(Weddings * 4) + Audience = ∞ Surveillance

Curator's Note

Panopticism within reality-based wedding TV shows, such as the international series Four Weddings, on TLC in the U.S, acts as enforcement of the feminine hetero-normative. From a Foucauldian perspective this genre operates as a technology of power and panoptic surveillance. Foucault’s exploration of Bentham’s panopticon envisions the ability to surviel and punish beyond any physical structure. It is within the creation of these reality shows that a televised panoptic structure is realized. 

These shows honor the feminine hetero-normative achievement of marriage, as do the numerous reality-based dating shows. Few of the ‘other’ outside of this norm is visible within this space. Rather, Four Weddings, and its peers, continue the engendering of feminine hetero-normative standards. Just another television show is just another means to disseminate these norms amongst the masses eager to consume it, further legitimizing and normalizing the knowledge. The commercialization of marriage acts as a distraction from the failings of the historically linked patriarchal ritual. Imbued in male-dominated power, combined with the urge to consume beyond one’s means, the dominant discourse continues the commodity of woman as wife, and mother, and engendering girls early into this identity, as noted in the video clip.

In Four Weddings women are pitted against each other competing for the best wedding, and awarded with a luxury honeymoon. The meaning of the couple’s union is not dissected; a hetero-normative couple is entitled privacy. In opposition to this privacy, the commercial trappings, from a bare church to sneakers and silk flowers, and additional exceptions to the norms are available for scrutiny.

The first visible layer of surveillance starts within the workings of the show construction and production. It is from here the gaze, normalizing or punishing, weaves its way throughout the participants, watching and assessing one another’s acceptability. Upon broadcast, the floodgates are opened and the contest is proffered to the public for their assessment. And via the interconnectivity of media the discussion and monitoring of one another spills into the blogosphere and network websites, and yes, even this post. Existing in this recursive process is an invisible self-monitoring of all actions. The growth of these surveillance technologies exponentially duplicates the normalizing gaze and surveillance of the self aided by the infiltration of the consumer culture in media. Are viewers unwittingly recruited in this, actively purchasing into this discourse, or existing in a false consciousness of one’s participation in this process?


 Nice post!  I'm fascinated by Four Weddings.  I'm wondering how you see class operating alongside heteronormativity here.  It seems like a lot of the critiques are leveled against brides who are cutting corners financially.  I've seen quite a few episodes where the judging brides complained about backyard BBQs not "feeling like a wedding," which seems like an easy euphemism for not living up to class standards, as well as heteronormative standards.

Thank you! I appreciate your comments.  I agree, there is a lot of commentary on the financial status, as noted in the clip regarding a bare alter with candles, and oh no! silk flowers!!  From my understanding and reading on hetero-normativity, it generally encompasses and refers to the stereotypical heterosexual, white middle to upper classes.  This is perhaps showcased, by the lack of a more varied representation of weddings within the 'mainstream' show of Four Weddings. Instead, those outside of this in-group norm are relegated to a sub-genre of wedding-based reality shows.  One that comes to mind, which I am fascinated by with regard to this, is My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (British & American versions).  There seems to be a hierarchy of wedding-based tv shows following a hetero-normative, socio-economic guide, and those at the lower tiers are subjected to a harsher surveillance.  'Others' completely outside the parameters are left out, but, still, this does not dissolve their existence. It only highlights the 'other' even more.

Great post to begin this theme week. The hetero-normative aspects of the show, I believe, have only been further strengthened in one episode featuring a lesbian couple. Here, a little insight into the couple's private life was offered, but the gendering remained oddly in place.

I have seen only a handful of episodes of this series, but also wondered how class figures into the "competition" here. Considering the surveillance you speak of here and the judgement placed by the brides as mentioned in Alice's reply, it appears that the show only strengthens the wedding-industry and its standards, at least on first glance. I would argue however, that often the more ingenious approaches to saving money create an idea of making-frugality-work when inventiveness comes into play. Would you say that class and the idea of surveillance are possibly linked here? Do you have knowledge of how the "winning" brides place within the money-spent scale of the series,? 

I'm so glad you brought up the very few non-heteronormative couples featured on the show, which from my review of the shows is representative of the international versions as well.  I was unable to get clips of that U.S. episode. Yes, I would have to agree that even when the couple is not representational of the hetero-normative, they are framed within this and judged by this context.  Isn't this the crux of the debate on weddings and marital privilege, the hetero-normative standard it is based on? 

It appears that to garner the (televised) normalizing gaze, and to get a free honeymoon, one has to spend over $50k.  This is just from a quick look at a couple "winning" brides on the show's homepage, including one of the bride's featured in my clip (the one who wah' wah'd silk flowers).  The wedding industry which is worth billions of dollars, is just another mark of the consumer culture.  When I speak to this, I am referring to Chomsky's notions of distraction and manufactured consent, which I feel pulls heavily on class or the power imbalance of wealth.  When attention is focused on what is consumed or how one measures up, the rest, equality and pesky notions of the like, are trivialized.  The important matters are overshadowed by the race to win. 


Our comments all seem to have a common theme here, but at the risk of being repetitive, I'll join in too. :)

I've been paying a lot of attention to Four Weddings as well. One thing I find interesting is that the surveillance seems to be shifting to particularly emphasize the bride's savvy in managing both expenses and the overall event. She seems to be evaluated based on her ability to balance thrift with guest comfort (making smart choices, knowing when to spend and when its okay to cut corners), smoothly manage the crowd and the different locations/acts of the event (ensuring their comfort and pleasure as they flow from one point in the wedding event to another), and, finally, to organize the event so that it conveys the sentiment of the occasion, often emphasizing the importance of balancing an impulse towards modernizing or individualizing the event with a need to maintain traditional rituals (conveying that cultural/social tradition is not being lost).

These all seem to be skills particularly tied to classic notions of the housewife and women as the savvy managers of domestic spaces. In this I'm seeing a kind of heteronormativity that emphasizes traditional male/female labor divisions as tied to capitalism. However, these skills also seem significant to the notion of the ideal modern business woman (managing company expenses, coordinating events, etc.). I haven't fully thought this through yet, but something about this feels significant, considering the ties between reality wedding shows, the economics of the wedding industry, and ongoing changes in both the age people marry and who is financing weddings.

Glad you posted, interesting ideas and very nicely tied together.  It would be interesting to look at this further from a feminist / post-feminist viewpoint.  I know there are some articles on wedding media as engendering propoganda.  But I am not sure if there is anything on the game changer of the reality-based television genre. 

I agree, the gendering of traditional roles is definitely at work with some what of a modern twist.  It plays into the battle between the mandatory identity of woman as wife and mother, and the modern woman who is more than just a housewife.  I've often wondered what the men's roles in these relationships are and if the tables were turned, what would that look like? For a ceremonial beginning to a life union, the presentation appears awfully one sided.  Yet, again, showcasing only this viewpoint sheds even more light on the standard to judge from.  Yes, for me it points back to the hetero-normative.  

And regarding economic circumstances, I wonder if the wedding industry's networth decreased or increased over the past 5-10 years. 

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