The Aesthetics of Consumerism- Daniel Harris

WEDNESDAY, APR 26, 2000 12:00 PM EDT

“Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism” by Daniel Harris

With the malice of a gifted comic, an angry author argues that our “personal” tastes are something we were sold by advertising.

BY 

 

TOPICS: ADVERTISINGBOOKS

When writers pontificate about how some cultural artifact affects “us,” they generally mean their audience, or at least themselves. Daniel Harris takes a very different approach in “Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic,” his jeremiad (his own word) against American consumer culture: He discusses the ways that product pluggers’ visions strike an “us” best characterized as nobody who could begin to understand the argument of his book — if in fact “we” exist at all. To Harris, “we” are a blank-minded mob of automatons who not only strive to keep up with the Joneses but require advertisers to tell us who the Joneses are.

Harris’ baleful premise is that popular notions of “cuteness,” “quaintness,” “zaniness,” “naturalness,” “cleanness” and so on are artificial fabrications of the capitalist machine. What we think of as our unique tastes are rooted in how we are sold what we buy; movies, TV and magazines shape our ideals. Take fashion photography, which, like most advertising, Harris finds “pornographic” in its soulless appeal:

Our lives are now mediated through the aesthetics of consumerism, through images so commanding that we imitate their inanimacy and deadness, which have become crucial components of the glamorous woman’s stylishness, her photographic remoteness and serenity.

Our yearning for cuteness, quaintness, etc., Harris says, tosses similar existential wrenches into our lives. Not only are such concepts fake, they and their fakeness have been absorbed as hulking pathologies into our collective psyche. For instance, according to Harris, “The basic credo of coolness is nihilism,” and so he deconstructs late singer Nico’s heroin addiction as a double-barreled pursuit of coolness and glamour:

Nico’s defacement of her own beauty to acquire the glamour of coolness shows how the aesthetic of ugliness, like the aesthetic of the teenager’s bedroom, is extremely moralistic, based on an almost evangelical contempt for the body, a Gnostic, self-hating puritanism.

Teddy bears are stump-limbed and obese; dolls’ eyes brim with tears; and we find Winnie-the-Pooh’s pratfalls and blunders adorable — thus, “cuteness is the aesthetic of deformity and dejection.” Commercial portrayals of happy couples “present a pastoral utopia in which all rivals have been ruthlessly liquidated through a type of aesthetic genocide.” When we eat natural foods, we’re not really concerned with our health but with “gnawing our way out of cities … getting so close to the earth that we actually incorporate parts of it into our body in a symbolic act of cannibalism.”

But there are some huge flaws in Harris’ misanthropic logic. Is addiction motivated only by a desire to look cool? Should children be denied teddy bears and given lifelike rat dolls with sharp claws and snapping jaws instead? Of course not. Stuffed animals have big eyes, ineffectual arms and round bellies because baby mammals (including baby humans) do, too, and the cuteness of babies appeals to our most primal emotions. But there’s no room in this essay for the emotions or, for that matter, for the down-to-earth reason of real people, millions of whom daily navigate the shoals of media drivel without Harris’ hothouse angst. He reduces virtually every impulse — hunger, humor, the way we choose to decorate our apartments or get dressed in the morning — to the brainwashing, often contradictory directives of marketing.

Harris is unfailingly clever; his observations are those of a gifted comic. But he leaves off the punch lines. He won’t acknowledge that he’s exaggerating, that nobody really believes most of what advertisers say and that when we do follow fashion, it doesn’t inevitably signal our corruption. His examples prove his point only if we accept his presupposition that we’re hopeless, hapless rubes.

While Harris identifies the culprit as capitalism, with its surfeit of unnecessary stuff and its requirement that we keep discarding the old and buying the new in order to keep the system running, he explicitly refuses to suggest any brighter path, any alternative to this abasement. But most of us simply don’t inhabit the shallow, desperate world of aesthetic torment that he portrays: We’re skeptical in the face of sales pitches and have the self-confident curiosity to select our own truths from the cornucopia of images that consumer culture foists on us. So, in the end, Harris’ eloquent tirade testifies less to the hideousness of consumerism than to his own consuming disgruntlement.

Greg Villepique plays guitar in the band Aerial Love Feed.MORE GREG VILLEPIQUE.

Wedding Consumerism

1.3 Mile Long Wedding Dress Shows China Is Ready For Gross Consumerism, Too!

By consumeristcarey August 8, 2009

A Chinese bride recently walked down the aisle wearing a 7,083-foot-long wedding dress that took 200 guests over three hours to unfurl. The $5,800 dress could be a sign of China’s potential to threaten America’s reigning status as the capital of gross consumerism, if only the bridegroom hadn’t personally designed the dress with his family’s help. Explaining the lavish garment, he said: “I do not want a cliche wedding parade or banquet.”

After the event, he cut the dress down to 1,984.1022m, to represent his bride’s date of birth, and added 608 crystals, one for every day they had dated.

Mr Zhao said he had submitted his attempt to Guinness World Records in London and would also be sending video footage.

“Both the length of the dress and the number of silk roses pinned on the wedding dress can make history,” he said, but added that it did not matter to him whether he was successful or not.

The whole effort cost Mr Zhao about 40,000 yuan ($5,800; £3,470), but his schoolteacher bride was reported to have “laughed and cried at the romantic gesture”.

Maybe Americans could learn from the relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself extravagance. It actually is quite romantic, even if it didn’t win over everyone.

Mr Zhao’s mother appeared less impressed.

“It is a waste of money in my opinion,” she told Xinhua.

Chinese bride wears 2.2km dress [BBC]
(Photo: Reuters)

 

Real Wedding 2011 Survey Release by The Knot

by CHRIS JAEGER on MARCH 27, 2012

NEW YORK, Mar 21, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — XO Group Inc. XOXO +0.77% , a global media and technology leader and creator of the top two wedding websites, TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, today released the results of its annual Real Weddings Survey, which surveyed nearly 18,000 US couples married in 2011. TheKnot.com & WeddingChannel.com 2011 Real Weddings Survey captures detailed information on wedding budget, style preferences, event characteristics and other key information related to the bridal demographic.

The 2011 Real Weddings Survey captured responses from nearly 18,000 US brides married between January 1 and December 31, 2011; respondents were recruited throughout the year from TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com membership, which represents nearly 80% of brides nationwide. Brides received survey invitations shortly after their wedding date and were asked a comprehensive series of questions about the event and their planning process. All qualified respondents: were 18 or older, had a wedding in 2011.

“For the first time since 2008, wedding budgets are on the rise,” said Carley Roney, cofounder of The Knot. “In 2011, one in five US couples spent more than $30,000, and 11% spent more than $40,000 on their weddings. Our research shows that couples and their families are less concerned with the economy and are increasingly comfortable investing more in the once-in-a-lifetime occasion of their wedding.”

2011 Wedding Statistics

– Average Wedding Budget: $27,021 (excludes honeymoon)

– Most Expensive Place to Get Married: Manhattan, $65,824 average spend

– Least Expensive Place to Get Married: West Virginia, $14,203 average spend

– Average Spent on a Wedding Dress: $1,121

– Average Marrying Age: Bride, 29; Groom, 30

– Average Number of Guests: 141

– Average Number of Bridesmaids: 4-5

– Average Number of Groomsmen: 4-5

– Most Popular Month to Get Engaged: December (16%)

– Average Length of Engagement: 14 months

– Most Popular Month to Get Married: September (15%)

– Popular Wedding Colors: Blue (30%), Purple (25%), Green (24%)

– Percentage of Destination Weddings: 24%

2011 Average Wedding Budget Breakdown 2011/2010

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Overall Wedding (excluding honeymoon) $27,021 $26,984

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Wedding Venue (reception hall) $12,116 $12,124

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Wedding/Event Planner $1,753 $1,683

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Reception Band $3,122 $3,081

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Reception DJ $929 $900

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Wedding Photographer $2,299 $2,320

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Florist/Décor $1,894 $1,988

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Videographer $1,486 $1,463

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Wedding Dress $1,121 $1,099

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Wedding Cake $535 $540

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Ceremony Site $1,599 $1,393

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Ceremony Musicians $536 $503

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Invitations $331 $351

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Limousine $669 $667

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Favors $217 $222

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Rehearsal Dinner $1,078 $1,127

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Engagement Ring $5,130 $5,392

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Figures based on respondents who hired a professional vendor for the service.

Top 20 Most Expensive Places to Get Married

Based on average wedding spend in 2011, these are the areas around the US where couples spend the most on their wedding.

1. NYC (Manhattan): $65,824

2. Chicago, IL: $53,069

3. NY Metro (Long Island, Hudson Valley and NYC Outer Boroughs): $50,087, $46,560, $40,356

4. Northern/Central NJ and Southern NJ: $46,600, $38,103

5. Rhode Island: $41,307

6. Santa Barbara/Ventura, CA, and Los Angeles, CA: $37,823, $37,690

7. Philadelphia, PA: $37,014

8. Boston, MA: $35,560

9. Southern Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas): $34,465

10. Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland: $34,203

11. Connecticut: $33,789

12. Baltimore, MD: $32,702

13. Northern, CA, San Diego, CA, and Orange County/Inland Empire, CA: $32,261, $30,482, $29,826

14. Hawaii: $31,461

15. Pittsburgh, PA: $29,703

16. Louisiana: $28,790 *New to Top 20 List in 2011

17. Dallas, TX, Houston, TX, and Austin/San Antonio, TX: $28,717, $27,459, $27,735

18. California/Nevada (Sacramento, Tahoe and Reno): $28,028

19. Lehigh Valley/Poconos, PA: $27,339 *New to Top 20 List in 2011

20. Detroit, MI: $27,017 *New to Top 20 List in 2011

Interesting Regional Differences

TheKnot.com & WeddingChannel.com 2011 Real Weddings Survey can be broken down on a region-by-region basis across more than 80 markets. Regional highlights include:

– Budget: New York City (Manhattan) has the highest average wedding budget ($65,824), and West Virginia has the lowest average wedding budget ($14,203), excluding honeymoon only.

– Age: Hawaii has the oldest brides (31 years), whereas Utah has the youngest brides (26 years), on average.

– Engagements: Mid-Atlantic brides (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) have the longest engagements (16 months), while brides from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi have the shortest (12 months), on average.

– Wedding Size: On average, Iowa brides still have the largest number of wedding guests (215), and Hawaii and Nevada still have the smallest number of wedding guests (77 and 63, respectively).

– Wedding Style: Hawaii has the most casual weddings (48%), while Long Island, NY, has the most formal (black-tie) weddings (37%).

– Wedding Dress Spend: Brides in Manhattan spend the most on their dresses ($2,403), while North and South Dakotan brides spend the least ($745).

– Registry: Brides in Central Illinois, are the most likely to register for wedding gifts (98%).

Top 10 2011 Wedding Trends

BIGGER BUDGETS. Brides are spending more on their weddings. For the first time since 2008, the average wedding budget has grown year over year, hitting $27,021. Fewer brides (29%) say the economy affected their wedding budget — a decrease from 31% in 2010 and 34% in 2009. Wedding standards also rose for the first time since 2009, as the average wedding spend per guest increased to $196, compared with $194 in 2009.

PLANNING BEGINS EARLIER. Some brides are even starting to plan their wedding before their guy pops the question. Brides are now allowing themselves more time to plan, with one in three (31%) beginning to plan more than 12 months ahead (up from 28% in 2010). Plus, 16% of brides now plan their wedding before getting engaged. In the last three months leading up to their wedding, brides spend an average of 11 hours a week working on wedding details. Nearly one in three hire or use a wedding planner, with more than half of those brides (51%) hiring them for day-of coordination.

3-DAY-LONG, LUXURY WEDDINGS. High-end weddings are far more traditional. The luxury wedding segment (those spending an average of $100,000 on their wedding) had approximately 85,000 weddings in 2011 and represents a $9 billion industry. Luxury weddings are more formal/black-tie (46% vs. 15% of the non-luxury market) and larger (204 guests compared with 137 guests attending non-luxury weddings). Luxury weddings are also longer, with 74% of couples hosting three or more days of events. The look is also more traditional: Ivory/champagne and metallics are the most popular wedding color palettes among luxury brides.

LESS FORMAL STYLE. Casual weddings grow. Wedding style continues to move toward the more casual end of the spectrum. In 2011, 16% of brides said their wedding style was “casual,” compared with 14% in 2010 and 12% in 2009. While the “semi formal” category still reigns, with 65% of brides planning a wedding with that style in 2011, fewer brides are going for the “formal/black-tie” tradition, with only 16% describing their wedding that way in 2011, down from 18% in 2010 and 20% in 2009.

FALL WEDDINGS ARE MORE POPULAR. Unique wedding dates alter seasonal landscape. While summer will always be “wedding season,” 2011 saw a shift in seasonal popularity with only 37% of weddings taking place in months of June, July and August, down from 41% in 2010 and 2009. Partially owing to the popular wedding dates of 9/10/11 and 11/11/11, in 2011, fall grew in popularity, with 36% of weddings taking place in September, October and November months, compared with just 30% in 2010 and 2009.

PURPLE REIGNS. Purple is the fastest-growing wedding color. Purple weddings continued to be extremely popular, with one out of four brides (25%) choosing the palette, up from 21% in 2010 and only 16% in 2009. Other popular wedding colors include blue (30%), green (24%) and pink (22%). On the other hand, brown weddings are on their way out, with only 11% choosing the color in 2011, down from 21% in 2008 (when brown was the “it” color).

WEDDINGS ARE MORE INTERACTIVE. New types of guest “entertainment” are on the rise. Eating and drinking isn’t enough anymore. Custom guest entertainment, such as photo booths and comedians, is on the rise, with 22% of brides incorporating additional guest entertainment into their wedding (vs. 15% in 2010 and 11% in 2009). In addition, interactive food stations, such as a sommelier with wine tastings, a sushi chef or a cheesemonger, continue to be popular, with 14% of brides including this option in their receptions (up from 13% in 2010).

COUPLES STILL LOVE CUPCAKES. Wedding cakes have much more competition. While a majority of brides (67%) still go for a traditional tiered wedding cake, other desserts are also served during the reception. Great dessert options include items like a groom’s cake (19%), candy (15%) and baked goods like pies, cookies and brownies (20%), and cupcakes, surprisingly, grew again in popularity from 13% in 2010 to 17% in 2011.

EVERY WEDDING HAS A WEBSITE. Couples increasingly communicate with guests online. The vast majority of couples now have personal wedding websites (69% of couples created one in 2011 vs. 65% in 2010 and 60% in 2009), and brides are increasingly using social media to share wedding details with guests (45% of couples did so in 2011 vs. 32% in 2009). Nearly one in six brides (15%) even kept in contact with their vendors via Facebook and/or Twitter.

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY. Wedding planning has gone mobile. Nearly three out of five brides use their smartphones for wedding planning. Brides who have smartphones are doing a lot on the go, from taking and sharing wedding-related pictures (58%) and looking up wedding vendor contact information (47%) to accessing wedding planning websites (33%) and managing their wedding gift registry (32%).

About TheKnot.com & WeddingChannel.com 2011 Real Weddings Survey

The 2011 Real Weddings Survey captured responses from nearly 18,000 US brides married between January 1 and December 31, 2011; respondents were recruited throughout the year from TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com membership, which represents nearly 80% of brides nationwide. Brides received survey invitations shortly after their wedding date and were asked a comprehensive series of questions about the event and their planning process. All qualified respondents:

– Were 18 or older

– Had a wedding in 2011

Survey respondents represent a variety of ethnic, education and income levels, and are geographically dispersed across the country. The survey and data management partner for the study was Decipher Inc.

About XO Group Inc.

XO Group Inc. (NYSE: XOXO; http://www.xogroupinc.com ), formerly The Knot Inc., is a global media and technology leader devoted to weddings, pregnancy and everything in between, providing young women with the trusted information, products and advice they need to guide them through the most transformative events of their lives. Our family of premium brands began with the #1 wedding brand, The Knot, and has grown to include WeddingChannel.com, The Nest, The Bump and Ijie.com. XO Group is recognized by the industry for being innovative in all media — from the web to social media and mobile, magazines and books, and video — and our groundbreaking social platforms have ignited passionate communities across the world. XO Group has leveraged its customer loyalty into successful businesses in online sponsorship and advertising, registry services, ecommerce and publishing. The company is publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange (XOXO) and is headquartered in New York City.

http://www.theknot.com

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June 17, 2011 – New York, NY – BRIDES, the #1 brand in the world for reaching engaged women, has once again conducted the American Wedding Study, the quintessential analysis of spending and behaviors around wedding planning that provides key insights to the emerging and established trends surrounding this economically charged life phase.

KEY FINDINGS

Results of the 2011 BRIDES American Wedding Study show couples doing more with less; overall wedding spending has decreased slightly but there are more events surrounding weddings (double digit increases for wedding weekends, destination weddings, engagement parties, and bachelorette parties) and the wedding itself incorporates more elements and more personalization than ever before.

Couples are blending old with new, preserving select traditions like the first dance and cake-cutting but bidding farewell to sit-down dinners and buffets in favor of cocktail hours and passed hors d’oeuvres. Nearly 10% of all weddings feature a “man of honor” or “best woman”, 14% of couples are married by a friend or family member ordained for the occasion and 11% of couples make charitable donations on behalf of their guests.

KEY COSTS

* The average wedding cost is $26,501, slightly more than a 5% decrease from 2009 when the average cost was $28,082 but up $8,000 since 2002.

* The reception accounts for 36% of wedding costs, with an average price tag of $13,367.

* Outside of the reception, the largest chunks of money are going to photography/videography ($3,367), wedding rings ($1,495) and flowers ($1,426).

* The average wedding cake costs $480.

* The current average cost of an engagement ring is $4,647, a 27% decrease from 2009’s average engagement ring cost of $6,348.

* Average wedding dress cost is $1,289, which a 20% increase since 2009 when the average cost was $1,072.

* The average bridesmaids dress costs $134.

* Everyone pitches in to pay for the wedding and surrounding events.

* Brides- to-be are the primary contributors for the bridesmaid’s luncheon (60%), wedding ceremony (57%), wedding weekend (53%) and post-reception party (47%).

* Together, 68% of brides and grooms are paying for their honeymoon.

* The brides’ parents are focused primarily on paying for the wedding reception (58%), next-day brunch (44%) and engagement party (36%).

* His parents are still paying for the majority of the rehearsal dinner (60%).

* Their friends take charge of the bridal showers (72%) and bachelor/bachelorette parties (88%).

ENGAGEMENTS

* December is still the most popular month of the year to get engaged (18%).

* Length of engagement has increased from 14 months in 2009 to 15.4 months in 2011.

* The majority (63%) of brides-to-be provided input on their engagement ring, with over one in five (21%) actually selecting the ring themselves. This is an increase of 9% versus 2009.

WEDDING DETAILS

* 91% have a honeymoon (14% increase since 2009).

* 35% have an engagement party (+21%).

* 22% have a wedding weekend (+38%).

* 15% have a destination wedding (+25%).

* 87% have a rehearsal dinner.

* 86% have an average of 2.3 bridal showers.

* 34% have a post-wedding brunch.

* 24% have a post-reception party.

* 5% have multiple ceremonies.

WEDDING DRESSES

* She’s buying her wedding dress 9 months before the wedding.

* Average wedding dress cost is $1,289, a 20% increase since 2009 when the average cost was $1,072.

* Today’s bride is also spending another $581 on wedding day accessories, jewelry, headpiece and veil.

* 1 in 2 purchase from an independent local bridal salon, with another 29% buying from a national bridal chain.

* 84% of brides wear something old, new, borrowed and blue.

* Close to half (45%) will box up their dress to pass it on. Another 10% will either sell their dress, give it to another bride or re-cut/remodel to wear again.

WEDDING LOCATION

* Nearly half of couples (48%) wed in the city or town where they currently live, with 23% returning to their family’s hometown for the occasion.

* One in ten engaged couples (15%) have a destination wedding, which is an increase of 25% from 2009.

* Of those having a destination wedding, they are staying an average of 6 days/nights on location and their guests are staying 3 days/nights.

WEDDING PARTY

* The majority of weddings (91%) have a maid/matron of honor, one out of ten (10%) include a man of honor.

* 89% of wedding parties have a best man and 7% have a best woman.

* In addition to a maid/matron of honor and best man, the typical wedding party features 4.5 bridesmaids and 4.5 groomsmen/ushers for a total of 11 people in the main bridal party.

* The average bridesmaids’ dress costs $134.

* 62% of wedding parties also include a flower girl and 53% feature a ring bearer. 4% also include their pets.

WEDDING AND RECEPTION

* The average number of guests is 152.

* The majority of brides-to-be (67%) would categorize their wedding as semi-formal in contrast to casual (19%) or black-tie (13%).

* 38% of receptions are described as classic or traditional. 30% are described as intimate or modern (24%), a 76% and 71% increase over 2009.

* Traditions are still important:

* 91% of weddings feature the cutting of the cake

* 90% of weddings incorporate a first dance

* 87% of weddings include celebratory toasts

* 68% of brides throw the bridal bouquet (down from 74% in 2 years)

* 57% of grooms throw the bride’s garter (- 65%)

* Only 4% of weddings feature guests throwing rice.

* 20% now have a photo booth.

* 11% now make donations to charities in lieu of favors.

* 3% have started including professional dancers or comedians for entertainment.

WEDDING GIFT REGISTRY

* 93% of couples register for wedding and shower gifts.

* On average they register nearly 7 months (6.7) before the wedding – or 9 months after their initial engagement.

* The average engaged couple joins fewer than three registries (2.7).

* 82% of engaged couples register through a combination of in-store and online. Only 17% of engaged couples register strictly online.

WEDDING GIFTS

* Couples spend $582 on gifts for each other. The #1 gift from bride to groom is a watch; the #1 gift from groom to bride is jewelry.

* They’ll also spend an additional $760 on gifts for parents ($254), bridesmaids ($268) and groomsmen ($238).

* #1 gift for bridesmaids is jewelry; #1 gift for groomsmen is liquor related (flasks, shot glasses, steins or premium liquor).

OTHER FINDINGS

* Liquor has increased in importance with 92% having some type of bar, toast or signature cocktail and liquor or alcohol glassware gifts for groomsmen doubling since 2009.

* 1 in 5 use a mobile app to help plan, shop for or register for their wedding.

* 17% use a social media app to plan, shop or register.

* Nearly 1 in 5 couples are now using evites or emails to invite guests to the wedding or save the date.

* The #1 theme for weddings is beach, tropical, luau.

* 14% of couples have a friend or family member ordained in order to perform the ceremony.

* Only 42% will have either a sit-down or buffet meal. Instead, couples are opting for cocktail hour (58%), passed hors d’oeuvres (46%), dessert stations (28%), food stations (19%), picnic/barbeque (5%), sushi chef (2%), wine tasting (2%), food trucks (1%) or cheese mongers (1%).

METHODOLOGY

Respondents were women ages 18+, either engaged or married within the year. The sample included women who have visited Brides.com or Brides magazine subscribers, representing more engaged women than any other media outlet. A total of 2,985 qualified surveys were evaluated. Respondents were surveyed between April 15 – April 28, 2011.

ABOUT BRIDES

In over 75 years of publication, BRIDES has remained the most widely read magazine in the category and the country’s foremost authority on engagement, weddings, and marriage. BRIDES, BRIDES.com and 16 brides local magazines are published by Condé Nast, a division of Advance Publications, which operates in 25 countries and is home to some of the world’s most celebrated media brands.

SOURCE: EWEDNEWZ.COM

 

 

from RT- Desperation: The face of the next American Revolution?

Desperation: The face of the next American Revolution?

Published time: March 23, 2010 14:27 
Edited time: September 13, 2010 05:59

 

Historically, Americans have always been suspicious and even paranoid of government intrusiveness in their lives, so is the recent spate of bloodshed a normal phenomenon?

It is no coincidence that the United States has produced some of the world’s most revolutionary technologies, as well as some of the most freedom-loving individuals.

 

The rugged individualism that motivated self-made American entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Sam Walton, for example, is the same sort of feverish individualism that fueled the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. The thread that links these diverse Americans together is their fierce belief in individual autonomy and enterprise without the overarching interference of a bumbling government.

Henry David Thoreau, who exemplified the simple life while living in a log cabin on Walden Pond (Concorde, Massachusetts) for two years (1845-47), summed up the opinions of many so-called rugged individuals when he wrote, “I heartily accept the motto that government is best which governs least.”

It was specifically the pioneers’ fear of tyrannical government, reinforced by their bad experiences in the Old World, which prompted the Founding Fathers to include the now famous Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

In the mid-1990s, the US militia movement became rejuvenated following several bloody encounters between individuals and the government, including the Ruby Ridge incident, the Waco Siege and the threat of stricter gun laws.

Historian Mark Pitcavage summarized the motivation behind militias in the American Behavioral Scientist journal (Vol. 44, 2001):

“The militia movement is a right-wing movement that arose following controversial standoffs in the 1990s. It inherited paramilitary traditions of earlier groups, especially the conspiratorial, antigovernment Posse Comitatus. The militia movement claims that militia groups are sanctioned by law but uncontrolled by government; in fact, they are designed to oppose a tyrannical government. Adherents believe that behind the “tyranny” is a left-wing, globalist conspiracy known as the New World Order. The movement’s ideology has led some adherents to commit criminal acts, including stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives and plotting to destroy buildings or assassinate public officials, as well as lesser confrontations.”

Many well-intended individuals struggled to build a “well-regulated militia,” but homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh singlehandedly destroyed those efforts when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City on April 15, 1995. Today, it is an understatement to say that the militia movement has acquired a tainted reputation.

The real blow to the militia movement arrived post-9/11, when bumper-sticker patriotism was running at an all-time high and the “if you aren’t with us, you are against us” mentality gripped the nation. Suddenly, Osama bin Laden replaced the US government as Enemy Number One.

But with 9/11 quickly disappearing in America’s rearview mirror, and other more topical events – like a grinding economic crisis – getting their due share of magnification, a disturbing “sleeper” breed of “American revolutionary” has appeared on the scene. And these self-styled “revolutionaries,” as they portray themselves, work without any specific affiliation, membership or creed. Indeed, the one thing that seems to set these individuals apart from rebel rousers of the past is their “lone wolf” status.

“Take my pound of flesh”

On February 16, 2010, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a software consultant, sat down at his computer and composed a rambling, 3,204-word suicide note that detailed his painful efforts to start up a private business, only to have his plans thwarted at every turn.

In 1985, Stack, along with his first wife, incorporated Prowess Engineering. In 1994, he failed to file a state tax return, which seems to have triggered an avalanche of entrepreneurial misfortune, as well as his unbridled hatred for the government.

“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal
government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours,” 
Stack wrote, “yet, the political ‘representatives’ … have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the ‘terrible health care problem’? It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.” [Note: it would be fair to add here that the Democrats just successfully passed a healthcare reform package]

On the morning of February 18, Stack set fire to his $230,000 home located in Austin, Texas, then drove to the Georgetown Municipal Airport. At 9:45am, Stack took off in his single-engine Piper Dakota and 10 minutes later his plane collided full speed into the Echelon office complex in Austin, killing himself and Internal Revenue Service manager Vernon Hunter, and injuring 13 other people inside of the building, two seriously.

Despite the fact that a much larger-scale method of attack was used on 9/11 to help bring down the World Trade Center buildings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stated that it was investigating the Stack incident “as a criminal matter of an assault on a federal officer” and that it was not being considered terrorism at this time.

“Rothbardix”

On the evening of March 4, 2010, two weeks after Stack’s suicidal crash into the IRS building, a man named John Patrick Bedell calmly approached the entrance of the Pentagon station of the Washington DC Metro. When asked for identification at the security checkpoint, Bedell drew a weapon from his pocket and began shooting. The officers on duty, who received only superficial wounds, returned fire, killing the shooter.

Bedell, who was permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, was an advocate for the legalization of marijuana (in 2006, he was arrested for growing cannabis), but he was certainly no dummy. Bedell suffered from bipolar disorder, yet graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1994 with a degree in Physics. On the Internet, he authored a blog under the name “Rothbardix,” where he articulated his opinions, many of them railing against “runaway government.”

“When the government can control how private property is used,” Bedell said in one of his many audio Web postings, “and especially when the government controls the monetary system that is used to exchange private property, the government has the mechanisms and the motivation to control individuals to the smallest detail.”

Bedell, who was a follower of the 9/11 “truth movement,” harbored suspicions that the United States government is controlled by an elite group of individuals, and in the final paragraph of his last posting he wrote, “The blatant violations of the Constitution’s limitations on the economic role of the government, accomplished through many subtle usurpations over many decades, are perhaps even more pernicious than, and are certainly a key motivation for, the violent seizure of the United States government.”

Bedell drove his car cross-country to Washington, DC, from California weeks before his attack, Pentagon Police Chief Richard S. Keevill said, to conduct what was essentially a suicide mission.

The FBI declined to label Bedell’s attack an act of terrorism.

From war hero to deathbed fugitive

On June 10, 2009, 88-year-old James von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and shot security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, who later died from his injuries. Von Brunn, a self-professed white supremacist and Holocaust denier, had a long history of run-ins with the law over his beliefs before his final act.

In 1981, he was charged with entering the Federal Reserve building and threatening people with a handgun. His complaint is one heard regularly today by high-ranking politicians, including Congressman Ron Paul, who made two unsuccessful runs for the presidency: “the Federal Reserve is an illegal entity that artificially plays havoc with the US money system.” Von Brunn received a life sentence for the crime, but was released early for medical reasons.

Von Brunn, who was reportedly a member of Mensa, the international organization for individuals with high IQs, began his life with high expectations. He graduated in 1943 from Washington University with a degree in journalism. During his time at university, he was nominated president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter and played on the varsity football team. Upon graduation, he served in the US Navy, where he pursued a career as an officer for 14 years. During World War II, he was commanding officer of PT boat 159, and was awarded three battle stars.

But despite these accomplishments, Von Brunn began to subscribe to various conspiracy theories, which included the belief that the United States was controlled by “the Jews,” as well his fears over the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which “birthers” claim is fake.As his personal life collapsed, his paranoia seemed to intensify.

He was also the author of a hate-filled tract called, “Kill the Best Gentiles”, which his website describes as “a new, hard-hitting expose of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy the white gene-pool.” Von Brunn also wrote a screed on the question of President Obama’s citizenship that was re-posted to popular right-wing message board Free Republic.

In a statement following the shooting, Von Brunn’s son, Erik, expressed sorrow and horror about the shooting, and said his father’s beliefs “…have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well…For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. To physically force your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying. Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are…”

On January 6, 2010, Von Brunn died in a hospital while awaiting sentencing.

Carnage in Pittsburgh

On the morning of April 4, 2009, Pittsburgh police officers Paul Sciullo and Stephen Mayhle responded to a 911 call concerning a domestic disturbance. When the officers arrived at the scene, a woman answered the door, telling the officers she wanted her son, Richard Poplawski, removed from her house. She failed to tell the officers that her son was armed to the teeth.

As the two officers entered the house, Poplawski, 22, was wearing a bulletproof vest and “lying in wait”. Officer Sciullo was immediately shot in the head, and almost immediately thereafter, Officer Mayhle was also shot in the head. Another police officer, 14-year veteran Eric Kelly, was retuning home from working the night shift when he heard about the gunfight on his radio. He decided to assist his colleagues, and was also killed in the four-hour gunfight that ensued.

According to the police criminal complaint obtained by WTAE News, Poplawski’s mother said her son has been “stockpiling guns and ammunition, buying and selling the weapons online because he believed that as a result of economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society.”

But friends described the man accused of fatally shooting three Pittsburgh police officers and injuring two others “an easygoing, fun-loving guy” and a known gun enthusiast.

Between volleys of gunfire at his Pittsburgh home, Poplawski was calling friends and family.

“He just told my nephew, Billy, that he was shot twice – one in the arm, once in the leg,” Marianne Klimczyk told WTAE News. “He just told him to tell everybody that ‘I love them’ because he didn’t think that he was going to get out of there alive.”

Childhood friend Edward Perkovic said he spoke to Poplawski via telephone at about 8:30am.

“What he said to me today was, ‘Eddie, I’m going to die today. Tell your family I love them and I love you.’ And I heard gunshots and he hung up the phone,” Perkovic said. “This was a complete surprise to me and my family and everyone’s families that were friends with him. Nobody ever expected something like this from him.”

Perkovic said Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.”

Court documents obtained by WTAE indicate “no major criminal violations in Poplawski’s history.”

“He was just an easygoing, fun-loving guy, telling jokes,” Jeff Loffler said. “Everybody knew him. He was just the kind of guy who you could have a conversation with even if you didn’t know him.”

Poplawski, who surrendered to police after a four-hour gunfight, is charged with three counts of criminal homicide – relating to the shootings of officers Eric Kelly, Paul Sciullo II and Stephen Mayhle – and one count of aggravated assault against Officer Timothy McManaway, who suffered a hand wound.

The Unabomber

Theodore John Kaczynski, yet another American with above-average prospects getting tragically sidetracked by his fervent beliefs, was the subject of the most expensive manhunt in the history of US police operations.

Born on May 22, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, Kaczynski has been described as a child prodigy who excelled academically at an early age. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. In 1967, the 25-year-old won the University of Michigan’s $100 Sumner B. Myers Prize in honor of writing the school’s best dissertation in mathematics that year. After a brief teaching stint at the University of California, Kaczynski decided that the world of academia, not to mention the world at large, was not for him.

In 1971, he built himself a cabin near Lincoln, Montana, and over the next decade concentrated on acquiring the “primitive skills” that would allow him to live autonomously in the wild.

In an interview taken by the Green Anarchist after his arrest, Kaczynski explained that he had developed a negative attitude toward the techno-industrial system very early in his life. It was in 1962, during his last year at Harvard, he explained, when he began feeling a sense of disillusionment with the system, and that he felt quite alone in his beliefs.

“Back in the Sixties there had been some critiques of technology, but as far as 1 knew there weren’t people who were against the technological system as-such… It wasn’t until 1971 or 72, shortly after I moved to Montana, that I read Jaques Ellul’s book, The Technological Societv.” 

Why did he personally come to be against technology? His response was, “Why do you think? It reduces people to gears in a machine; it takes away our autonomy and our freedom.” But there was more to it than that. Along with the rage he felt against the machine, his words revealed a special feeling for the wild, untamed outdoors.

“The honest truth is that I am not really politically-oriented. I would have really rather just been living out in the woods. If nobody had started cutting roads through there and cutting the trees down and come buzzing around in helicopters and snowmobiles I would still just be living there and the rest of the world could just take care of itself. I got involved in political issues because I was driven to it, so to speak. I’m not really inclined in that direction.”

It was the “invasion” of the real estate developers on Kaczynski’s slice of solitude that triggered a letter-bomb campaign that terrorized America off and on for 17 years. From 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski sent 16 bombs to targets including universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23.

Here he describes the moment that he decided to get his “revenge” against society:

“The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the tertiary age. It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin, so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it” His voice trails off; he pauses, then continues: “You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.”

There are some interesting parallels between the Henry David Thoreau, the 19th Century college lecturer who quit the comforts of modern living to live in a cabin on Walden Pond, and Kaczynski. Both men attended Harvard University, showed remarkable prospects, only to say their goodbyes to society to live in log cabins in the middle of nowhere. Both men recorded their experiences in literary form: Thoreau’s work, “Walden,” has gone on to become an American classic, translated into some 100 languages, with millions of copies sold.

Kaczynski’s work, “Industrial Society and Its Future” (also called the “Unabomber’s Manifesto”), made it into The New York Times and Washington Post by default on September 19, 1995 as an agreement between Kaczynski and the authorities that he would discontinue his bombing campaign if his tract was published. There was also the hope, which was fulfilled in the end, that somebody would recognize Kaczynski’s writing style and notify the authorities, which is exactly what happened: his brother recognized his sibling and made a call to the FBI.

So was Theodore John Kaczynski pushed over the edge by what he deemed to be an assault on his peace and privacy? Furthermore, would Henry David Thoreau, who lived in a more tranquil time before maddening traffic jams and mega malls, have reacted any differently than “the Unabomber” had he been forced to watch the destruction of his native countryside?

Now with the United States suffering its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, will such actions on the part of frustrated individuals increase? And if they do, to what extent will people sympathize with such actions.

The daughter of Joseph Stack, the man who carried out a suicide plane attack against the IRS in Texas, said she considered her father “a hero” for standing up to “the system,” although she later back away from that statement.

Stack’s daughter says her father’s act was “inappropriate” but understandable.

“His last actions, the suicide, the catastrophe that caused injuries and death, that was wrong,” Samantha Bell, Stack’s daughter from his first marriage, told “Good Morning America” in an interview. “But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished. But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government.”

When asked if she considered her father a “hero,” Bell, 38, said, “Yes, because now maybe people will listen.” Bell later called the television station to retract her statement and say unequivocally that her father was “not a hero.”

So what else besides personal misfortune and economic crisis are driving these individuals, some of them highly intelligent people, to vent their frustration in such destructive ways? Are they being influenced by far-right media commentators, like Glenn Beck of Fox News, whose own comments would not seem too out of place alongside the missives of some of the abovementioned individuals? Perhaps, but that would not explain the likes of the Unabomber, for example, or hundreds of other anti-government incidences that happened long before Mr. Beck and Fox News came on the scene. Moreover, that is probably giving an individual like Glenn Beck far more credit than he deserves.

And then there is the so-called Tea Party movement – originally begun by US Congressman Ron Paul, and quickly being hijacked by the far-right Republicans – that is fighting against the scourge of big government, not to mention the US Federal Reserve System, which “has full control of the US money supply, yet is accountable to nobody but itself.”

And certainly a good deal of the blame over all the hand-wringing could be placed at the doorstep of the Internet itself, which now caters to and conjures up every fear and conspiracy theory under the sun. For example, due to the high level of uncertainty that the global economic crisis has generated, there is now great interest in the so-called “survivalist movement,” which basically espouses the belief that the global economy will soon crash, corporations (that provide much of everything these days, including our food supplies) will go out of business, and national governments will no longer be able to protect their citizens. In other words, these individuals envision a world of Mad Max, where anarchy runs rampant, and every moment is dedicated to sheer survival.

So will the face of the next American Revolution consist of a prolonged string of agitated individuals lashing out in their own unique ways at a system that they feel to be overbearing, or will it be something entirely different? Maybe it’s a question that we will never have to answer.

Thanks to the Internet, there is also much excitement over the year 2012, which is said to mark the end of the 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which is as sophisticated an astrological instrument as anything ever produced by NASA engineers. So on December 21 (or 23), 2012, the inhabitants of planet earth, some say, will enter a transformational period and a whole new way of thinking will begin.

That event of Big Bang proportions may even be big enough to postpone indefinitely the next American Revolution.

Now that’s a conspiracy theory worth subscribing to.

Robert Bridge, RT