We Have Ourselves a Groomzilla

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Sean Parker and his fiancee, soon to be starring in an episode of "Who's the Bride?" (Reuters)

Sean Parker, the billionaire who helped found Napster and helped finance Facebook, is getting married in June. And he is throwing himself, apparently, "a wedding fit for a king." The event's venue, a luxury hotel in Big Sur, California, will include a custom-made fairyland-like setting with fake ruins, bridges, ponds, and a gated cottage -- not to mention a specially constructed dance floor and plants that are being shipped in to supplement the ones provided by nature. The wedding guests will wear costumes custom-made by Oscar-winning designer Ngila Dickson

The whole thing will cost Parker, according to reports, about $9 million.

So Parker's wedding will be lavish, definitely. It will be weird, probably. It will be whimsical, hopefully. (Think The Wind in the Willows meets The Hobbit. Or, well, try to think of that.) And while there's something just a little bit gross, from the "that's a lot of money that could have gone to charity" perspective, about a $9 million wedding ... there's also something fittingly appropriate about it. Because, having no royalty in this country, we look to the famous and the super-rich and those who are both at the same time to give us the lavish wedding celebrations that republicanism has, for all its benefits, taken from us: We can't have Kate and Wills, so we satisfy ourselves with Angelina and Brad. And Jen and Justin. And Kim and that basketball player whose name also starts with a K. We might not always admit it, but the magazine sales and the E! Hollywood specials admit it on our behalf: We sort of want Sean Parker to have his crazy wedding. We sort of want him to build sets and make his guests wear custom-made suits and then unironically describe the vibe he's going for as "Victorian whimsy." We look to our celebrities to give us, as it were, "the wedding of our dreams." Or at least of our morbid curiosity.

So it is entirely logical that Sean Parker -- creative, over-the-top-billionaire -- would have a creative, over-the-top wedding. A wedding whose pictures can be auctioned off to US Weekly or InTouch -- the proceeds, ostensibly, donated to charity -- so that we may experience its creative and over-the-top wonders for ourselves, vicariously.

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But there's one thing about Sean Parker that makes him different from the Kates and the Kims and the Jens and the others who have been trailblazers in the field of the tabloid-friendly wedding: Sean Parker is a dude. And in that Sean Parker is, it seems, a new kind of beast, spawned from a haphazard union of wealth and entitlement and quickly evolving assumptions about masculinity. Sean Parker is a Groomzilla.

And this is where Parker's wedding (due apologies to the costumes and the fake ruins and the Victorian Whimsy) gets interesting. Because, for all the variation that exists among weddings of the famous and the non-, there tends to be one driving assumption that unites them all: Weddings, first and finally, are about the bride. The bride's "special day." The day she's dreamed of since she was a little girl. The day that finds her walking down the aisle to "Here Comes the Bride." Per most portrayals -- particularly those in the media -- the groom is not so much the equal partner in the celebration as the excuse for the celebration to happen. He is the altar-waiter and then the aisle-escort and then the cake-feeder. The first picture in US Weekly's inevitable "Kim Kardashian Wedding" slideshow pictures nine members of the wedding party. None of them is the groom. 

The bride-centric logic holds even when the bride is the less famous member of the couple in question. Take, for example, Mark Zuckerberg's wedding to Priscilla Chan. The New York Post, writing about the couple's "cheap nups," complained about said nups on (ostensibly) the bride's behalf. Chan, the paper decided, was not so much a princess who had found her prince as "the unluckiest woman alive." The evidence for this assessment? The fact that the ceremony took place in Chan's "own backyard." The buffet of Mexican food that was served after that ceremony. And, most egregiously, "the itty-bitty rock her man -- who is worth about $17 billion on paper -- put on her finger as they exchanged vows." Said ring was worth $25,000, apparently. Yet it was, per the Post's expert estimation, "cheapo."

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The origin of the Post 's indignation, presumably, was that Chan and Zuckerberg's intimate, low-key affair was a violation of the Royal-Without-the-Royalty dictats described above. The couple -- which is to say, Zuckerberg -- had the means to put on a lavish show for the benefit of themselves and us all; they opted instead for tacos and margaritas. But part of it, too, was that Chan was not, in any kind of extravagant way, the star of her own show. She had the dress and the ring and the groom, sure; beyond that, she embraced very few of the assumptions and expectations that accompany traditional notions of bridery. She was a bride who had little interest, it seems, in becoming A Bride. Because of that, she was "the unluckiest woman alive." 

Compare Priscilla Chan to Sean Parker. Parker is a bride -- and also A Bride -- in every traditional sense except the biological one. His will be, reports about the affair are quick to remind us, "a wedding fit for a king." And he cares a lot, by all accounts, about the little details that will make that wedding worthy of him. He will be a June groom, and the event he will be starring in is not just a party, or a religious ceremony, or a legal contract made public. His wedding will be a reflection -- of himself, of his past, of his future. Parker is embracing, it seems, the idea that a wedding is symbol-laden not just in the sense of the rituals it employs -- the white dress, the flowers, the rings -- but in a much more commercial sense, too: "Band" says one thing. "DJ" says another. "Plated," one thing. "Buffet," another. "Cake," one thing. "Donuts," another. "Bespoke suits redolent with Steampunk whimsy," something else entirely. 

The assumption Parker is making about his own wedding, in other words -- the reflexive reflectionism he's embracing -- is the same assumption that, on a granular level, fuels the wedding industrial complex. The assumption that gives each discrete decision a couple must make concerning their particular event, whether it's about venue or theme or formality or food, the freight of symbolism. Formal or casual, traditional or indie, quirky or by-the-book: The complex treats these distinctions not as party themes so much as life philosophies. They represent something. And that something is, generally speaking, the bride's hopes and dreams.

And so here, in Sean Parker, is a groom who is playing the cultural role of the bride. And who -- being as he is both over-the-top and of means -- is playing the role of Bridezilla, as well. Parker is being dramatic and fastidious about his special day, but also how can you blame him because this is the day he's been dreaming of since he was a little girl boy, and all he wants is to ensure that the day will be a perfect, seamless reflection of the life he will share with the love of his life. (Her name, by the way, is Alexandra Lenas. And she will be playing, at least per most media accounts, the unmentioned-until-several-paragraphs-have-gone-by role of the groom.) 

And while we can make fun of Parker for that, we should also temper the mockery with a little bit of gratitude. At least he's bringing some parity to the field. At least he's making Weddingzilla-ism slightly more of an equal-opportunity affair. Please rise, everyone: Here comes the groom. 

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.


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