Thoughts on Etsy’s “Hobo Wedding”

It seems like this couple:

http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/handmade-weddings-depression-era-hobo/

managed to get the internet up in arms after over their cultural appropriation of depression era poverty as their wedding theme.

This reminds me of something that happened when I was planning my own wedding.

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Kenwood House: Dream Venue

Hampstead Heath is a beautiful big park in London, which I just adore. At the top of the park is Kenwood House, an old manor house which is now run as museum and restaurant.

Kenwood House is licensed to perform marriages and I loved the idea of having my wedding there. I could picture myself coming out of this big white building, family and friends around me and looking out over rolling parkland at all the families picnicking and the kids running around. I just thought it would be perfect.

Hiring a manor house does not come cheap but I was encouraged to see that they also do a reception package in the kitchen, which is a good sized room, and can be decorated in something called “shabby chic”: which seems to involve a lot of meadowy flowers in mismatched vintage milk jugs and oldie worldie style table cloths and doiles and so on.

I checked the prices on the kitchen wedding and predictably it was still way out of our budget so I put the idea aside, set myself down to organise something more realistic and thought no more about it.
No more that is, until my Mum mentioned that she’d seen the package advertised with the slogan “Have your wedding below stairs.”  She was genuinely freaked out and literally couldn’t imagine why anyone would find the idea attractive. Her exact words were: “My whole life is about trying to get away from life “below stairs!” I never want to go back.”
I should point out here that my Mum is from the post war baby boomer generation and benefited from the social mobility of that period. She has never worked as a servant and, given the times she grew up in, it would have been deeply surprising thing if she had. 

Her own mother however (my grandmother), was “in service” from the age of 12 and clearly, the experience has cast a long enough shadow that the idea of celebrating anything “below stairs” still carries with it a sense of horror and shame. Even for the next generation. Even 70 years later. And yet this response had not, for a second occurred to me.

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In case you were wondering: here's how it turned out

What’s interesting to me here is the difference made by that one additional generation, that can transmute a grossly insensitive act of cultural appropriation into a perfectly acceptable wedding theme. An object of aspiration even. You really have to laugh at capitalism sometimes. They would have had me break the bank to buy a sanitised pastiche of my own family history.
Instead of which, we had a quaint registry office ceremony and pub reception, incorporating all the authentic customs of the 21st century white working class. It was just just so cute. I can’t wait to see a knock off version at 4 times the equivalent price in 70 years time.
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Aside

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Morag Eyrie
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 18:10:52

    Funny how the short posts stimulate so much thought for me!

    This is a really good wee case study on a wider phenomenon. For example, I can’t help but feel slightly sick when I see younger women (generally women about 10-15 years younger than me) dressed to the nines in 1950s fashions. I love Mad Men as much as the next pop culture TV fiend but I love it as a gut-wrenching portrayal of what my mother’s generation’s life was like. The first series in particular was actively distressing to me from start to finish.

    I read somewhere that some academic did some research (must try to find the link), interviewed loads of women about their reaction to Mad Men, and all the ones from the generation it portrays said (a) it was really accurate and (b) for that reason they couldn’t watch it because it really was about revisiting trauma, not entertaining. Yet for a generation just one below me, they can watch it without trauma, goo over how sexy the power abusing rapist Don Draper is, etc.

    The only Black person I’ve ever discussed Mad Men with couldn’t watch it either: things were bad for women in the U.S., and for African Americans in that era. But at least the show portrays the plight of a bunch of those women (mainly white with a couple of exceptions): Blacks are nearly invisible, a double whammy for the viewer.

    No doubt there is something Bourdieu has said about this! Maybe like taste in food and other things, being able to appropriate the symbols of oppression for other people is a marker that you are not affected by that oppression and is therefore a clear class delineator. A bit like how middle class hippies wear their hair in dreads and wear scruffy, dirty clothes. It’s a sign to everyone that you can get away with that because you are white and middle class: a poor Black person may end up perceived as a vagrant, or be sectioned as mentally ill.

    Thanks Ellenor!

    Reply

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