On my way home from a wedding I mentioned in this post, I listened to this episode of RadioLab. The juxtaposition of these two narratives made me reflect on the choices of the wedding party over the duration of the wedding. Because I was maid of honor, I made choices on the bride’s behalf; she approaches materialism differently than I do. I did attempt to influence several choices to no avail – this wasn’t a weekend focused on me. After listening to RadioLab’s stories, I recognized two things: A) I wouldn’t have chosen to purchase or use the objects deemed necessary by the wedding party. B) Being human, I imbue objects with meaning.
I reflected upon the use of things to set up the party. The couple chose to throw a conventional white dress and church wedding. I helped organize the reception hall, including setting up the many objects deemed necessary to set the mood at each table. I also helped arrange the chairs, planters, altar objects, candles, aisle runner, et cetera at the chapel; again, we were surrounded by things to set the mood. I felt pushed to purchase items and snacks for an emergency kit from a local Dollar General. The couple didn’t seem to consider the environmental and social costs of the materials’ manufacture or retail. An unconventional, minimalist wedding appeals to me.
The episode from RadioLab told stories of particular objects chosen by individuals to remind them of specific meaningful events. One example could be the ticket stub to a fantastic concert; another example was an egg made of sugar from the first suggestion of friendship for a man, then age nine. A study suggested that American college students believe an object has greater value as soon as it is in their possession. Thinking of the wedding, I became protective of the bride’s dress, knowing that a spotless white dress was meaningful to the bride. We hoard that which we deem meaningful, adding to the sheer amount of things we (especially Americans) carry around with us.
On the one hand I could be appalled at the amount of capitalism, consumerism, and environment destruction that went into the wedding. (I did shudder at the amount of aerosol used to keep my elaborate hairdo in place.) On the other hand, I could also recognize that I’m not above materialism – I did buy a dress for use only for that wedding, and I treasure the quilt the bride gave me. I’m human. Apparently, part of being human is imbuing meaning into things, material objects with which we interact for specific or everyday occasions. As the wedding was a meaningful experience, the couple imbued meaning into the things chosen for the ceremony and reception for themselves as well as for the experience of the guests. I am working on compromising between legitimizing people’s use of things (cultural relativism) with fear of the environmental destruction if everyone could realize their material dreams.