If there is one female stereotype I fall into, it is this - I love Love. I love romance. I love engagements and weddings and public displays of affection. I love the small acts of love people share on a daily basis - holding hands, leaving sweet notes for a mate to find, gentle touches, exchanging smiles. You get the idea. I'm a big sappy romantic, and I'm damn proud of it. I am also currently helping my youngest brother and his long time girlfriend plan their Breakfast at Tiffany's themed wedding for next year, in which my sister and I have the honor of creating cupcakes for the reception, so I'm up to my ears in wedding talk all the time (and I love it!).
Because of this, one of my daily internet routines is to read about expressions of love, particularly geek love, and sigh a contented sigh when I have had my fill of it. Over the past year, there have been some amazing geek proposals and weddings shared on the internet, and I have loved them all. The world is full of creative geeks who love Love enough to put energy and effort into celebrating said love, and the world is a better place for it!
Fellow geeks may know the groom, Brian "Box" Brown as the cartoonist behind the web comic Everything Dies (a comic I'm aware of but am not particularly a fan of). The Browns were inspired to create their hobo themed wedding based on Sarah's love of the era and a story Brian's grandmother told them:
Though some of the details fell into place quickly, the “Depression-era hobo” theme of our wedding didn’t come to us right away. In fact, it was my obsession with the 1930s, the “great recession,” our own limited budget and, finally, a suggestion from Brian’s grandma, Rose, that planted the tiny seed of the idea into our heads. Rose told us about her own wedding reception in the 1940s. They called it a “football party” because, instead of a fancy catered dinner, the guests were served piles of wrapped sandwiches in the center of each table and they tossed them from table to table like footballs. Something about the spirit of that back-to-basics kind of reception got to us (and made our bellies rumble for sandwiches). We wanted to create an event that was unfussy, honest, beautiful, fun and, most importantly, from the heart. Just like Rose’s sandwiches!
Now, before I go any farther, let me just state a few things. I am all for nontraditional weddings. I am all for being creative and making your special day something that means something to you. And I happen to be a big fan of vintage, as it reminds me of my own childhood growing up with grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through this time. In fact, the pictures of the Browns' wedding remind me a bit of Summers at my maternal great-grandmother's house. She lived in a hollar in Southeast Ohio in a tin roofed home surrounded by woods, fields, and the old family cemetery. Grandma Gertie didn't even have running water until the mid 1980s, and even then she only had a sink installed; she still walked out to the outhouse in the yard.
Had the Browns decided to call their theme "vintage farm life," or simply "rural 1930s" and didn't include the hobo imagery, I'm sure no one would have batted an eyelash. In fact, if all I had to go on were the pictures of the wedding, sans the shots of the cut up vintage quilts and the hobos, I would have liked it quite a bit. But sadly, the whole story is out there, and it's infuriating in its audacity, cluelessness, and class privilege.
By the groom's own admission via his Twitter feed, the couple spent $15,000.00 on this "handmade wedding," which I'm assuming includes the "round trip airfare and lodging" they spent to fly in a photographer from Kansas to the wedding venue in Pennsylvania (I can only assume by this that there are no wedding photographers left in PA, which is seriously a bummer). The thought of spending that much money on a wedding makes me a bit panicky, or as one Etsy commenter put it - "The one and only time my husband and I spent $15, 000.00 on anything, our son was handed a college degree at the end of it." I'm also at a complete loss as to how a wedding with a free venue (they got married in the bride's mother's home, which she spent "months redecorating" to prepare for the wedding) can cost so much. Oh wait, I think I see:
Once the theme was decided, we got to work researching the Depression era and hobo culture. As we prepared to make everything for our wedding, we collected feed sack dresses and old work boots, antique hand-stitched quilts and jug band instruments. After reading that the word “hobo” may be a syllabic abbreviation of “homeward bound,” we fell in love with the notion. Brian was in charge of illustrating and designing our save-the-date postcards, creating custom labels for our party favors (mini-flasks of “moonshine”) and our wedding invitations, and writing the ceremony from scratch. I was in charge of creating the atmosphere of the event: putting together our hobo-chic outfits, the outfits for our wedding party, the wedding décor, flower arrangements,bindle bouquets and boutonnieres.
Again, let me stop right there. I grew up on stories of The Depression from my maternal grandparents - Nannie and Pawpaw. Nannie told me stories of her and her sisters making feedsack dresses and trying their hardest to make them not look like feedsack dresses because they were embarrassed that they couldn't afford cloth. They rarely got Christmas presents, and when they did, they were simple. Not 15K-to-look-poor simple, but actually simple. She said the first Christmas gift she can remember came when she was a teenager and it was a ribbon for her hair. Her mother had somehow earned 15 cents and she bought a length of ribbon which she then cut into three pieces and gave a piece each to her three oldest daughters. She told me stories of how the older children used to beg their mother to nurse them when she nursed the baby so they could actually eat. She told me how she'd wake up in the middle of the night and see her father sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, crying because he didn't know how they were going to survive. How they asked a local orchard owner if they could pick the apples that had fallen to the ground up and buy them at a discount because they were half full of worms. How my great-grandmother would offer lodging and care to actual hobos when they came knocking, even though they could barely take care of their own children because, in her words, "The hobos had it worse than we did. At least we had a home and a family."
Never in my life did I hear those stories and think "That would be a charming theme for a wedding!"
And yet, here are the Browns with their "hobo-chic" outfits and their invitations that claim the dress code is "hobo casual," romanticizing one of the greatest social tragedies in American history at a time whenthe poverty rate is at a 15 year high and many families have a yearly income that's less than what they spent on their wedding. When challenged by other blogs and commenters on Etsy, Mr. Brown insisted via Twitter that they are not mocking the poor, as they are poor themselves. I'm sorry Mr. Brown, but you are not poor. What you and your wife are is clueless. You are clueless and insensitive. I would also venture to say that you are also oblivious to your class privilege, because only the upper middle class would be so casual in their insensitivity. No one who is actually struggling financially would look at this and think it is cute or kitschy or romantic. No one with compassion or empathy would look to The Great Depression and see only how quaint it all was and how it would make great wedding photos. And only someone living in their own bubble of economic privilege would read The Grapes of Wrath as if it were Martha Stewart Weddings.
But the Browns' love of so-called "hobo culture" doesn't stop at their wedding. Sarah has a blog dedicated to hobo weddings in which she links to an Etsy store selling feedsack dresses that she claims are "affordably priced" at $98.00. It's crap like that that makes me thankful Nannie doesn't venture onto the internet.
Sarah is also getting flack in the blogosphere for cutting up vintage quilts for her decorations. In her words:
I also found perfectly worn quilts that I cut for table runners and buntings
This upset many on the Etsy blog, and my feelings about it are summed up best by this user:
Did you re-upcycle the vintage, handmade quilts that you cut and ripped apart toupcycle into raggedy decorations? My heart about broke when I read that. How can could you destroy vintage. Its the ESSENCE of Etsy. Other than resellers, I mean.
I had the same feeling of heart break upon reading that. Handmade quilts, especially of that era, were not made just for the hell of it. They were made to keep oneself and one's loved ones warm and comfortable. And due to limited resources, they were not turned out quickly. Nannie told me stories of how they'd have to save fabric scraps for sometimes up to a year to have enough to make a quilt. Quilts are also living history which people take strides to preserve for future generations. And now Sarah announces that she cut some up to make wedding decor and wonders why people think that's wrong.
The Browns have a few supporters, however. I was very sad to see that Jess Fink, the creator of the erotic steam punk comic Chester 5000 XYV, was one of them. She also took to her Twitter feed to defend the Browns:
it seems so impossible for people to see someone else's point of view. I wish they could see it just a little bit.
I have felt so sick about it all night! I don't understand this pastime of being cruel on the internet. I don't understand cruelty
I just get really upset when I see ppl on the internet hating people they don't know. Especially when I know those people.
I understand that the Browns are upset about the criticism they are receiving, as it is obvious from the pictures that they had a very special day and love each other very much. I sincerely hope they have a good life together in which they grow old together and have lots of adventures. Putting this out there on the internet, however, opens you up to criticism. Their lack of forethought has made this situation entirely self-wrought. I would feel some compassion to them if they showed one ounce of clarity after having been presented with very logical and historical reasons about why this is entirely inappropriate. Perhaps they think doing so would ruin their memories of their special day, or perhaps they just don't care. Whatever the reason, my other sincere hope for them is that in time they come to understand why this is offensive.
In the meantime, I will be encouraging my brother and his fiance to keep their Breakfast at Tiffany's theme in lieu of an Irish Potato Famine theme.