“Say Yes to the Dress” – Consumption and the Social Condition

Rack of wedding gowns at Kleinfeld in Manhattan. © VancityAllie | Flickr

“Say Yes to the Dress” portrays one of the existential dilemmas women in the age of consumer society face. It is an emotional rollercoaster of wonder, judgment, deliberation, budgeting, frustration and decision. “Say Yes to the Dress” is a reality-TV show on TLC. For some, the show might look like a scene straight out of Theodore Adorno’s nightmare of “mass deception,” the display of the human tragedy in a world of commodities. But “Say Yes to the Dress” also presents in 60-minute segments, why the critique of consumer culture misses the point: Commodities are more than the meaningless, exchangeable representations critical theory makes them out to be. Instead, commodities mean everything to people. We cry, laugh, scream, or fight over them and we triumph or fail through them.

“In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I [Iddo Tavory] have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition — the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account for the ways in which social patterns set up these dilemmas that actors experience as crucial for their lives and how they define themselves.” 

I have been following Jeff and Iddo’s project for a while, and I suggest that it will help to further the understanding of the social condition if we take seriously the daily dramas of consumption, both as comedy and tragedy. “Say Yes to the Dress” is one of these social dramas, based on the very premise that buying a wedding dress really matters, that people do not make their consumption decisions lightly.

Of course “Say Yes to the Dress” is an edited and selective social drama, following a similar script each episode. The bride comes into the wedding dress shop with her entourage (family and friends). The consultant clarifies the parameters of the desired dress, first with the bride alone: What does she want, what is her budget? Then, the two pick some options in a dressing room. The bride dresses, and the . . .

Read more: “Say Yes to the Dress” – Consumption and the Social Condition

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