ekron Malcolm, who is with the Institute for Canadian Values and was a major critic of the original revised curriculum, was quoted in the National Post, saying: “schools don’t need to be teaching my children about sexual orientation or sex education. Those decisions should be left to the family, to the parents, to guide children. These topics can be taught at the high school level, at the university level, when children can make up their minds.”

In terms of homosexuality and gender identity, there are huge problems with ignoring the fact that there are gay relationships and people who don’t adhere to traditional gender standards. (Never mind that fact that teaching homosexuality doesn’t mean teaching homosexual acts; just that boys can like boys and girls can like girls and people can marry someone of the same gender.)

A principal friend of mine had a gender equity assembly at her school which involved many skits dealing with male/female stereotypes and inequities as well as homosexuality. The next day, my friend had an office full of parents complaining that exposing their children to the idea that homosexuality was an acceptable practice contravened their religious and cultural teachings. And isn’t this what is really at the heart of Malcolm’s complaint, that parents should be able to teach that homosexuality is an abomination, contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the document which my principal friend had on hand for her enraged parents meeting).

I knew a boy once who was being “guided” by his parents when he was told he was no longer allowed to dress up in his sister’s clothing. This was a highly intelligent, creative and empathetic boy who was made to feel that his exploration of gender identity was wrong. And believe me, he had a forming gender identity at age 7.

It is the child’s understanding of this identity of which Malcolm can’t conceive: “I can’t imagine a child now has to question their gender, question their identity,” he said. “I think there’s enough confusion among our children in the world, for them now having to question themselves. This is where I would draw the line.”

The confusion in the world is precisely the reason why we should teach sexuality in schools. Sex is way more readily available with the internet nowadays. When I was an adolescent, you’d hear stories of people stealing their parents’ porn tapes and sharing them with their friends or sneaking peaks at the top shelf magazines at the variety store. The exposure was minimal, rare, usually accompanied by a group and required some resourcefulness. Now, you can get all manner of pornography for free from any computer without parental controls and none of it is mediated with a discussion as to what’s going on.

Adolescents need to understand the different types of sex and their risks and how to protect themselves from these risks. Critics argue that grade 7 and 8 is too young to introduce students to the taboo acts of anal and oral sex but the crux of the issue is that a lot of kids that age are already doing it. I remember becoming aware of people participating in oral and vaginal sex in grade 6 – and those were only the stories that made it to my ears. Who knows the number of girls who were convinced that having anal sex would preserve their virginity and prevent pregnancy.

Sexual education is a delicate, sometimes cringe-inducing necessity. Part of it is certainly the nitty-gritty physiology of parts and acts, but another part of it is arming kids with knowledge in order to make their own decisions – it has been widely reported that teenagers who have been sexually educated from a young age often delay having sex. Sex ed class is also the only time you’ll have the attention of every single student.

Unfortunately for Ontario, the outcry over the new curriculum worked and Dalton McGuinty backpedaled on his support for the curriculum two days later. An interim edition of the Health curriculum is now available on the Ministry’s website with all the dirty stuff taken out. Grade ones still learn to “identify the major parts of the body by their proper names” and education around puberty is still in there for the grade fours. However, there is absolutely no mention of homosexuality anywhere in the general and specific curriculum expectations.

In Montana, the state government has come out with a curriculum document that details how to sexually educate children from kindergarten to grade 12 (see specifically pages 36 – 40). It is a fully inclusive document which details a variety of sexual knowledge. The document has attracted some conservative backlash, certainly, but as far as I know, it is still being implemented in schools. Hopefully the Ontario interim curriculum document will have a chance to be reviewed with an eye to inclusion and public health and the final document will take into account “the confusion” of the world and arm our children with the knowledge necessary to meet this confusion.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

With This Misogynist Tradition, I Thee Wed

Ah, Margaret Wente – you never cease to annoy me of a Saturday.

This week it was her column telling us why weddings matter more than ever. Wente writes how as a young adult she thought marriage was a “dusty relic of the patriarchy” and weddings “a silly, conformist ritual full of fake piety, tasteless clothes and ostentatious spending.” But now, of course, as an experienced 50-something, she can see the error of her young adult thinking. (This is a sly arguing technique – because you can’t really argue with an elder who is telling you that essentially your beliefs are wrong because they believed them when they were young, but now they know better.) Wente now sees her decision to seek out “self-actualization and adventure” over the “banality of coupledom and family life” as wrong – huh? But she got both! Dozens of times women who married young have told me to enjoy my single life now – they wished they had. I’ve had conversations with women who I met travelling who were divorced and in their 40s doing the backpacker thing because they wished they had done it in their 20s, but got caught up in marriage and kids.

Marriage is a dusty relic – based on the exchange of property – and few people understand my ire at the father of the bride walking her down the aisle to her husband-to-be. Some couples have chosen to have both the bride’s parents walk her down the aisle, but the symbolic tradition still remains: it is the woman who is being passed from one man (and his wife) to another man. Never mind the fact that my (and most women's) last name is that of my patrilineal heritage only.

Having been through several weddings (the cheapest of which was $15 000), weddings do invite outrageous spending. Part of this, of course, is the fact that everything you spend money on for a wedding is grossly inflated because it’s for a wedding. And our society says that’s okay because we place such importance on this one event.

Let me digress for a moment here and say that I certainly do not judge those people that enjoy the tradition and pomp of a wedding. Some people love the pageantry and the flowers and the centerpieces. But two things remain. One: I urge people to really think about where certain traditions come from. Two: I think it was Salman Rushdie that once said that women want a wedding, not a marriage (I’ll ignore his gender generalization to make my point). And for all the white tulle and roses, that’s the whole point of the day – two people promising to stay in their foxhole together.

Wente argues marriage is “indisputably the best arrangement for raising children.” I totally agree that having two people raise children is better than single parenting and having a male and female role model (although these do not have to be the mom and dad of a heterosexual couple) is ideal. But what is most important is that two people agree to stick it out together in the long run. It doesn’t take a 40K wedding to make that commitment – a simple “you’re stuck with me ‘til I’m old, babe” would suffice.

And finally, I'm not sure Wente can effectively argue that a life with someone else is "infinitely richer" than being single. For her (hopefully), she is happy because she is with a good man, not because she is part of a couple. I'd rather be single than in an unhappy relationship. If I left my partner now, I'd miss him, not having a boyfriend. And because Wente has been in a relationship for the past however many years, she has nothing to compare it to - perhaps she would have been more adventurous as a 40-something, or done things she wouldn't have as a married woman.

As Wente notes, marriage rates are in decline and people are waiting until into their 30s to marry. And there's nothing wrong with this. There's nothing wrong with getting everything you can out of life and not placing landing a husband as your primary goal. And hopefully when we all look back at our 20s and 30s, we'll say, hey - we were right. And as elders, no one can argue with us.