Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back in the Day

During a bout of insomnia, I came across this intriguing article by CNN's Jenn Thompson: "Bizarre Origins of Wedding Traditions." While I am all for reminding people that "timeless" traditions (white wedding dresses, Christmas trees in living rooms, etc.) are often fairly recent innovations, the most "bizarre" thing about this article is its theory of history. Eschewing any attempt at chronology, Thompson offers a mishmash of historical periods, presenting Queen Victoria's orange blossom gown side by side with Visigoths and "hordes of wedding guests crowding around the bed, pushing and shoving to get a good view and hopefully to get their hands on a lucky piece of the bride's dress as it was ripped from her body." All of this is offered up with a casually ahistorical attitude that makes me wonder if the phrase "back in the day" appeared in early drafts of this piece.

Now maybe I'm just a killjoy and maybe it's just that it's 4 in the morning and I can't sleep, but I found this article's attitude depressing. Of course people enjoy learning wacky facts about ordinary customs, but do these bits of history need to be presented in such a Nickelodeonesque fashion? Wouldn't CNN's audience benefit from a little more history and a little less being talked down to? It seems to me that the whole "people used to be so crazy/stupid!" tone of this article insults the intelligence of its readers. These wedding traditions aren't really "incredibly bizarre," as the author claims, but presenting all of pre-1950 history as a distant and unknowable shadow world is.

Also, this quote grated on my nerves:
A common theme that you've no doubt noticed throughout this post: humans used to be a superstitious bunch.
Used to be? Also, since when is it appropriate to use contractions and the second person singular when writing for a major news outlet. Perhaps CNN has decided to cede what remaining authority it once had to the blogs.

1 comment:

Garick said...

Worse yet, the "interesting facts" are mostly not facts at all. It seems to me that Mss Thompson just did a google search on "wedding traditions" and cited the wackiest ones she could find without regard to any source selection, or even citing. I am reminded of the once ubiquitous "Life in Shakespeare's time" email that so many people took seriously in the mid-90s. One version of this "history lesson can be found here:
http://www.fiestaturbo.com/forums/life-in-the-1500-s-vt163198/

The saddest part is how many readers will accept this balderdash as fact, since they saw it on a reputable news site, and won't even notice that CNN is posting "articles" from "mentalfloss.com."