Two weddings have been causing a stir on the internet lately: the Colonial African wedding (original post removed by photographers) and the Depression-Era Hobo wedding. They got me thinking about weddings, romance, and romanticizing, and I wanted to explore the issue here. This isn't a post ragging on these two weddings but, rather, a chance to consider what got everyone's knickers in a twist.
Okay, let's start with two words: “romance” and “wedding.”
What could go together more perfectly than romance and a wedding? Isn't that the same thing, even if we have different definitions of what is romantic? It could be hearts and roses, it could be candlelight, it could be a fairy grotto, the 1980s, Han Solo and Leia. For many people, their wedding is about pulling together those things that (re)create an ideal mood, place, or time that, for them, stands for romance.
In some cases it means a theme wedding. When we talk about weddings, though, it's not just about being romantic, it's also about romanticizing something. I'm talking about seeing something through rose-coloured glasses, viewing it as ideal and perfect, shiny and wonderful. Renaissance weddings are an obvious example. Yup, dressing up like a princess and a knight sounds pretty romantic, right? I wouldn't tell that to a medieval scholar, though — the Middle Ages weren't exactly all they're shined up to be. But we've generally accepted that pretty versions of medieval weddings are relatively ok.
This glorifying of the past isn't a new thing. Humans seem to like to look back and say that times were good way back when. The Greeks did it in their legends, looking back to the Golden Age. The Hindus did it, glorying in a past when the world was new and perfect, not yet degraded and ready for destruction. Artists and poets have done it for years (Romanticism, anyone?). Romance novels too have pulled on this with the sub-genre of historical romances. It is obviously sexier to get swept off your feet wearing a bodice than when wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
The dark side of romanticizing
There is, however, a darker side to this. Some things are a lot harder to get away with romanticizing and maybe we should think more about what we do romanticize or at least how we do it. Some things are going to be a problem and while some of them are obvious, like the Black Death, others may not be quite so obvious. The Colonial Africa wedding and the Depression-Era Hobo wedding are prime examples of this. They have both been attacked not because of whether they were romantic (because those couples look pretty happy and romantic to me), but because of the particular theme they chose to romanticize, and the way it was presented. Commentors frequently objected to the romanticization of these particular themes matched up with a wedding.
Why that Colonial African wedding was problematic
With the Colonial African wedding, the issue at stake is that the photos of the wedding that were displayed and the title of the original blog post easily worked together to suggest a glorification of British colonization of Africa and the negative things that came with it such as slavery, white-privilege, and the bitter history that followed. A storm erupted on the internet after the initial post was seen with most responses being pretty negative.
The couple had based the aesthetic on the movie Out of Africa, appreciating the look and feel of that movie without necessarily condoning the historical period during which it took place. They loved a particular look and feeling. The original bloggers were partially to blame as they admit they “were naive not to consider the negative implications of using the word ‘colonial' in the blog title” and didn't consider which pictures they chose to juxtapose with that title, ending up with pictures that all had black servers dressed in clothing that slaves would have worn (despite that the servers were not all black).
Jezebel was one of the main sites to pick up the story and focus specifically on the pictures, drawing conclusions from them and fanning the flames. They also later printed an update after the photographers took down their post.
Why was that Hobo wedding problematic
The Depression-Era Hobo wedding was written up by the couple themselves and they too made some grave word-choice errors that led to some very heavy criticism. Foremost among them was referring to their garb as “hobo-chic” which juxtaposed extreme poverty with high fashion. The wedding itself seems sweet and the romantic ideal they were going for came from memories of the Depression-era wedding of the groom's grandmother.
We need to think carefully not only about our own cultural context — but also that of those around us.
Now, lots of readers would agree that a wedding that could be described as “unfussy, honest, beautiful, fun and, most importantly, from the heart” sounds ideal. Again, it's the problem of how they described it and the way they put it into practice that got them such bad press. Regretsy criticized them for romanticizing hobos — homeless migrants who had no money and were forced to travel seeking work. Now, if the bride and groom had chosen different words to describe the wedding, likely few would have raised a fuss at their choice of fashion or decor. But they didn't. They wanted to romanticize hobos specifically.
So, what got everyone's knickers in a twist? Some things just do not romanticize well in this day and age of trying to be conscious of the past. The racism that gave justification to colonization is still alive and well and is still being fought today. The poverty that resulted from the Great Depression is still a keen memory for quite a few people, and the memory has been revived by recent economic conditions that have left many people in a difficult situation money-wise.
Just because we like a particular aesthetic doesn't mean that we should use it for our wedding without considering the implications.
Think outside your own privilege
Sipho Hlongwane's opinion piece in The Daily Maverick brought up a good point in regard to the Colonial African wedding: The couple just did not think about whether their wedding might be offensive, especially to people like their serving staff. Therein lies the problem. They themselves pictured a lovely wedding of vintage decor and clothing for everyone, including the waitstaff — but it never occurred to them that not everyone would be okay with that romanticization.
If we want to question the wedding industry's ideals and traditions about the romanticization of a wedding and all that it is supposed to be, opening our eyes to meanings and roots of aspects of it (like being “given away,” diamond rings, the budget, or etiquette), we need to keep our eyes open when we plan our own weddings. We need to think carefully not only about our own cultural context — but also that of those around us.
Now, while I don't think we should plan weddings solely based on the fear of offending someone, I do think we should be keeping it in mind, especially when it comes to larger cultural issues. We should be aware of whether or not our wedding will offend someone and consider thoroughly whether or not that is an issue. We should consider our guests, the people we hired to be present, and the world around us. And yes, unfortunately just having a gay marriage or an interracial marriage would be offensive to certain kinds of people — but obviously that's something they will have to live with. Just make sure your wedding is something that you can live with.
This goes doubly if you ever intend to put anything about your wedding on the internet. If you put it on the internet, someone will get offended. Be prepared. Be aware. Consider your words and images. Consider how much you are willing to share with the world at large. Because trust me, they are reading and they are watching.
Comments on Problematic wedding themes: hobo, colonial, and more
A reminder for commenters: we’re less interesting in discussing whether you personally found either of these weddings tasteful or not, and more into discussing the larger, more general issue of problematic wedding themes.
Also, please remember our commenting policy! We will delete any comments that bash on people or their weddings.
this is such a great and insightful post! thanks for being critical of themed weddings/ceremonies that inadvertently hurt other people, while also being super validating about how themed parties can be positive!
Interestingly enough, my guy was the one to share the original Hobo wedding thing with me and what I usually do with wedding stuff is look at pictures first, then go back and read.
I thought to myself, this is interesting and they look happy and it looks fun and rustic kinda.
Then I read the blog. I was not offended or really even that bothered by it. People use the wrong words all the time but I was totally surprised at how MAD so many other people were.
*shrug* I dont know. I spend my whole day being yelled at over the internet, replying to customers who dont care who they offend with the writen word but this is a tough call.
I think I will just stay neutral on the topic….and roll with that.
I think this is one of the risks people take when they deviate from the cultural norm of wedding traditions, period. The offense I take at seeing a “colonial” or “poverty-chic” themed wedding stems from the same place in more traditionally-minded folks that reacts to a non-white wedding dress or not having your father walk you down the aisle.
Although a non-white dress and a colonial-themed wedding are very different in terms of severity and impact, the offense someone feels at non-traditional choices comes from the same place–the idea that we’re disrespecting tradition and their values, that we’re ignoring parts of our cultural history, and that we’re condemning choices they may have made.
So how do we handle being individual without being offensive? Communication, honesty, and a willingness to hear critique. If someone tells us our choices could be read as racist or otherwise offensive, we need to evaluate their input and choose to ignore or accept it, and be prepared to back up our decisions either way. And it’s a two-way street–we have to be willing to call our friends, family, significant others, and ourselves on behavior that comes from places of privilege and ignorance.
I actually have to disagree with you here. Caveat before I get into this – I’m going to discuss what’s problematic about these weddings the way that they were *perceived*, as romanticizations of negative historical events, not the way the couples intended them to come off (which, since none of us are the couple in question, can only be speculation).
While it’s true that perceived disrespect (perceived being the operative word here – I think both of these weddings are more thoughtless than flat out disrespectful) of traditions and values is a common culprit when it comes to outrage, I don’t think it’s the main issue at play here. What makes both of these weddings problematic isn’t that they’re disrespecting another culture or tradition, it’s that they’re making two very bad things – the horrific treatment of native Africans at the hands of colonialists, and the crushing poverty of the Great Depression – seem like one big party.
What makes it all the more problematic is that the couples in question do not themselves come from a background with links to the oppressed/disadvantaged groups being portrayed. This is especially true of the African-themed wedding. They come off as a white couple romanticizing at time when white westerners horribly mistreated black Africans. That’s where the problem, and the offensiveness, lies. It’s in the romanticization of the suffering of others, not in the bucking of tradition.
What makes it all the more problematic is that the couples in question do not themselves come from a background with links to the oppressed/disadvantaged groups being portrayed
Or at least they don’t *appear* that way. Just wondering if as many people would have taken offence to a verbal description only rather than the photos?
Actually the family of the hobo wedding had several people in attendance who had been homeless before, and according to the original Etsy blog, the idea partially came from the grandmother of one of the couple, who grew up during the Depression and lived in poverty.
I think a lot of those few people who actually had legitimate complaints were just ignorant about what a “hobo” is and how much of a factor they were in the development of American art, music and literature. Many artists, writers and musicians admired the hobo community and from them, learned to be resourceful, resilient, depend on each other to survive and live outside of the mainstream. Since artists usually do live in poverty or at least out of the mainstream (and this couple are both artists), the wedding seemed completely appropriate to me (a musician), and the bride and groom’s family and friends obviously felt the same way. So I think “cultural sensitivity” can work both ways, and perhaps some of the commenters are just not aware of the artist subculture and how inextricably the wandering troubadour/writer/artist has been linked with bringing attention to the plight of the poor and homeless – since they often wandered together. Artists are the LAST people who would be insensitive to the poverty!
I think the big problem was that the people getting married said they spent 15k dollars in a wedding, and that they called themselves ‘poor cartoonists’…
I am so happy to see this post. I originally heard of the hobo wedding on regretsy, and I do agree that romanticizing poverty isn’t the most tasteful of decisions. However, the viral backlash to this wedding is absurd. People are tearing them apart and it makes me so sad for the couple. Thank you for writing a well thought out response that articulated so many of my feelings.
Related to the viral backlash: http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2011/08/03/so-youre-mad-about-something-on-the-internet/
HA!!!! Love it.
I soooo love that link… I think its a must read for almost everyone… no offense to anyone….its so funny…. Thanks
Did anyone else notice the hobo related reference in the first panel? UNINTENTIONAL RELEVANCE. Nice.
I also think that part of the issue is that it is MUCH harder to romanticize a period of time from which people are still alive. Speaking as a SCAdian and admirer of Steampunk, history needs to weather and get that soft patina and sepia tones to really be at a place where is is less dangerous/offensive to perform. People get married at plantations all the time and do Civil War re-enacting and that is not seen as (nearly) so offensive because it was “back in the old days”. Just like at SCA events I don’t care if a little chivalrous sexism happens because I know that everyone is just performing a part. Not that I want to suggest that performing racism is ever acceptable, it isn’t.
Great post. The timing is really great. This is a discussion we need to all have and a topic we need to all think about.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I’ve seen a trend of non-native brides wearing native war bonnets in photos – a kind of “goofy”, “dress-up” thing. And I find it quite repulsive. Yet, if you say anything you’re painted as someone who is offended by everything or “mean”. It’s not about that. Cultural appropriation is a real thing. And it upsets me that some brides are thinking only in aesthetics and what looks ‘pretty’ or is on trend when it’s actually deeply, deeply offensive to native people and people of colour. I guess the hobo wedding would be easier to swallow if you weren’t living on the poverty line. And the colonial wedding wouldn’t be so offensive if you weren’t a person of colour. The fact is they’re still hurtful. And I really think when the focus is on the bride and groom and how people are being “mean” to them – it’s once again drowning out the voices of minorities. Once again a native person or a person of colour is being asked to be quiet so that someone with more privilege doesn’t have their feelings hurt.
There are so many traditions from other cultures that I am in love with (particularly when it comes to weddings), but even though I love the idea of chuppas, and the gloriously colorful and vibrant traditions in Hindu weddings, neither me nor my fiance practice those religions, and I don’t think it would be right to use their traditions just because I think they’re pretty. For me it comes across as disrespectful of those cultures.
For a time I worked in a tattoo shop, and so often we would have people walk in off the street who “just wanted to look around”. Which seems neutral enough, but the reality it came across as though the shop was some sort of tourist destination and we were the freaks on display. That’s not a good way to feel, and it doesn’t promote unity. It’s the same feeling that I get with the weddings mentioned in this article and the “cause it’s pretty” ones you mentioned in your comment. Instead of having a day that is about celebrating the love of two people it ends up marginalizing people whose cultures/experiences are being usurped for someone else’s entertainment. And that is far from romantic to me.
I agree, but with a caveat: using the *traditions* of other cultures, especially sacred ones, is really not cool. Chuppahs, various other ceremonial practices all fall under that umbrella. I couldn’t agree more there. Not OK to plunder someone else’s religion and beliefs.
Using some of the aesthetic of other cultures, I think, is fine. I would advise not overdoing it and keeping a careful eye on your plans to avoid fetishization and full-on appropriation, but I don’t think it’s a big deal to, say, use a few flourishes of *non-sacred* Indian decor (fabrics, postcards, etc.) or aesthetic touches you admire from other parts of the world. That’s not offensive as long as it’s not overdone to the point of being embarrassingly kitsch and fetishized.
Yes! Thank you. I had a very hard time when a friend invited me to celebrate one of my minority religion holidays with him. When I arrived, I found he was actually throwing a “my holiday” themed keg party. He could not understand why I was so upset. Someone else’s sacred object or occasion is not honored by being uprooted and used for kicks.
Good intentions, while nice, really don’t excuse racial/ethic thoughtlessness. If the couple with the colonial Africa theme had stopped to consider others, they might have realized what statement they were actually making – rather than what they meant to say.
There is power in not caring what other people think (see: Your wedding is tacky), but offbeat does not equal ignoring others’ feelings and ignoring what your choices actually say. Overall, I think the Offbeat Bride community walks this careful balance very well.
I also saw the hobo-themed wedding on Regretsy, but really didn’t think much of it until the sh*tstorm started. I think why that one blew up was because family members of the groom or bride got WAY up in arms on twitter, etc, fanning the flames. Then it got huge.
I think the comic that the groom drew and posted to the world is what cinched it. And rightly so.
Exactly. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if the couple and their family didn’t fan the flames. But that just goes back to what was said in the article. If you’re romanticizing a theme, just stop for a second and consider the cultural context, not only for you but for those around you. Especially if you’re gonna post it on the Internet.
For me, posting about it on the internet is the key part. It’s not like their wedding just somehow accidentally made it on the internet. They put it out there for people to see- and to critique (though hopefully it could have been done with a bit more tact and grace). The reasons for publicizing their wedding aren’t exactly known, but I would hazard a guess that it has to do with wanting recognition for their creativity/offbeatness/awesomeness/whatever (don’t we all?!), and didn’t necessarily consider that there could be dissenters to this recognition.
Fair enough, but I also worry a bit about blaming people for having the AUDACITY to put themselves out there. I know you’re not saying “they deserved it” — but some folks definitely have. Again: while I think it’s totally reasonable to discuss why some wedding themes are insensitive, I just get squicked out when it turns into an internet pile-on. There are real people behind these weddings. Real people who may have made some mistakes; but real people none the less.
Oh yeah for sure! I think they do have the right to put their wedding on the internet. But I think people also have the right to take issue with what people do put on the internet, in public, for the world to see. The criticism just could have been done better, as you stated about the internet pile-on. I think the point you made in another comment is really good as well – it’s also how they handled the criticism.
True. Although I find the romanticization of the destitute to be atrocious (oooh, fancy words), I can’t help but also think that the couple is going to look back upon their wedding and remember how hundreds of people trashed it. While they needed to become more aware of the meanings behind their decisions, I don’t think an internet attack was all that effective in broadening their horizons. People in that kind of situation are more likely to get into a defensive stance right away and fight back.
The hobo wedding in particular brings to mind a pair of scenes in the movie “Love, Actually” in fact, deleted scenes. They open on a charity call center in England, where a poster hangs on the wall depicting a rural african woman looking at her dry and damaged crops. The viewer then “steps into the picture” And views the woman first gossiping about her husband with other women, and then sharing words of love and affectioln with her husband… While, yes, they struggle with extreme poverty, as with everything else, while it controls their life it does not rule it.
Hobos, or “Ho boys” Took to the rails to find work… but their struggles were not the whole of their lives… They traveled and worked, they fished, they struggled, they played music, they starved, They invented a secret code, they fell in love. … Peoples is peoples.
I still don’t understand how people were offended by the hobo wedding, and I don’t mean that in an ornery way. I literally don’t understand.. admittedly, one of my teachers in HS was a hobo historian, so Maybe I possess knowledge which others do not? …
I hope you don’t mind, i’m going to paraphrase some bits from what I wrote in the Tribe discussion on this about why I find phrases like ‘hobo chic’ so offensive (this is a phrase that the couple used throughout their original blog post about their wedding).
I can very much understand the argument that the lives of hobos weren’t all terrible, and that it would be wrong for historians to portray them as such. But the couple who had the hobo wedding weren’t hobos. By using a flippant phrase like ‘hobo chic’, they were making light of a situation that was tough for other people, not for them. In so doing, they appropriated and silenced the voices of people who suffered and died in their tens of thousands. While some real hobos might well have been happy to know that future couples would get some joy from their suffering, it’s not up to *us* to make that call on their behalf. By that same token, the lives of contemporary undocumented farm labourers aren’t all suffering and misery. But would it be OK for a couple of middle-class white kids to have a wedding based on ‘Undocumented Mexican Migrant Worker Chic’? I don’t think so. It’s exactly the same thing – the only difference is that we have a little distance from the 1930s.
I don’t think the couple set out to make fun of homeless people. I think they quite genuinely felt they could connect with the Depression era in light of the current economic climate, and probably also thought they were celebrating positive things that emerged from a very negative situation. But I don’t think good intentions make up for bad results. Had the couple pitched their wedding as a casual, 1930s-themed farm shindig, I don’t think anyone could or would object to it. But by dressing themselves up in ‘hobo-chic’, they’ve crossed a line into pantomiming and making light of someone else’s very real hardship.
I haven’t looked in to these two weddings, but I can say one thing, everyone going for vintage country style themes are romanticising a place which never existed or will exist.
I was born on a farm and my parents and our families come from the equivalent to poor tenant farmers or crackers. Poverty has always been part of our life and I grew up not getting Christmas presents some years because harvest was bad. Yes. 1980’s Sweden. People don’t believe me when I tell them. Everyone dreaming of the countryside will make a chic version of it which has nothing to do with what real life out there was. Do I take offence? Nope. But I’m sure if I told people we’re having a cracker wedding gone chic I’d be torn down despite the fact that this is my roots and my childhood I’m honouring. Boy do I know what it is to not have what everyone else have! Or the joy of having hot running water (we didn’t get that until I was 10) or toilet indoors (12 there). That is why I don’t want to fork out way too much money because it’s an offence to all those out there who can’t afford such luxuries. Going with a “theme” that helps me not to do that and is a wink to what I am is the natural thing to do.
The outrageousness on the net can take gigantic proportions and to be honest, the less you talk about anything here the better.
That is just what many people found offensive about the “hobo” wedding–they painted it as a “pared-down”, “simple” wedding in the original blog post, when in reality they spent $15k on vintage clothing and decor. That rubbed me the wrong way more than the whole “hobo” thing.
I think the lesson here is not so much “Be careful about picking a wedding theme”, but more “Be careful when it comes to putting photos of your themed wedding on the internet”.
I, personally, love the hobo wedding. I think think they did a great job of taking a treasured family memory (another wedding), focusing on the positive (great food, fun times) rather than the negative (Depression-no money for a ‘proper’ wedding) and attempting to relive that feeling. It’s not fair to the couple to say, “You’re terrible for romanticizing homeless migrants” when the focus was coming together with loved ones and celebrating despite a small buget and having obsticles stand in the way.
I agree that the ideas behind the wedding were pure but what got me was the use of the term “hobo-chic”. I find it reprehensible to take the “style” of an impoverished group of people and make it “fashionable”.
You mean “hobo casual!” Because hobos have a range of wardrobe “looks” from which to choose! 🙂
There are a lot of designers that have drawn inspiration from the “hobo” look. Hell, there’s a lot of controversy in fashion! We can get offended or not. The great thing about the internet is we can all sign off at the end of the day, right? 🙂
I agree with this here. It wasn’t the theme of the wedding itself that offended me, it was their choice of words. And that does still matter because ultimately the context of the words we say has way more to do with how people react then our intentions. (hope that made sense).
For my upcoming wedding we are taking inspiration from the 1930’s as well, for many of the reasons that the couple in the article stated: it’s a time period in fashion that we both like, and my grandparents (who I am very close with, and whose marriage I hope to emulate in many ways) grew up in the 30’s (as children of poverty stricken tenant farmers in deep south GA as a matter of fact). HOWEVER, phrases like “hobo-chic” or “hobo-casual” can become offensive because it comes across as making light of a terrible position to be in in one’s life (my grandfather lived as a hobo in his teens, I’ve heard many stories from that time and it’s not something I would want to romanticize). There are SO many other ways to describe this wedding, but their vehement and almost zealous defense of that one phrase is what really comes across as callous.
What gets me about the hobo wedding was how much it was like the movie Zoolander….with the “derelict” fashion line, but without the sarcasm. the bride and groom were serious about wanting to generate an aesthetic built around poverty and hardship. I guess that I feel like they could have gone for the “country” wedding with the coveralls and the straw hats and the fire pit, without romanticizing the hobo the way that they did. I really is insensitive
I’m planning my own wedding, with inspiration drawn from the Northern Californian economical boom attributed to the fruit packing and canning business. As this happened during the Great Depression and many workers were people who uprooted themselves and traveled to this region just to find work in the fruit industry, this article makes me worry that my inspiration borders on insensitive. Our intention is to pay homage to California’s agricultural history but my fear is others will think we’re glorifying poverty by playing up a community vibe and dressed-down aesthetic.
I think it will depend on how you translate your inspiration into the details, but I think the fact that you’re AWARE of the possibility that it might be misconstrued is a really good sign that it won’t turn out that way. Good luck!
There’s a difference between the themes “California Agricultural History” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”
I think you can absolutely pull off the former, but the latter runs the risk of being offensive–just like the “Out of Africa” wedding would have been more acceptable if they’d done a more direct tribute to the movie and less to the “colonial Africa” bits, and the “hobo-chic” wedding could have been a very tasteful “Depression/Roarin’ 20s” wedding, rather than “Let’s pretend we’re really poor!” which I think is what offended so many viewers.
I think the big difference in the offensive/inoffensive debate is are you paying tribute to an historical period and place, or are you caricaturing a lifestyle or sociological/cultural period? If you try and stay more towards the “paying tribute” aspects, I think you’ll do fine. 🙂 You could even do a page in the program explaining your vision, if you want!
I’ve had difficulty explaining the theme of the wedding to others because it requires a lot of words…California agriculture, fruit packing, great depression. I think now that I’m conscious of how this theme could derail into an offensive territory I need to make some decisions about word choice and take care in the overall framing of the event. I can call it a “30’s California orchard” wedding rather than something else that’s more complicated and smacks of privilege.
I think 1930s California Orchard sounds like an absolutely lovely wedding and definitely conveys the vibe you’ve described. Like others have said, the mere fact that you’re showing concern for the feelings of others shows that you’re intentions are good. And intentions can often times count for a great deal.
I think your idea can really work because if you think about it, how many farm-based weddings are there? You just happen to be also going back in time! If you were to, say, hire destitute-looking farm workers to lurk around the edges of your wedding begging for scraps, I might have a few different words to say. ;P
Perhaps you could make a list of the negatives of the time period so you are conscious of what to stay away from? Make sure hobos are number one!
While I initially found this Hobo/Depression wedding theme to be fairly offensive hipster kitsch, I found the groom’s defensive tweets to be even worse. Contending that you’re “poor” and then stating that you spent “only 15K” on a wedding meticulously constructed around a poverty “hobo chic” aesthetic is just so silly and disingenuous. Really, it’s adding insult to injury for legitimately poor people. Try stepping outside of your own privilege for a moment to see how that kind of rationale sounds to people who live outside your universe. I feel that if the couple had said something like, “We didn’t realize that others would find our wedding theme insensitive. We enjoyed our wedding and apologize for offending anyone,” the backlash would have died down much sooner than it did. The smug sense of entitlement from the groom and his family members on Twitter was unfortunate.
A good rule of thumb for themed events of any kind is to avoid appropriating someone else’s culture. If you ignore this rule and choose to post self-promoting blog entries about your personal event in a public online forum, prepare to face criticism.
Jeanette, thank you for putting my thoughts into words.
1. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
2. You gotta have thick skin when dealing with the internets. Those are the breaks.
I was kind of shocked to see those two weddings myself. But not a “HOLYCRAPTHISISAWFULANDINEEDTOLETMYOPINIONBEKNOWN!” kind of thing.
I honestly thought the commenters on Regretsy handled the Hobo wedding badly. Helen Killer made her point that she didn’t like it. Fine. But her followers took to the interwebs with torches. Not cool. But the family of the bride and groom were no better by faning the flames with insults, derogatory pictures and statements, etc. No one handled that situation well at all in my opinion.
I was actually more taken aback by the “Colonial African” wedding to be honest. However, everyone handled that situation decently. The photographers took down the photos, apologies were made, and the blog that posted it followed up with it’s own apologies.
Really, I don’t think either of the weddings had a great theme. If they had taken the theme wording and changed it to something like “1930s country kitsch” and “Out of Africa”, I think no one would have cared.
I think if you’re going to post your wedding on the internet…fine. But keep in mind some people aren’t going to like it (just as there are many people who don’t like even the tamest weddings on Offbeat Bride), and if they don’t…whatever, leave it alone. If YOU loved it, that’s all that matters.
This link again, because it’s so relevant: http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2011/08/03/so-youre-mad-about-something-on-the-internet/
I was just going to post the exact same link.
I’m very pleased with how well written this article was.
I think what made the hobo wedding strike a nerve with me was:
a) the hard times we’re in now
b) the Great Depression is still in our memories
c)the fact that homelessness is STILL an issue in America and they romanticized something that’s pretty terrible to experience.
It’s also important to remember that words have histories inexorably tied to them. “Colonial,” “hobo,” “plantation,” and so on have negative and painful connotations associated with them for very good reasons.
“Plantation” may not be a big deal if you’re a white southerner, but imagine being African American at a plantation themed wedding. Word mythologies are important. Our privilege, or lack of, play into our perception of the words.
I’m not saying words are the core of the issue at all, just that they’re something to pay attention to if you’re doing a theme.
tl;dr look past your privilege and choose your words wisely
I went to a wedding on a plantation this summer. The venue was beautiful, but it was uncomfortable to be served by a primarily black waitstaff, especially as there were no guests of color at this wedding. The slave quarters were also visible from the ceremony site. I’m not saying weddings need to focus on being PC and the couple clearly did not intend to cause anyone discomfort, but oooh boy, it was an icky feeling.
Great comment! You’re absolutely right. It’s a simple matter of stepping outside your own world for a minute and asking, if I was a homeless person, or a person of colour, would I feel uncomfortable, mocked, belittled or silenced by this? And if so, how do I re-arrange things a little so that I can incorporate the themes I love without being unintentionally offensive? The ‘hobo chic’ wedding, for example, could easily have been a ‘casual 1930s farm wedding’; it would have looked exactly the same, without engendering such outrage.
I appreciate this article. Being a devoted Jezebel and Regretsy reader, I was torn by the coverage of these two weddings. On the one hand, the themes reeked of privilege (as do a lot of weddings). However, the pearl clutching from the internet community was pretty obnoxious and disappointing. Yes, parts of these weddings were tacky or offensive. Other parts were lovely, and the couples clearly gave a lot of time and thought into the presentation, just not the cultural subtext. Thanks for the thoughtful breakdown of the issue. This is probably a good reminder to everyone planning a wedding to not get so caught up in “your special day” that you become offensive or oblivious (in many different ways.)
Thank you for this. I realize that I’m more meta-minded about stuff like this because I work in web publishing/online community development, but as much as I agreed that the problematic nature of these wedding themes needs to be discussed, it made me sad to see how the discussions on both sites played out.
…Hence, my strongly worded caution at the top of these comments.
It looks like the brides & grooms were so caught up in the aesthetic of their themes that they didn’t take a step back to see how their event may land for casual observers (and they did put their events on the net). Generally, i’m not overly concerned with what others think. But, i am concerned with not hurting other people’s feelings or making fun of other’s misfortune. Pretending to be poor or pretending to be colonial brits in africa are problematic themes because they make light of other’s hardship to co-opt an aesthetic….and that comes off as callous.
Great article, great comments.
I am reminded of the couple that had that amazing wedding party dance entrance, about two years ago. People reacted harshly to their song choice for the dance (it was a tune by Chris Brown- who was still in the midst of the media storm around what was reported to be an abusive relationship with Rhianna). The couple themselves responded to the backlash by starting collecting donations for Domestic Violence Prevention.
The point in the above article about someone somewhere will most likely react is true. Ultimately how you then respond can also play a part. I loved the reaction the dancing couple had. That said, I remember showing a friend of mine the clip and she was offended because they did in the church. To each their own.
TOTALLY this. I’m going to be talking about a lot of these issues in my “What to do when the internet hates your wedding” post next week — might have to include the Chris Brown example!
I thought this blog post about that example was quite good: http://www.eclectic-unions.com/2010/01/creating-ritual-finding-gravitas/
Thanks for posting this- I hadn’t seen it- it is well written!
Thanks so much for writing this post! When I saw all the Etsy drama go down this week, my first thought was, “I wonder what Ariel thinks of all this”. 🙂
I don’t get the way these people were virtually tarred and feathered. Let me explain.
I find myself thinking that the concept of a wedding, from the white dress (why did/does a woman have to literally tell the world she’s a virgin? why is her worth dependent on that? why do we still do this?), father “giving away” the bride (because she can’t exercise her own free will to choose?), the bouquet toss (let’s assemble all the unattached ladies and make them dive for a symbol of impending marriage because again, that’s all women are good for), to the language used is incredibly demeaning to women.
However, nearly all women who get married keep and perpetuate these symbols of pre-liberation in some way. We don’t criticize how we each use them on this website because we understand they mean different things to different people. And yet, we DEFINITELY aren’t so far past the feminist revolution that these symbols of male dominance have acquired any “patina of age.” Let’s remember that 50 years ago, the contraceptive pill was still illegal in some states in the US.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that we all do some kinda dumb stuff (believe me, myself included) that’s offensive to someone. I am NOT condoning romanticizing slavery of any era. Slavery is sick, twisted, and awful. However – and I’m not sure why – but the way everyone is hanging these folks out to dry like they know everything about the couples is bothering me even more than borrowing colonial/depression era garb. I don’t know why, because I’m the kind of person who feels genuine revulsion whenever I see a Confederate flag.
Maybe it’s because there’s so much Victorian nostalgia generally speaking, which, hello, was part of England’s colonial period, and anyone who does that in their wedding is not publicly gutted for being insensitive racists. And the copious use of overpriced Mason jars. Or super-expensive “farmer-chic” weddings. Farmers are perpetually struggling broke-ass people, many of whom need to rely on government subsidies to survive. So why does the hobo wedding get shat upon?
And FYI, there are gated communities in South Carolina that are called “plantations.” How about we go after those people? At least the wedding was over in a day; those gated communities are thriving. And in Virginia – yes, in range of Washington, DC – people still have “slave walls.” W. T. F. So I don’t get it. I don’t get why there was such a virtual witch hunt following those two ceremonies. Unless… um… maybe it was a slow news day?
I want to be tolerant and say, “hey, to each their own!” but I’m bothered by both weddings. Did they have a right to ask their guests to dress “hobo-chic”? Absolutely. But if I had received this invitation, it would have bothered me a lot. You have a right to choose any theme you like for your wedding– Star Trek, Under the Sea, even Cowboys and Indians– but everyone else has the right to think you’re weird and/or disrespectful.
It might be “your day” but it’s everyone else’s time too. I’d rather not spend my time reinforcing unrealistically romantic nostalgia for African colonialism or the Great Depression. Of course, it’s up to to you whether you care about what I think. You probably don’t, and maybe you shouldn’t.
This almost feels like a re-run of when Airel had to justify self-labelling. Although those couples featured identified with the labels they’d set and were comfortable with them, others weren’t
I agree with this. Although, to be fair, the couple from South Africa called their wedding “Out of Africa” themed. It was their photographers who labeled it “African Colonial.” So that wasn’t self-identified, it was a description of what the photographers actually saw through their (literal and metaphorical) lens. They have since retracted the use of the word “colonial” but I’m not sure that negates the point…
I appreciate this post SO much. There were tons of posts on my Facebook feed about these weddings and I just felt like these situations were the result of a pile of poorly-thought choices–on part of the couples and on the internet community at-large for overreacting (as always.)
I feel like these weddings were the result of a tiny twinkle of an idea ballooning out of control. You like the concept of the Depression era, so you tinker with including aspects of it into your wedding. But then you add some theatrics, and suddenly, the concept is intoxicating! You must know more! So you research and pull together all sorts of FUN things to do to CELEBRATE the concept. It’s all so QUAINT and FRIVOLOUS and FUN FUN FUN! THIS WILL BE AWESOME! YAY!
And suddenly, you’re no longer seeing the idea as a noun. It’s a vague cloud of inspiration, viewed in your mind as details and color palettes and ephemera.
I would just always advise a reality check. And have someone who can be totally honest with you discuss the details with you put the deposit down on those colonial costumes. And once it’s all said and done and you have photographs ready to post to the internet, run the post by some people who DIDN’T attend the event. They’ll be able to more objectively see whether it might be perceived as offensive. (Someone who went to the colonial wedding would know that there were Caucasian servers and might not consider that the photographs represent a totally different picture.)
As someone who had a wedding that, while technically themeless, was called “Asian-themed” by quite a few people (it was featured on OBB so you can find it, not that hard to track down), it was something we considered – OK, I’ll be honest although it plays into gender stereotypes – something *I* considered when putting together the aesthetic of the celebration.
At the heart of it, it wasn’t “Asian themed” – we just did stuff we liked and because we have lived in Asia for years, a lot of the stuff we like comes from that continent (and I am being very general when I say “Asia” because our decorative choices included items from Korea, India, China and Taiwan and while we’ve never lived in Japan there were Japanese aesthetic elements as well). We also had a lot of vintage stuff, the copper pots, Morse code and Victorian house gave it a bit of a Victoriana edge, it was colorful and also a garden party.
All that aside, “Asian” themed weddings, even if unintentional as ours was, present a lot of possible causes for offense. Cultural appropriation, colonialism, cultural fetishization and for those that incorporate small ceremonies from other cultures into their ceremony (think tea ceremonies etc), possible accusations of insensitivity to sacred or ceremonial practices.
I don’t think we offended anyone – our wedding certainly didn’t go viral, we didn’t get any nasty comments on our photographer’s site or here, nobody we’ve told about it thought it was a problem. Our guests, many of whom are from the places from which we took aesthetic inspiration, had no problem.
But imagine if we’d gone even a slightly different route, and had overdone it on the Asian aesthetic. I could see how that would have offended people. As a friend who lives in Japan and whose wedding had a very Japanese feel to it said, “there’s a difference between decorations in a Japanese aesthetic and me showing up in a full wedding kimono. I feel like that would be overdoing it and fetishizing it.” Although wedding kimonos are SUPER COOL, I kind of agree. Of course, that changes the second one or both members of the couple are Japanese, which is an entirely different discussion.
It’s a very fine line to walk, and as mentioned by Little Red Lupine, many “themes” have this possible dark side. Depression-era, medieval, pirate, 1950s (considering that era’s stifling gender roles), Victoriana, and pretty much any cultural theme if you’re not from that culture. I do agree that all of these are fine as long as they’re presented as “taking the aesthetic of that era” and not “hey, look, we’re bread line hobos!” Someone on Regretsy did comment that the hobo-wedding couple could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by doing the same aesthetic but calling it “1930s country”. Problem solved.
Commenters getting out of hand and mind over other peoples lives and actions is everywhere on the internets. But everytime something like this happens, I always hear my mothers voice in my head saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Not everyone wants to hear you say this wedding is wrong (or tacky), and really it’s not your wedding day, so let the folks enjoy it in peace. Yeah they put it up on the nets for everyone to see, but does that mean you have to dick all over it?
Rule for life, if you don’t have anything nice to say, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.
It’s ok to not like things, it’s ok — just don’t be a dick about it.
But if a wedding is racist or classist, it’s important for people to speak up about it.
Sometimes we have to say “not nice” things about things that are decidedly not nice, and, like LRL said, “We need to think carefully not only about our own cultural context — but also that of those around us.”
(Also: “Think outside your own privilege.”)
It all comes down to whether you see it as “homage” or “romanticizing.” It can absolutely be BOTH.
But if it’s romanticising, it’s still problematic… right?
Problematic makes sense to me. It’s hard to know exactly where the lines should be drawn. As I said elsewhere, Dylan/Guthrie/Kerouac all romanticized the hobo image, but also celebrated it. And how many people are really offended by witch costumes knowing that there are real people today who call themselves witches or that women were burned at the stake for it? People dressing today as vampires wouldn’t consider the horrific origins of Vlad the Impaler, I feel fairly certain. People have dressed as Jack the Ripper for Halloween, too—a serial killer. Are people offended by Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character? Possibly. But again I think *most* people see it as an homage, not a denigration.
I think it comes down to what society is or isn’t offended by at any given point in time, which has to do with time and distance. I also think it shifts and changes over time.
I find it interesting that many commenters cite current economic hardships as a reason they find the hobo-chic wedding particularly offensive.
I think it illustrates how a person’s optics, awareness, and sensitivity are affected by his experience. Because the current economic climate, logically, does not impact the (im)morality or (in)sensitivity of this wedding theme.
POINT: If you feel that today’s fiscal reality makes a hobo wedding theme more tasteless, then you share something with those who championed this wedding for being creative, romantic, and charming. You let you own station in the world cloud your judgement about how the world should be.
I admit that when I first read about the hobo wedding, I did think it creative, romantic, and charming. (Not so with the South African event… why? Probably to do with my personal experience.) I champion those online commentators whose intent was educational and helped me reflect on why this wedding theme is problematic. I look critically upon those commentators who attacked the couple (me) vehemently and implied that they’re (I’m) stupid, callous, and uncaring. Ignorant, I’ll concede.
I remember learning about Kant’s “Veil of Ignorance” in Philosophy 101. It’s an idea I embrace, even though this experience has illustrated I’m not always successful at embodying it. It’s a concept people on all sides of this heated debate could stand to ponder.
Oh my god, I cannot thank you enough for this thoughtful blog post and the discussion it’s inspired. I want to Tweet it out for the whole word to see.
Let me introduce myself.
I’m Matt Brown, and I’m the Uncle of the groom–also the Best Man. The groom and I are exceedingly close, and I love he and his bride dearly. They’re amazing, funny, talented people.
There are so many things to say, I don’t know where to start. I’ll beg you to bear with me, though, because I’ve thought a great deal about this and have a lot to offer on the subject.
First, I’ll say this: thank you for writing a genuine, thoughtful post about this, wholly free of snark, and for providing a forum for people to actually discuss the ramifications of co-opting cultures for wedding themes, and the nature of internet, piles-on. The comments have been exceptional, too, and it’s basically restored my faith in the potential for people to have intelligent discourse on the internet.
My first reaction to the Regretsy posting was total, flat-out rage. I was at the “hobo wedding,” and it was easily one of the best, most memorable weddings I’ve ever attended. I love all weddings, but, let’s face it, traditional weddings can get old. We will all go to dozens of weddings in our lifetimes, so it’s pretty great when someone does something wildly different and truly memorable. That’s how all of the people present at the party that night felt. They felt like it was a truly remarkable wedding that they would remember forever.
Okay, so: my niece puts photos up on Etsy, because she loves Etsy and it’s her favored community, where she feels at home, and the post receives maybe 50 comments from well-wishers and other people who like vintage clothing, etc., etc. So far so good.
Then the website Regretsy got hold of it, and all hell broke loose. I have very strong feelings about the way Regretsy portrayed the scenario, and I’ll get to that. But first, let’s talk about the event itself.
The Regretsy post referred to the couple as “oblivious hipsters” and basically painted them as Trust Fund kids making fun of the impoverished on a lark. Were those the exact words used? No. Was that the impression every single person who saw the Regretsy post had of the couple? Absolutely it was. Hell, it’s what *I* would have thought.
The *reality* is: my nephew draws graphic novels for a living. I don’t know what he personally makes, but it is either at or below the poverty line. I’m NOT suggesting they he has no privilege; he does. He’s the product of a middle-class white suburban background, and he knows that as well as anybody. But he lives hand-to-mouth, as every comic artist save a very, very tiny minority does.
His wife has a part-time job working for a university, but also brings in income selling vintage clothing on Etsy. This is her true passion and what she’d like to be doing full-time.
Between the two of them, I can’t imagine they’re far above the poverty line for a 2-person household. I don’t know their exact income, but at *best*, they are living a lower-lower-middle-class existence. And happily.
So why a “hobo” wedding? Well, there were a couple reasons. 1) She loves vintage clothes. 2) They loved the idea of “hobo culture.” 3) They thought it would be fun for people to not have to dress in suit/tie/gown.
Now, what do we mean by “hobo culture…” Many of the commenters on Regretsy’s site referred again and again to the couple “mocking” the poor and homeless. So the first thing we have to do is separate “the poor and the homeless” from “the hobo.”
Hobos were homeless and impoverished, yes. But not all homeless people are “hobos.” This distinction seems to be entirely lost on the younger set, who use the term “hobo” to mean “homeless.” (One commenter said to me, “Look at the homeless person on the street next time–that’s a HOBO!”) Some of them literally did not know there was any difference until it was pointed out to them. The “hobo” was specifically a homeless migrant worker. In the hobos’ *OWN* minds, they were different from “the homeless,” or “tramps” or “bums.” They were poor, they were homeless, but they worked, from town to town. I’m not saying they *chose* this lifestyle over being well-off–not at ALL! They were just a distinct sub-culture, and what makes them particularly interesting and courageous and admirable was their sense of community. The hobo signs they left for each other, the markings on trees and doors, are utterly heart-breaking. They were helping each other along, seeing each other through this horrible time. It was a brutal life, but they courageously strove to make it less so.
That sense of community is *exactly* what the hobo wedding was all about. Nobody there was mocking the poor in any way. Some of the people present have been homeless themselves. Of everyone who attended, I would wager that 75% of them, at the lowest, are classic FDR Liberals who believe in a strong social safety net, and who are entirely opposed to tax cuts for the rich.
As for myself, I used to play in a band. I played benefits for the homeless and once contributed music for an album for which all the proceeds went to the homeless. I played benefits for battered women, for victims of gun violence, you name it, I did my part to help the cause. I’ve spent the past 10 years working for a non-profit contemporary art gallery the raises funds to have programs for inner-city, under-privileged kids.
I don’t say all this to paint myself as a saint or to pat myself on the back. It just needs to be made clear that I, along with the rest of my family, do not think that poverty is funny. All of this context is important.
Back to the Regretsy fall-out. I reacted very badly to it. I was overwhelmed with hurt and rage and I felt that I had to defend my favorite couple and their happiest day from the snarky, juvenile hoards that were descending down upon them. I wrote a long, sincere, but definitely very angry letter to the person behind the Regretsy website, and I took to Twitter, where I felt like, as the Best Man, it was my duty to battle back each and every person who dared step forth to face me. (The main thing I was incensed about was the hypocrisy of the Regretsy hoards, but I’ll get back to that.) My nephew reacted with anger, too, drawing what I think is a hilarious, heavily ironic comic titled, “How the Internet Sees Me Now,” in which he is peeing on a homeless person and laughing. I’m not sure even the writer of the post understood his message there. It wasn’t some kind of, “Yeah, I don’t care about the homeless! Bring it on!” It was, “OMG, look how the Internet goes WAAAAYYYY overboard when it’s up on his moral high horse.” His joke, which everyone who knows him understood perfectly, was, “Can you believe that this is how I’m now perceived?” Like I said, this is NO hipster, Trust Fund kid and totally NOT a kid who would ever be callous about poverty, unless he was being intentionally ironic.
So we reacted, for about 36 hours, with anger, hurt, and rage. People on the internet think all of that is hilarious. They say things like, “Get over it,” or “Just move on.” But 36 hours is hardly much time to recover, regroup and move on when your whole family and one of its happiest days has just been trashed by hundreds of strangers. Both of them were utterly heartbroken, but especially the bride, whose favorite happy/safe place was now a source of shaming and teeth-gnashing. They have been married for all of two months. 36 hours is not much time in which to take in so much hostility.
When I told my wife about all this, she said, “Oh, please. Were all those people enraged by the ‘Hobo Parties’ on iCarly?” (Nickelodeon TV show, if you don’t know it.) I slept on that thought, and this morning I woke up and Googled it, only to find that actually, there were people incensed by it–enough so that the network removed all references to hobos from their show. (Big difference between our wedding and what iCarly did, though. iCarly specifically referred to hobos as “crazy” and “smelly” and other thoughtlessly mean adjectives.)
So I thought, “Okay, there is some validity to this.” Although we IN NO WAY meant any harm or malice to poor people, I can understand how it could be perceived as a glamorization of the plight of those Depression-era migrant workers. I personally don’t feel that way about it, for a variety of reasons, but I can see how some people might be offended. When I see the way Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac all co-opted and romanticized hobo culture, I’m not offended by it. I take it as an homage, and I understand the place that it’s coming from. Who knows, though. Social norms change. If the classical image of “the hobo,” as a kind of American, folkloric character is now akin to, say, blackface, or football teams calling themselves the Redskins, I genuinely was not aware of that cultural shift. It never even occurred to me that anyone would take offense, because I knew the people behind it and I knew their intent.
And the funny thing is? I’m utterly convinced that 90% of the people from Regretsy who were claiming to be so outraged, were either utterly full of it, or totally misguided as to what they were seeing. Suddenly, everybody had a “hobo” grandmother whose honor needed defending.
And YET. All of my friends who knew me, many of whom were brought up in southern rural communities, were coming to me saying, “This is totally faux outrage. I *did* grow up penniless. My grandfather *was* a migrant worker, and I took no offense whatsoever at those images. I saw happy people celebrating the culture and taking a good message from it.” It’s very much eye of the beholder.
I am all for discussing issues of gender, race, classism, etc. I apologize with genuine sincerity to anyone who took genuine offense to the images. To the people who have dealt with homelessness and poverty who saw this as a mockery of them or a romanticizing of their plight, I am very much sorry. There was never a shred of malicious intent in that wedding, and I want people to know that. They can call it tacky, they can call it tasteless, whatever. It was none of those things to me, but it’s fair game for anyone to have an opinion. But don’t call it malicious or intentional hurtful, because it absolutely was not.
To address your thoughts about the internet and what people should or should not post, all I can say is, “LESSON LEARNED.” And yet, I think I personally would repeat the same steps, if it were my doing. I don’t have any problems with “teachable moments” and if there’s a “there there” (God, I hate that phrase), then I think it’s a net plus that people are discussing it.
But there’s another issue here, and I pray you don’t disregard it or moderate it away, because it’s important. And that is the issue of Regretsy and its hivemind mentality. Had my family been besieged by letters from poverty organizations, we would have been surprised, but we would have listened. (My niece has asked Etsy to remove the post altogether, but she has no control over that and, for some reason, they haven’t done it.) But to be condemned by the likes of a website whose SOLE PURPOSE is to mock and ridicule those whom it deems culturally inferior is LUDICROUS. I’m not a humorless guy and I’m not easily offended. I understand it is a humor-based website, and I understand that by posting their wedding pictures publicly, online, the couple were opening themselves up to criticism, which is true of anything one might post online. THIS is a semi-critical blog post and I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t even have cared if Regretsy had just mocked the wedding and called it “tacky.” But it was more than that: this was a moral judgment of the couple, a condemnation of their behavior. That, too, is fair game, but coming from a website with a tagline, “If you have nothing nice to say, come on in!”, it is deeply and hilariously hypocritical.
Let me tell you just how bad it is: The Regretsy readers not only stalk you out, but they have specific jargon for their mean-spiritedness. All of these people were outraged–outraged!–by our wedding; none of them were outraged by the guy who, after one person compared the wedding to a Holocaust-themed wedding, said, “Everyone gets an individualized lampshade!” (Get it? Made of human skin.) Not only was this not an outrage, it got a hundred “up-thumbs” and its own thread of people making concentration camp wedding jokes. Other people were more direct and just made fun of my nephew for being overweight or the bride for “looking weird.” Or me, for having a bad haircut, being old (45!), and having once had a career as a musician.
Everyone knows the internet is a haven for anonymous trolling and negativity. That’s all well and good, and it’s not within Regretsy’s power to contain everything its readers say. Obviously not.
In my admittedly angry but never obscene and very much sincere letter to April Winchell, Regretsy’s brainchild, I compared her site to a scene from the movie “A Girl Named Sooner” in which a group of kids stone an injured bird to death. I later learned that Regretsy has a secret, password-only forum, in which users can go SPECIFICALLY to mock people who take offense to being posted on Regretsy. (Some of those people write truly ridiculously letters. Mine wasn’t. It was thoughtful. I condemned the woman’s hypocrisy FOR SURE, but I didn’t call her names and threaten to sue her.) I learned also that the password for the forum dealing with me and my nephew and his wife was DEADBIRD.
So, I’m willing to have a debate about issues of poverty and the romanticization of “hobo culture.” I’m willing to hear it out, to defend ourselves in some places, and to accept blame in others. (For some people, the big sticking point was that the wedding cost was $15,000, and part of the initial inspiration was that the bride and groom had no money. But none of that WAS the wedding couple’s money, and none of it was money that anyone involved had to throw away. It was a case of A) a very, very large Catholic family (250+ guests), and B) loving parents who wanted to do whatever it took to make it possible for people to come, to be fed, to drink, to have fun. It was hard-earned money, not throw-away cash.)
What I will NOT do, though, is be condemned by a bunch of rowdy “mean girls,” drunk on their own self-righteousness, and prodded along by a community that absolutely, 100% encourages their behavior. April’s followers all mention that her proceeds go to charities. That’s laudable. But it doesn’t mean that she has no responsibility for taking some editorial control over her readers and maybe, just maybe, suggesting they behave in a civil manner. She attacks us for our “insensitive” wedding, but is fond of using the word “retard” specifically because it upsets people.
If our celebration of hobo culture was tactless, questionable, or just “best kept private,” then I accept the blame and apologize for any unintended offense.
I await the day April Winchell and Regretsy apologize for the merciless mocking of those it deems inferior, without taste or class, or “retarded.” If we offended anyone, it was unintentional. For April Winchell and her readers, it’s a living.
Thanks again for the excellent article and for allowing me to give the other side of the story.
I hadn’t heard of the wedding before this post. I’m sorry to hear that your family has been bashed so much over what some consider poor word choices. I hope this doesn’t come out poorly, but I often feel that words are cheap and we should look at the actions behind the words that tell us their true meaning.
When I looked at the wedding, I got the sense that a lot of effort went into creating an event that reflected love and, as you mentioned, community. (The photo where the bride and her sister are hugging each other is so sweet.) Hate to hear that the same bride (according to her twitter account) sobbed over all the awful things people were saying about the wedding.
While I can see how some of your nephew’s tweets/cartoon may not have helped the situation, I know that it must have been hard for him to see her hurting so, not to mention his own pain over it. (I know we all hate to see our loved ones hurting.) I can’t imagine having a day that should always be treasured compared to a holocaust wedding; that would be make me ill.
I’m glad that Offbeat Bride posted about this so that the two sides of the issue can be shown respectfully. That is what I love about this site. People don’t always agree or like the same things, but they are always respectful and accepting of other peoples’ rights to have different viewpoints. I hope it helps you and your family find a bit of peace.
Thank you, Raven. I think you’re right. If we could do it all over again, we might just change the name, and possibly not share the photos with Etsy. But I can’t say that for sure. I’d have to see some really strong arguments from advocates for the impoverished that convinced me, even with the best intentions, which we had, the romanticization is ultimately harmful.
Good to hear you out. And good for pointing out the iCarly episiode. Didn’t I Love Lucy’s Lucille Ball do some Hobo theme episodes? I’m sure iCarly and I Love Lucy haven’t been the only comedy shows in the history of television to do a hobo theme.
Yes, I too wondered about the grandparents dug up in the the comments. My grandma was a teen in the Depression, died at 92 and has been dead awhile, too dead to be offended.
Your comments about “mean girls” is confusing, given the groom’s and your attempt to take on all comers on Twitter. You really, really fanned the flames (and continue to do so, actually) and made things pretty bad for yourselves — from the “poor” groom’s mention that the wedding cost 15K to his posting of a cartoon in which he’s (ironically) pissing on a homeless child.
To be fair, this wasn’t just Regretsy — plenty of Etsy shop owners and others on craft and wedding websites across the web were discussing the offensive nature of the wedding theme when it was posted on Etsy’s blog. When you post something very personal in a self-promoting manner on an international forum on the internet, you can’t control everyone’s reactions to it. Like it or not, that’s just the way things work.
thanks Jeannette, you put into words what I could not.
Matt, I’ve watched the “hobo wedding debacle unfold with much confusion and surprise. After posting some admittedly shoddily sourced ideas elsewhere, I have since attempted to try to delve further into just what people were responding so negatively and violently to;, I approached the subject somewhat academically and attempted to look further into just what “a hobo” in the 1930s was; I knew that thousands of men (and women!) rode the rails and travelled across country in the depression era: According to the hoboes themselves (as outlined in their Yearbook, which was related to the fact they created an organization in the later 1930s): there were three main types of travelers within this larger demographic: 1) the hoboes: who were forced to travel to find work. 2) “tramps” who were travelling for the sake of travel and wanderlust (NO work); 3) “bums.” The hoboes, in their handbook, took great pains to assert their honesty, pride, work ethic, and cleanliness in contrast to the other travelers who rode alongside them. Interestingly, this pamphlet outlines how the hobo-appointed King of Hoboes travelled to schools giving lectures on the dangers AND the romance of the road. http://xroads.virginia.edu/%7EMA01/white/hobo/handcov.html
Part of why I didn’t find this wedding offensive might have been that my grandfather, by 1930s definitions, was sort of midway between what would have ben called “a hobo and a tramp:” he told me how when he was a young man during the “Hungry 30s,” he willingly left home with a dream of finding a new life for himself (he didn’t want to be a farmer), so he set out to establish himself somewhere across Canada by riding the rails. He worked a number of jobs, from dishwasher at a restaurant (“pearl diver”) to a mink ranch hand (then manager), to a self-taught carpenter. In his later years, he told stories that mingled memories of hardship with joy, and the rush of freedom and promise. His stories remind me of some of those in the PBS documentary, “Riding the Rails,” which captured on video interviews with some of the young men who entered into the “hobo” and “tramp” worlds in the 1930s. http://video.pbs.org/video/1502653730/ What I want to point out here is that, if these documents are any indication, indeed, a GREAT many men and women were FORCED into the hobo life by the hardships of the great depression. However, contrary to the claims of some on other message boards, at least a portion of this group (which, to be fair, might have been called “tramps” rather than “hoboes” in 1930s lingo) entered the life with romantic notions in their heads: in the documentary, for example, the young son of a doctor recounts how the depression never touched his wealthy family but he still chose to run away, driven by a spirit of adventure. I absolutely accept that many so called “hoboes,” tramps, etc, felt a life on the road was the only avenue left to them. However, my point is that, as the uncle of the groom has noted here, it seems that many “hobos, tramps, bums” (the terms are now sort of used indiscriminately, whereas they were different in the 30) THEMSELVES participated in the creation of a culture—a culture with its own vocabulary, hieroglyphic language, King, etc, as well as a mythology: in the form of songs and lecture about the open road that they themselves wrote and performed. Some (CERTAINLY not all) actually took pride in defying mainstream society by actively choosing a life outside the norm. They did so as they responded to public rejection, stereotyping, and ostracism with strength, courage, and pride. Certainly, the suggestion here is that some hoboes themselves helped to create and recreate some of the romantic myths and gritty histories that persist into the modern day. This University of Virginia American Studies site is a treasure trove on information on these subjects: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA01/white/hobo/intro.html
I should also point out that there is more than one huge annual festival devoted to “Hobos” in the USA: attended by both “hoboes” and “non-hoboes” (Hobofest in Chicago http://pullmanevents.info/hobofest.html; http://hobofest.pullmanevents.info/history.html
Hobo Conventions: http://www.hobo.com/home.html; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOpsYACHbJ4).
Why am I bringing this up? To complicate the views of some of us in the contemporary timeframe who have hastily and inaccurately generalized about hobo/tramp/bum history and culture….and to offer up the suggestion to those who hated on the “Hobo Wedding” wrote that a hobo wedding is as offensive as a holocaust wedding, a slave wedding, etc, may want to delve more deeply into the historical record for a broader exploration before trumpeting such bold claims. I.e.: let’s certainly consider “The Grapes of Wrath” and Dorothea Lange’s photos as examples of the experiences of some of this group but…let’s also look at some other non-fiction sources, too.
As for “hobo chic” being offensive, I guess again, my failure to be incensed by it related to the fact that, as pictures from my family album reflect, it’s not impossible to imagine that in actual fact, not all 1930s hoboes (the hard working men and women making their way across country) looked like Dorothea Lange photos (which represent the Oklahoma forced migration, but may not encapsulate the entire “hobo population” at this time). For example, my grandfather, a sometime hobo, made sure to stay clean and as well dressed as he could within his limited means as he hopped from town to town, job to job. This may be why the images of clean but far from ostentatious or overly satirical wedding party members failed to come off as “glamourising poverty.” I think the aesthetic reflects the way my depression-era grandfather always dressed, both when hoboing and not: clean, as well appointed as he could look (one couldn’t get a job looking too disheveled). http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-peQs_QtPSZ0/TZsc__tNqMI/AAAAAAAAJQM/ZCOtOdDAE8w/s1600/IMG_3576.JPG
If I may say, my “hobo” grandpa was more careful of his appearance than many modern “non hoboes” regardless of class. My depression-era grandmother too: she was very poor as a rural teen in the 30s, but her humble feedsack dresses were always well-made and clean.
Critics may also may want to look more carefully at what the couple wrote about their intentions, which I definitely took to be a nod earnestly but also gently playfully towards elements of hobo culture (both the ideal and real sides) and the depression era more generally.
I came away from the Regretsy forum with the sense that people felt you couldn’t see merit or even dare I say some form of homespun aesthetics in the depression era unless you are of the same socio-economic standing as 1930s hoboes. Lucky for me, my depression era grandparents’ hard work allowed me to live with greater ease and prosperity—that is what they wanted it (even as they distilled values in me that have helped to keep me grounded and appreciative). That doesn’t mean I want to disvow my connection to their heritage. I’ll be darned if I would let someone tell me I can’t appreciate and wear a feedsack dress as a touching commemoration of my grandparents and their experiences because to wear a feedsack dress would make it seem like I’m trying to impersonate the poor or glamourize the depression era. If some of us didn’t preserve and celebrate the handiworks of humbler folks from this era, most of us would think everyone in the 30s looked like Jean Harlow or something. To those who suggested that the bride WASN’T celebrating or preserving depression-era handiworks with her quilt buntings, it is my understanding that the bride did not cut up perfectly intact quilts to make her bunting. As I have seen first hand, many 30s feedsack quilts just don’t age well and unfortunately are completely irretrievable. Feedsack, being an organic fabric, doesn’t always wash, wear, and age well when it is 75-80 years old. Instead of throwing the quilt pieces she acquired into the garbage, the bride repurposed these scraps into bunting, just as 1930s women like my grandmother, repurposed scraps from her dresses into quilts or strips for braided rag rugs.
Instead of calling the bride a selfish hipster, I happily remarked that she chose a vintage dress that can be worn again (vs. the traditional wedding gown made with reams and reams of fabric, most often made in third world factories). In the 1930s, dresses like the ones worn by the brides and bridesmaids were looked down up by well-heeled folks. A fictional example of this appears in the Kit Kitson series, wherein Kit is teased for her feedsacks because, within the context of Depression Era America, not all people were destitute and feedsack dresses were often therefore seen as a marker of social inferiority. These dresses are STILL often sold online by people as “cutters” because of a failure on the part of those modern sellers and even buyers to see any intrinsic and historical value in a handmade cotton garment. Again, instead of continuing to glamorize conspicuous consumption via flashy designer brand new clothing that is in style one season and out the next, and instead of wearing landfill clogging mass-produced “throwaway fashion” that stuffs the malls and bridal stores of contemporary North America, the bride and guests chose a carbon footprint-free dress. In so doing, she has offered the suggestion that feedsack dresses worn by women whose lives, talents, and histories are all too often left out of history books and certainly not recognized as “fashion or style” by modern standards, have value, worth, and beauty. To me, this is NOT the same thing as glamorizing or romanticizing poverty, past or present.
In the 1970s, Pioneer history became popular and fashionable: Gunne Sax, Little House on the Prairie, Holly Hobby. Millions of our forefathers and mothers died due to the harshness and brutality of life during this period.: by seeing value, merit, even moments of quiet and simple beauty in the accoutrements of their lives (which were filled with tragedy, yes, but also love, faith, peace, joy), does this mean we are glamourizing poverty? Can’t it also be true that appreciating such things, in an age when bigger, newer, faster, is always better, and the future is often seen as more important than the past, we are participating in a loving act of historical preservation and validation? Personally, I think yes.
JM: The eloquence and thoughtfulness of your words are a total panacea to the context-less flippancy of what my family dealt with over the past 48 hours. I agree whole-heartedly with what you wrote. Many of the people who wrote to me following this episode wrote specifically to mention that they grew up on a farm, or had migrant workers in their immediate family lineage (grandmothers and grandfathers). All of them wrote to tell me that they weren’t offended but touched. I don’t mean to say people can’t take offense; they can. But they should at least take the time to educate themselves and think about the situation before they break out the tar and fathers.
I think that to some extent, we already, as a culture, romanticize the Depression-era hobo idea, in a hopping-the-rails, all-your-possessions-in-a-bandanna-on-a-stick, this-machine-kills-fascists kind of way. I think that they could’ve gotten away with it if they hadn’t used the word “hobo”, since it has such negative connotations now (I know if I had suggested a “hobo chic” wedding, I would very shortly have had no fiance!)
So I guess, to relate it to the larger point, call me cynical but it’s generally okay, in the minds of the public, to romanticize anything so long as it doesn’t remind people of anything bad that still happens or that anyone still remembers (well, nearly anything; only a small, abhorrent subset of people would find, say, an Auschwitz wedding acceptable–although, give it about 50 years and
I wouldn’t be surprised if some clueless couple tries it).
I’d like to make a comment on cultural appropriation here. I know that if taken to an extreme level, it’s possible to offend by taking on the aesthetics and traditions of a culture that aren’t the one you live or grew up in. However, I think it is possible to take influences from other cultures in a tasteful way. I think it’s just important to understand where that tradition comes from, and what it means to that culture as well as what it means to you, because you will get questioned about it, and while you don’t have to justify everything, sometimes people are curious and want to know why you made that choice.
I think it’s unfair to say to a western bride: It’s tasteless to wear a red dress.” (for example) because that color “belongs” to another tradition. Are Chinese and Indian brides offending me when they wear white? Not at all. No one should be so emotionally invested in details like of that nature that it actually upsets them.
Now, taking entire periods in human history and trying to romanticize them – that get’s tricky. Especially periods of history that are still fresh in the collective mind of society. I think it comes down, again, to awareness. Did the two couples who had the Colonial and Hobo wedding really understand those time periods well enough to pull off a wedding tastefully? I don’t think so. They wanted a look and a feel- but ONLY the positive side. You can’t ignore the negative or pretend like it’s not important. I think overall they just didn’t think it through. It’s okay to appropriate cultural or historical elements into one’s wedding, but do so with as full an understanding as possible. Then, at the very least, when people get offended, you aren’t caught off guard or left feeling ashamed of a day that would be one of the happiest in your life.
A few years ago I received an invitation to a wedding that was scheduled to take place in a cemetery. Reluctantly I responded that I would be attending. I was confused without any kind of explanation. Once the ceremony started, the officiant began by explaining why the couple had chosen a cemetery and what the “theme” was. I was no longer confused. The couple’s spiritual beliefs were that death was a transition to a new beginning and their marriage was the transition of two becoming one. My point is, maybe a little explanation on the invites might make guests more understanding. Then it’s up to them to decide whether or not to attend.
Has anyone here known or been related to any “hobos’. I have. They were not always homeless. Many men road the rails and travelled all over the country staying in ramshackle camps along the railroad lines for a place to stay safely, to share what they had to eat with others and protection from wild animals.
They had homes and families to support. My friend who died 10 years ago had his wife and 3 little boys in Missouri while he rode the rails and hitch hiked for work all over the country. He made lifelong friends and had stories of great adventures. There were hardships but he said it was harder to have no work at home. He eventually brought his family to farm in California although they lived in tents for 5 years. He was the most interesting man I ever met and his wife was so sweet. They had this kind of wedding, would it be better to call it depression wedding? That sounds worse to me. just words…they are just words but it’s what people mean by their words and the hobo wedding was about love, pure and simple.
Yes my grandfather was a hobo. He was a little boy when he started to ride the rails and had no home. When he finally settled down and married he continued to live in poverty and subsequently so did his children. My mother grew up very destitute often missing school so she could pick cotton to support her siblings. It isn’t a joke.
Here is the thing; homelessness is a serious problem that people don’t take seriously. Some of us either have been or have family members that have been homeless. Or cities start passing laws outlawing “inner city camping” so they can arrest people who have no where to go. It hurts us deeply when people take something that is a very difficult problem and romanticize it. My uncle gets beat up, robbed, eats food out of a garbage can, and sleeps on the sidewalk. That has nothing to do with getting married and shouldn’t be the subject of a party. We don’t need to celebrate homelessness, whether it is from the depression or from current times, because we need to eliminate it. Until homelessness is no longer a huge problem in a very rich country there is no room for romanticism. This is a social problem that is intolerable and no amount of crying “I am poor too so I get to poke fun at it” will make it better.
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