I'm not going to lie: I'm exhausted. In the last 4 weeks I have attended 3 weddings, 2 of which were in Oregon. In a usual year, I would make excuses about why I can't go to any weddings, let alone three: important readings, ethically I can't go to weddings until gay marriage is recognized at the federal level, whatever. But this year the weddings were for members of my family and very close friends and so I sucked it up and went. And I was pleasantly surprised.
These events all followed the same basic format, sure, but they also all so specifically represented the couples getting married. They were sweet and fun and made me feel pretty happy, which got me thinking: today, weddings are basically, at their best, really successful performance art pieces, put on by people who usually don't even call themselves artists. If the goal of art is to transport the viewer/participant outside his/her daily life in a way that elevates some element of being human (and I am saying that is the goal of art), then weddings do that more satisfyingly than any performance piece in a gallery or on a sidewalk. Sure they are put on by amateurs who generally did not go to art school, but in some very important ways, these events succeed where frequently gallery performances fail. Here, my friends, is why:
1. They actually create an immersive environment.
Once you step into a wedding, whether it's at a church or outside on folding chairs, you know you are no longer in real life. Everything is controlled and planned: the music you hear, the flower arrangements you see and smell, the seats you sit on, the food and drinks you put into your mouth. Nothing is left to chance, except maybe the flower girls, but let's be honest, the flower girls are always meant as comic relief.
These events are often planned for months or even years and they cost a ton of money, not unlike a really big performance art project. But the difference is, usually they work. All of the outward elements come together to create a feeling that is happy and uplifting. Even for a misanthrope like me, who is generally on the fence about matrimony, can't help feeling really excited when I step into one of these transformed worlds. How many times have I entered a gallery or a place someone is doing a performance and not felt any feelings at all -- except mild annoyance?
2. There are specific people who are the actors, putting on the show.
Beside the bride and groom, there are always a whole slew of amateur actors who are so fully method acting, they don't even realize what they are doing. I, for example, was a bridesmaid at the last wedding I went to and the second I went into hair and make-up, I stopped being my usual awkward, unreliable self and started passing out champagne and being supportive and beautiful. At the first wedding I went to, my 6-year-old cousin, the flower girl, was stung next to her eye by a bee, three minutes before she had to walk down the aisle. This girl is tough but she's also six. Still, she held it together, walked down the aisle like it was her job and didn't start crying until well after the ceremony had ended. The removal from real life is so complete that all of us become different characters and all our regular issues disappear because we have one common goal: make this wedding awesome.
3. Everyone is in costume.
It's not just the wedding party that dresses a specific way, it is everyone at the whole wedding. This levels the playing field and brings people together in a way they wouldn't ever be if they just met on the street or even at a different kind of party. When all the men are in suits and all the women are in dresses and make-up, it is almost impossible to categorize people into the "yeah that person is my type of person" and "no way will we ever agree on anything" groups. You can't tell who is a Republican and who is a Democrat. You can't tell who is a hipster and who is a bro. All you know is that you are all playing parts in the same play and that you are all reasonable enough to get invited to a wedding. This creates an immediate community which is completely unrelated to the real world, which you all left anyway the second you stepped into the wedding. These costumes, and the camaraderie with complete strangers it creates, work together to get you to feel the most important feelings of a wedding: hopefulness and love. It's like you all took the same really happy drugs, all at the exact same time.
4. There are prescribed actions that everyone participates in.
In a performance piece, at least a good one, the audience is a crucial part of the experience. At weddings, they are just as important. There are things you watch: the first dance, the vows, and things you do: pretend to try for the bouquet or the garter belt, Gangnam Style. This is because a wedding is really about the community (the community that nowadays, when your friend lives in London or Berkeley and is marrying a Finnish guy or a New Yorker, was just created by the environment, the champagne and the costumes) saying that it supports the union and commitment of these two people. At the second wedding I went to, there was even a point when the minister asked the whole crowd to say "We will" and pledge to support the couple. It might sound cheesy as I write it but really, it almost made me cry. It used to be this community already existed because you lived in it and the bride and groom and both their families had probably all lived in the same village for hundreds of years. But now, that important element has to be created from scratch.
5. They actually make you feel feelings.
All of these elements seem to frequently combine in a way that makes you actually feel the feelings weddings are meant to elicit: you are joyful, you think monogamy can totally work, you not only WANT your friends to live happily ever after but you truly believe they can! What art project is ever so thorough? What art project has ever made you, even for a moment, fall in love with the idea of being in love?
There is somewhat of a disdain for weddings in the world today. I make fun of hipster weddings as much as the next Internet user. And the idea of "bridezilla" is one of the more popular "oh ladies are CRAZY" female stereotypes. But I can't help but think that some of this has to do with the fact weddings are mainly a feminine art form and they are put on by people who don't identify as artists for what could be called "sentimental" reasons. If a man with an MFA were to spend a year and a ton of money trying to create an art piece that elicited such strong emotional responses, a) likely he would fail miserably because performance art is hard and a lot of it fails miserably and b) if he did succeed, he would probably be considered a genius and get flown to London to perform at the Tate Modern or some equally fancy place.
Anyway, I am pretty sure none of my friends are getting flown to London any time soon, except for the one who lives there. But in my time in San Francisco, I have seen a lot of artists trying to make meaningful performance art and in the last 4 weeks I can say without a doubt that for the first time, I actually saw it happen. So good luck to Signe and Ahren, Jessie and Bobby, and Erica and Veikko. And thanks you guys, for using your epic creativity to give me something to believe in.