There I Was, 250 Miles Away From My Groom: A Genealogy of Media Weddings

Caroline Habluetzel
Département de Communication, Université de Montréal
October, 2005
 

Abstract

The wedding of two people is a very old ritual that has been celebrated in many different ways. This thesis explores the phenomenon of media weddings where the couple to be married experiences the ritual in separate locations and the ceremony includes a technological or human mediator. It examines these types of media weddings: telegraphic and Internet ceremonies, in which the respective technology connects the separated bride and groom; and proxy marriages, in which the absent groom (or bride) is represented by a stand-in. This account of media weddings illustrates how society makes sense of new or changing phenomena by calibrating and re-calibrating its standards of acceptable behaviour. It attempts to inverse our perceptions of a normal, contemporary wedding by focussing on the media wedding bride’s point-of-view.

By analyzing the particular construction of specific instances of media weddings, I explore them as individual experiences and consider details and peculiarities otherwise overlooked. At the same time, by providing the historical background, I place media weddings in their general contexts. To this aim, I built an archive as a memory of media weddings. It includes first-hand accounts (e.g., interviews with participants in proxy marriages; transcripts of Internet weddings), second-hand accounts (e.g., newspaper reports and poems about telegraphic love) and third-hand accounts (e.g., academic discussions of related concepts) in various formats.

Several conclusions derive from the reading of the archive. (1) The concepts of presence and absence are crucial to the separated couple. While acknowledging the absence of the partner, the participants’ bodies provide the cognitive space for perception and imagination, the physical space for metaphorical language and the stage for the mediation of absent bodies into emotional experiences, thus emphasizing the relation between the body and its social field. (2) A fresh look at the history of wedding ceremonies shows that media weddings are less exceptional than one would assume. (3) Emotionally, media weddings are unexpectedly intense. Despite their separation, the couple experiences emotions very similar to those of a traditional couple. From this, a critical examination of the paradigm of face-to-face interactions as the most rich and fulfilling form of communication follows. (4) Two distinct processes shape individual experiences: the bride’s previous exposure to wedding ceremonies and her coping strategies. The notion of the Urbraut implies a wedding experience as a reconstitution of exposure to and memories of previously attended weddings as observers, readers, viewers or guests. It inspires the bride’s expectations that are interrelated with certain bridal coping strategies. These strategies ensure both the presence of the absent partner and an emotionally fulfilling event by adding new parameters to an old ritual, resulting in the actual, unique experience.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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