On being an offbeat consumer

By on Jun 21st

One of my new favorite blogs is called "You Are Not So Smart," an homage to the psychology of irrational thinking. One of David McRaney's recent posts addressed the whole concept of "selling out." Although the angle felt a little remedial to this particular aging navel-gazing counter-culturist ("Duuuuude, you mean you're saying you can't rebel against consumerism by buying alternative stuff? You just blew my fucking mind! Now stop boggarting…") it's still an excellent read, especially through the filter of offbeat wedding planning.

"the system" doesn't give a shit about conformity. In fact, it loves diversity and needs people like hipsters and music snobs so it can thrive.

In other words, the Wedding Industrial Complex LOVES your unique elements and alternative twists. Go read the article, and then come back and let's discuss.

Here are a few choice quotes from the article that I thought were relevant to Offbeat culture:

The counter-culture, the indie fans and the underground stars – they are the driving force behind capitalism. They are the engine.

So here's the weird thing: I am now technically a member of the Wedding Industrial Complex. I work in the wedding industry! ME! A slovenly bride who wore a dress cobbled together from an eBay prom dress and a corset made by a drug addled Burning Man designer; a bride who gave ugly used mugs to her guests as "favors" (HA!); a bride who now makes her living from the wedding industry. I like to think my particular way of working in the industry (helping like-minded brides and vendors find each other though advertising) is helpful and authentic, but it's built basically on the idea that "the indie fans and underground stars" should feel like their weddings fit them.

To be clear, I don't see consumer as a bad word. Everyone's doing it. You just have to be clear on your consumer values, and stick to them. Maybe it's that you'll only buy from indie vendors on Etsy. Maybe it's that you want the cheapest deal so you can save up for your Master's Degree. Maybe for you it's that you'll only pay your friends. Whatever: consuming isn't bad. Mindless consumption is the enemy here.

Today, everyone is a consumer, and has to pick from the same selection of goods as everyone else, and because of this people now define their personalities on how good their taste is, or how clever, or how obscure, or how ironic their choices are.

This is part of why, whenever people have asked me for "tips on how to have a more offbeat wedding," I always shrug, quote yoda, and say I don't know. All you can do is try to have an authentic wedding, because whether you're trying to keep up with any kind of tastemaker (Martha Stewart, Offbeat Bride) or whether you're rebelling against them (fuck you and your weddings! I'm not getting married/getting married at a courthouse/getting married dressed like Satan/Not having a ring pillow even though I sort of like them because I'm SUPPOSED to have a ring pillow and don't go telling me what I'm supposed to like. Even though I do like it!) … you're planning a wedding for someone else.

Having a dissenting opinion on movies, music or clothes, or owning clever or obscure possessions is the way middle-class people fight each other for status. They can't out-consume each other because they can't afford it, but they can out-taste each other.

Ouch. It's cynical but you know what? It's true, and I see this embodied all sorts of ways in nontraditonal wedding culture. DIY machismo is one example. Wedding hipsterism is another, where novelty threatens to overwhelm authenticity. Budget one-lowsmanship, where how little money you spend is a matter of stern pride, and you get judgey about how much others spend. It's all forms of status-seeking and seriously: that's just fine. We all status seek — the issue is laying off the judgment of people who are seeking a status different than yours.

That bride on some reality show gritting her teeth and fighting for the overpriced ice sculpture that has to be dyed exactly to match the bridesmaids bouquets or else she's going to pitch a fit is just seeking a different status than the eco-bride who stays up at night worrying that her plastic cups aren't going to bio-degrade for 65 years and maybe she should buy a carbon off-set for her brother's flight. We can make a judgment call about whose anxiety is more worthy, but ultimately we're all just freaking out about shit and need to be more patient with each other.

The only way to have a truly offbeat wedding is to do what you like. Because if you're keeping up or rebelling someone else's status vision, you're wasting your time and resources. Focus that energy on your partner and what your commitment looks and feels like. Rebelling for the sake of rebelling is just as pointlessly time consuming as trying to keep up with the Joneses. Save your money!

I don't mean to get all existentialist on y'all here. I don't mean for it to sound cynical. I don't think it's a bad thing to use your consumerism to support the things you care about. As Megan said when we were chatting about this post, "if you can't beat 'em join and represent your niche." Once your inner 15-year-old brat gets over the inability to ever really rebel (go ahead: stamp your feet. It helps my inner 15-year-old) your wedding is an awesome opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and be truly authentic. Not rebellious. Not keeping up with the Joneses.

Just you.