New York Times Vows

On October 31, 1851, the New York Times published its first celebratory coverage of the events leading up to and surrounding a “hymeneal ceremony.”

Married, on the banks of the Raquetta River, “in a temple not made with hands,” Mr. Theodorus Westcott, to Miss Sarah Cole, both of Charlottesville, (Tupper’s Lake) in the County of Franklin….A party of some twenty-five…proceeded in six boats and canoes down the river…and there, before a mass-covered altar of primitive rock, which seemed as if placed on this spot for the purpose, the interesting ceremony was performed….A brace of hounds were now let loose and soon drove a couple of deer into the river – where they were captured by the party – and with a plentiful supply of trout, were served up as the wedding supper.

Over 150 years later, aside from levels of venison and fish supplies in the Upper Adirondacks, not much has changed. The Grey Lady still has an affinity for ogling and perpetuating high-class holy matrimony.

There are few things more insufferable to the average American than the New York Times’ section of wedding announcements and, more recently, “vows.” It’s the most frivolous and decadent portion of the paper, nothing more or less than a vestige of a once mightier aristocratic era that still retains a substantial hold on the popular imagination.

New York Times VowsIts “newsworthy” items consist simply of reports of nuptials and engagements joining couples of considerable wealth, status, and pedigree whom the rest of us are supposed to envy and celebrate. Of late the Times has opened its exclusive wedding country club to homosexuals and romantic partners of less impressive social stock, but the snobbery still persists: these people in love aren’t content to just be in love, they must flaunt that love in such a gaudy manner that we shouldn’t wish them lasting marital bliss but a sharp kick in their collective, soul-bonded heinies.

Until now the Times has shown a modicum of decency in keeping what Slate writer Troy Patterson calls “bridal porn” relegated to print. No more. Two years ago the wedding pages went Internet, with couples telling their gooey stories in roughly three to four minute self-indulgent videos. In his otherwise spot-on article about these obnoxious mini-docs, Patterson – who actually possesses a kind of guilty pleasure love for them – points to the major problem with their dramatic form: “the endings are predictable.” I disagree.

We consume tons of books, movies, and other narratives despite knowing their outcomes (You mean the boat sinks at the end?!?!?). What matters is how we get there. Obviously the Times’ wide-eyed brides and grooms – most of whom are white, young, and heterosexual – have been or will be married, but few of them possess stories worth caring about. Variations on rudimentary first-dates and proposals, these vows contain all the narcissistic attention to unwarranted detail others give to relating their dreams. In both cases, the information only serves to validate the teller, not enlighten the listener.

There are exceptions. Howard Koeppel and Mark Hsiao are the gay couple Rudolph Giuliani famously roomed with during his very public divorce, and though they avoid talking around the rumors started by America’s Mayor’s couch crashing (their complete nonchalance suggests nothing happened) it’s still kind of interesting to hear about it, and kind of subversive to have the words “gentlemen’s club” pop up in what would have been another boring how-we-met tale.

That this is the furthest the Times goes with anything “non traditional” – even its Indian couple seems chosen merely for token multi-cultural purposes – speaks to the level of boring tastefulness it thinks love should be expressed. For the most part ,the Times goes with white bread bourgeoisie: just check out Erin Schulte and Kent Collier, who met at church and…the rest is too painfully square to waste words describing.

I really don’t mean to be too harsh. Perhaps the Times’ lovers are more interesting people than these slickly, bland videos make them out to be, and perhaps their soft and cuddly romances have more dimension than the narratives constructed to fit them into palatable slideshows. But I also think it says something about the betrothed that they would even agree to have their conjoined lives immortalized to look like everybody else’s.

Fulfill your wedding fantasies or nightmares at Video.NYTimes.com.

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