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.

Comments on On being an offbeat consumer

  1. I think it’s a fallacy to think that just because you buy something it’s inauthentic or soulless. Things mean whatever you want them to mean. It also doesn’t have to be depressing to think of yourself as a consumer. I think that more and more thoughtful people are moving away from the idea that there is a “man” keeping them down, and understanding that the “system” is a complex network comprised of the actions of all individuals, who can’t help but affect each other. Thus, if you want to help make the world a better place, working within the system by using consumer power to benefit ethical producers, etc, is much more effective than trying to pretend you can escape the human race.

    So yeah, basically I agree with you.

  2. “The only way to have a truly offbeat wedding is to do what you like.”

    THANK YOU!!!!!! My fiance & I had a blowout last night b/c everything he wants for our wedding, he wants because it will make his friends and/or family happy & I keep telling him we can take the idea if making them happy makes him happy, but let’s PERSONALIZE it too. This really has been my mantra for our wedding, that it doesn’t matter where something we’re doing comes from, as long as we’re doing it because we want to & it’s a reflection of us.

  3. Thanks for the post. Offbeat Bride has been a heaven for me in someways but there have also been days when I needed to step away from it and stop obsessing. Having a lesbian, wiccan wedding is pretty “offbeat” but the desire for my family to be there and to have it be a true rite of passage is strong for me and that’s meant keeping somethings that don’t fit in the “I’m an offbeat rebel mode”

  4. I’d love to post re-post this article and your take on it Ariel, but I’m pretty sure my friends (who are a mix of hippies, punks, and hipsters) would kill me. 😉

    Nevertheless, I totally agree. We all need to chillax a little more and not worry about “keeping up with the Joneses” or rebelling against them. The stress isn’t worth it.

  5. Really after reading both the blog and Ariel’s response I’m really glad I’ve outgrown keeping up with the Jones.

    I just want to dress how I feel like dressing and have a wedding that looks like us. 😀

  6. “We all status seek — the issue is laying off the judgment of people who are seeking a status different than yours.” This a million times over! I have nothing against people wanting to be different, in any situation, but it drives me insane when they then have to prove that their method of self expression is better than everyone elses. Especially because they expect me to respond in kind by ‘defending’ my own interests.

    Personally I love that offbeat or unconventional things I do might eventually become mainstream. I love that one of my favourite bands who were playing a handful of club gigs each year when I discovered them are now playing festivals every summer and touring all over the world. (Partially because they’re Seattle based and I’m in the UK so it’s a lot cheaper to go see them this way, but mostly because they’re amazing and more people should hear them.)

    I’m still living in hope that brides wearing dresses in their favourite colour will become the tradition (again) because I really do think it’s better that way.

    But, well there we go. I think my way is better so everyone else should do it. I seem to fall into the same traps as everyone else so it’s good to see things like this every so often as a bit of grounding.

    Since I’m terrible at suming up what I want to say I’m instead going to use a quote from Sir Terry Pratchett, via the character of Miss Cheery Littlebottom (in the book The Fith Elephant).

    Miss Littlebottom lead the fight against the idea that all dwarfs are the same, that they’re all male, and having finally won the acknowledgement that she was in fact female and could show it she then came out with this gem:

    “You’re free to wear whatever you want, you know that.”
    “Yes sir. And then I thought about [it] and…well I can wear what I like sir. That’s the point. I don’t have to wear that dress and I shouldn’t wear it just because other people don’t want me to. Besides it made me look like a rather stupid lettuce.”

    • Whee, PTerry reference! Cheery is one of my favorite characters.

      It’s so true, too. There are people whose whole lives are controlled by their parents because they’re so determined to do everything their parents wouldn’t like. It’s pretty pointless.

  7. Last week, my fiance and I had an argument over whose job it was to call the restaurant we want to use for (sort of) catering our wedding reception. It ended like this:
    T: Are we done?
    Me: I might want to stamp my foot. [Feeble stamp of foot.] Yes, I did. I’m better now.

    Just wanted to say, that I agree with everything you’ve said, even the part about stamping your foot.

  8. “The only way to have a truly offbeat wedding is to do what you like.” God, Ariel – I love it when you talk plain truth! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is yet another one of your pieces that has me screaming “yes, yes, YES!” at my computer because you get it, and then you say it so very well! Thank you for being you and, btw, I haven’t heard the term “DIY Machismo” before but I’m stealing it now because it’s brilliant. 🙂

  9. Sure, consumers — whether they self-identify as mainstream, counter-culture, offbeat, whatever — are consumers. But the discussion to this point has suggested that it is impossible to escape “selling out”. What’s not been mentioned is there is an alternative: buy nothing.

    Impractical, if not impossible, and quite un-fun, you say? I’d agree. But I still think there is merit in buying less — because in my opinion there is a problem with fervent, unchecked consumerism that fills closets and landfills and is a blight both on the landscape and the soul.

    And, in my opinion, buying less is complementary to the pursuit of authentic consumerism. Because while everything you purchase may not be necessary or even useful, if you buy things only that reflect YOU, you’ll be buying a lot less than the average consumer.

    • Oh, I’m ABSOLUTELY for buying nothing — but that in itself can be a form status seeking, as per my mention of “one lowsmanship.” (i.e. “You call your $2000 wedding low budget?! I did mine for only $500!” “Oh yeah? Well, I did miiiiine for $100!!” etc.) Consumerism or anti-consumerism — if you’re hanging your identity on stuff/not-stuff, it’s still about status.

      • But these are two separate discussions: (1) status-seeking and (2) consumerism. And yes, the two are inextricably linked EXCEPT when status is garnered for buying less, or as you more succinctly stated it, “one lowsmanship”.

        In the cited article, McRaney says, “‘the system’…loves diversity” — but that is true only insofar as that diversity spawns spending. The system has no use for those who aren’t buying.

        Which is why the most mainstream of bridal mags will run features on “the most original weddings ever” (MSW this month) but will never suggest you don’t need something (favors/reply cards/engagement ring… can you imagine?). And dare I suggest it’s difficult for any medium that relies on advertising revenues to broach this subject, even progressive websites?

        Anyways, if you’re with me, I hope you’ll buy a t-shirt that says so 😉

        • Status seeking and consumerism are tightly linked ESPECIALLY when status is based on anti-consumerism. The summary here is “We use stuff to seek status, and that includes those who refuse to buy stuff.” “The system” will still profit off your anti-consumerism, even if it’s just, say, the NYTimes talking about the DIY wedding trend … and then selling advertising to go around that article.

          Again, I don’t want to sound cynical or creepy. It’s just that I’ve worked in media and marketing long enough to this stuff happen over and over again. I don’t see it as evil, but it’s critical to understand the landscape of commodification so you don’t feel used by it. (Even as you ARE used by it!)

    • I completely agree. I definitely pride myself on my purchases, but why do we have to buy so much at all? I don’t think that buying as little as possible should become a “holier than thou” status to flaunt (though if it catches on, of course it will), but I am disheartened by how little attention it gets both in wedding plan and in life. The article doesn’t address it at all. (The how-low-can-you-go cheap wedding approach can be just as consumerist as a big budget wedding, especially when people buy things they don’t need just because they’re so amazed by the bargain.)

      Wearing a dress you already have, borrowing old dishes, foregoing rings and favors, deciding against the “Treat yourself!” mantra – these acts do escape capitalism, if only for a few moments, and are often dismissed by BOTH the mainstream and the counter-culture as boring. As someone who was told I shouldn’t wear a dress I’ve already worn a thousand times because my clothes should be “special,” I’d love to see an article exploring the psychology of that. Are we so in awe of what’s new in our life, even if it’s from a thrift store or DIY’d with purchased materials, that it feels special? And if so, is that what essentially drives our consumerism of anything beyond food, shelter, and medicine?

    • I completely agree. I definitely pride myself on my purchases, but why do we have to buy so much at all? I don’t think that buying as little as possible should become a “holier than thou” status to flaunt (though if it catches on, of course it will), but I am disheartened by how little attention it gets both in wedding plan and in life. The article doesn’t address it at all. (The how-low-can-you-go cheap wedding approach can be just as consumerist as a big budget wedding, especially when people buy things they don’t need just because they’re so amazed by the bargain.)

      Wearing a dress you already have, borrowing old dishes, foregoing rings and favors, deciding against the “Treat yourself!” mantra – these acts do escape capitalism, if only for a few moments, and are often dismissed by BOTH the mainstream and the counter-culture as boring. As someone who was told I shouldn’t wear a dress I’ve already worn a thousand times because my clothes should be “special,” I’d love to see an article exploring the psychology of that. Are we so in awe of what’s new in our life, even if it’s from a thrift store or DIY’d with purchased materials, that it feels special? And if so, is that what essentially drives our consumerism of anything beyond food, shelter, and medicine?

    • I completely agree. I definitely pride myself on my purchases, but why do we have to buy so much at all? I don’t think that buying as little as possible should become a “holier than thou” status to flaunt (though if it catches on, of course it will), but I am disheartened by how little attention it gets both in wedding plan and in life. The article doesn’t address it at all. (The how-low-can-you-go cheap wedding approach can be just as consumerist as a big budget wedding, especially when people buy things they don’t need just because they’re so amazed by the bargain.)

      Wearing a dress you already have, borrowing old dishes, foregoing rings and favors, deciding against the “Treat yourself!” mantra – these acts do escape capitalism, if only for a few moments, and are often dismissed by BOTH the mainstream and the counter-culture as boring. As someone who was told I shouldn’t wear a dress I’ve already worn a thousand times because my clothes should be “special,” I’d love to see an article exploring the psychology of that. Are we so in awe of what’s new in our life, even if it’s from a thrift store or DIY’d with purchased materials, that it feels special? And if so, is that what essentially drives our consumerism of anything that’s not food, shelter, and medicine?

    • I completely agree. I definitely pride myself on my purchases, but why do we have to buy so much at all? I don’t think that buying as little as possible should become a “holier than thou” status to flaunt (though if it catches on, of course it will), but I am disheartened by how little attention it gets both in wedding plan and in life. The article doesn’t address it at all. (The how-low-can-you-go cheap wedding approach can be just as consumerist as a big budget wedding, especially when people buy things they don’t need just because they’re so amazed by the bargain.)

      Wearing a dress you already have, borrowing old dishes, foregoing rings and favors, deciding against the “Treat yourself!” mantra – these acts do escape capitalism, if only for a few moments, and are often dismissed by BOTH the mainstream and the counter-culture as boring. As someone who was told I shouldn’t wear a dress I’ve already worn a thousand times because my clothes should be “special,” I’d love to see an article exploring the psychology of that. Are we so in awe of what’s new in our life, even if it’s from a thrift store or DIY’d with purchased materials, that it feels special? And if so, is that what essentially drives our consumerism of anything that’s not food, shelter, and medicine?

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