Marrying Absurd by Joan Didion

The intention of this essay is to expose the shallow and cheap nature of Las Vegas weddings.  With the use of satire, Joan Didion shows the superficialness of not only those who marry in Las Vegas but of other American traditions and rituals.  The essay gives specific examples of how Las Vegas weddings are both, “bizarre and beautiful.”

In today’s society planning a wedding is very difficult and takes at least a year.  People today judge a couple on their wedding and how expensive and fun their wedding is.  Because of this, wedding planning often becomes more of a chore and less of an experience for the couple. Didion writes, “But Las Vegas weddings seem to offer something more than ‘convenience’; it is merchandising ‘niceness,’ the facsimile of proper ritual, to children who do not know how else to find it, how to make the arrangements, how to do it ‘right.’”  Here, she mocks the American wedding industry and what it has become today.   Didion ridicules the modern rituals and how unattainable they are.  Joan Didion suggests that because it is so impossible to plan a perfect wedding today, that couples are turning to Las Vegas weddings in order to escape what they see as inevitable failure of planning a wedding.  

Joan Didion’s diction provides a very clear and direct message.  The beginning of the essay is detailed and very blunt, which immediately strengthens Didion’s intention.  She states, “A bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission.  Someone must put up five dollars for the license.  Nothing else is required.”   Didion knew Las Vegas needed very little before two people were married and used this to her advantage.  She includes the exact requirements to show how frivolous she feels Las Vegas weddings are.  After she makes a small list of things necessary for a Las Vegas wedding, she states, “nothing else is required.”  This is such a short sentence but a very powerful one.  In this one sentence Didion makes her point that Las Vegas weddings are void of value.  By saying this, she implies all that is needed is two people and five dollars, not a promise to love one another until ‘death do them part.’
The arrangement of the piece greatly helps Didion’s message.  In the beginning of her essay, Didion talks about how Las Vegas came to be the way it is.  She writes, “the last day on which anyone could improve his draft status merely by getting married.”  In this way and many others, she acknowledges the other side of her argument.  Didion notes why couples choose to have a quick wedding in Las Vegas and then refutes it and satirizes the industry.  After she writes this particular statement Didion quotes a Las Vegas justice of the peace, Mr. Brennan, in order to show how shallow Las Vegas weddings are.  Brennan states that he was able to recite what he needed to say in just three minutes, and could have married everyone at once but decided they were not cattle.  Didion uses this point to show how the sanctity of marriage is taken away by a three minute ceremony in a makeshift chapel.  

–Samantha Smith

Didion starts her essay Marrying Absurd with the appeal to logos by listing the legal qualifications to be married in Las Vegas. For example, “…the bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission.”  Along with “Someone must put up five dollars for the license. […] Nothing else is required.”  This catalog of qualifications is so short, it seems to be unbelievable.  However, Didion uses these factual requirements to not only give her audience context but to justify her claim before she even states it.  Having read these sentences first, the reader might have already concluded that the Las Vegas marriage scene is already absurd, thus, when the intention of the essay is stated, the reader has a stronger chance of agreeing with her.

Didion uses imagery when describing the types of weddings that take place in Las Vegas.  She writes of the Strip chapels and their “…wishing wells and stained glass paper windows and their artificial bouvardia…”.  This gives the audience the mental images  needed, allowing them to realize just how tacky Didion believes this specific culture to be.  In this sentence, Didion also uses the rule of three, or a triad, to emphasize her point and to place a more satirical tone which makes her writing more effective.

My favorite quotation is the last line which states, “Another round of pink champagne, this time not on the house, and the bride began to cry.  ‘It was so nice,’ she sobbed, ‘as I hoped and dreamed it would be.’”  I love this ending because it places a lasting effect on the idea that our culture is so twisted that the  “Vegas wedding” Didion described in this essay is what some people dream of having.  It is ironic as well, because this ending plays into part of her intention that our society is so convoluted by the idea of instant gratification.

–Maria Schroeder

In Didion’s “Marrying Absurd,” Didion utilizes a large amount of juxtaposition to highlight how odd the behavior of Vegas weddings truly is. She takes traditional wedding images like champagne being poured by a waiter for the wedding party, and parallels them with images exclusive to a Vegas wedding like the bride not being able to have any because she “was too young to be served.” By setting these two images next to each other, the author highlights that although the scene of alcohol being served is normal, the age of the bride is not typical.

The author also uses tri-colon and parallelism in the lines “‘I gotta get the kids,’ the bride whimpered. ‘I gotta pick up the sitters, I gotta get to the midnight show.’ ‘What you gotta get,’ the bridegroom said….’is sober.'” By utilizing tri-colon or the phrase “I gotta” three times, the author shows the tone of the bride to be urgent and pleading. Contradicting it with the use of parallelism in saying “You gotta” though, emphasizes the point that the bridegroom has the final word and makes his final point that she has to be sober clear.

Didion also establishes ethos for herself that she knows a lot about Vegas wedding culture by citing specific locations. She cites places like the Clark County Courthouse, and has the insider knowledge that it “Issues marriage licenses at any time of the day or night except between noon and one in the afternoon, and between eight and nine in the evening, and between four and five in the morning.” She also utilizes jargon that natives would use in referring to their city like “the Strip” and “Strip weddings.” By displaying this familiarity, Didion shows she has a strong knowledge of the topic she is describing, bolstering her argument.

-Sarah Braunstein

Didion uses her essay to point out the lack of moral character that Vegas weddings have and try to persuade the reader that this type of unorthodox wedding is shallow and represents a decline in values, not just for the wedding industry and for Las Vegas, but for Americans as a whole.

While Didion clearly has done some research and has knowledge of Vegas weddings and the actual ceremony itself, is lacking in her ethos. She fails to acknowledge what the primary purpose of a wedding is: to officially unite two people that want to spend the rest of their lives together. She looks down at the cheapness of a Vegas wedding with disdain, as if marriages and love only exists in beautiful backdrops. She sees a Vegas wedding as a sign of moral decay and implies that the various advertisements for different chapels are a sign of consumerism taking over our society. She would prefer, I assume, for a couple to spend months and thousands of dollars planning a proper wedding, because that’s a great use of your time and money. I believe, especially with the rise of social media and tales of extravagant celebrity weddings, people tend to focus more on having the “perfect” wedding and outdoing their peers in terms of who had the best ceremony. A wedding isn’t and shouldn’t be about that, and while I wouldn’t exactly call Vegas a humble venue, it isn’t any more absurd than spending over a thousand dollars on a dress a woman literally wears once in her life. If Didion had pointed out the reasons a person should be getting married, she would have substantially more ethos, instead of coming off as just as shallow as those she observed in the chapel.

Not to pull an Angelina Jolie, but Didion’s whole premise of Vegas weddings being absurd in comparison to a proper wedding falls apart when one thinks of how absurd marriage itself is. It is pretty wild to promise to love this one person for the rest of your life, and a fairytale wedding doesn’t promise a fairytale life. Not to mention Didion’s logic falls apart when she talks about “the facsimile of a proper ritual” as if the standard American ritual comes from a pure background. In ancient times, a bride wore a veil to conceal her face so the groom couldn’t back out of an arranged marriage if her didn’t like how she looked. The traditional best man started out as a good swordsman who could help the groom chase off the bride’s family if they were angry or even the bride herself. The idea of having the bride’s father walk her down the aisle stems from the times when a woman was literally seen as property and she was now shifting hands from her father to her new groom. Didion looks a fool when she criticizes the Vegas wedding industry for being impersonal and too much of a business. Weddings started as literal business transactions – with a woman being one end of the bargain. A critical difference between Vegas weddings and ancient ones is the idea that a woman has a choice in whether or not she wants to get married. The traditional  or “proper” wedding has no more dignity or grace than a Vegas wedding if one actually bothers to research the history behind.

Several anecdotes are shared in this essay, and one I especially like is the story of a record-breaking night when almost two hundred couples were married in Clark County, Nevada. Didion tries to put a scornful spin on this, writing, “August 26, 1965, an otherwise unremarkable Thursday which happened to be, by Presidential order, the last day on which anyone could improve his draft status merely by get married. One hundred and seventy-one couples were pronounced man and wife… One bride lent her veil to six others.” Didion looks down on this, and her judgement is partially justified. It’s pretty clear most of the marriages were to avoid being drafted, which isn’t the most noble reason to get married, but isn’t a horrible one either.  The image of one girl passing a veil down the line might horrify some people, but others see it as heartwarming. The typical bridezilla image of a girl screaming/crying because her dress isn’t perfect is replaced with a much humbler image of women sharing what they have, little as it might be. What Didion intended to portray as a classless ceremony is instead a display of selfless love, bringing together not only couples but strangers.

— Maria Busken


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