The presentation of an over-blown indulgent “self” in a world of Facebook profiles, Instagrams, YouTube videos, selfies, Tweets, and Pinterests, is pushing the increasingly malleable boundaries of societal and cultural norms.
Photo Credit: Michael Harris
A trend in wedding photography called “trash the dress” supports the idea of how images of self convey a form of alienation from ritual and an attempt to redefine symbolic meaning.
Jumping into a swimming pool, riding a motorcycle, or playing in mud, while in a wedding gown may mean more than just having a little fun with tradition customs and rituals. Trashing the dress, in some cases setting the gown on fire, represents a form of symbol morphing, which sets the meaning of one set of symbols against a newer set of symbols. The meaning of any symbol, including the wearing of a white gown, is never fixed. Paying a photographer to record the destruction of a wedding dress, while the bride is still in it, seems to reflect a desire to redefine the symbolic meaning behind formal cultural rituals of initiation in the 21st century.
What is interesting about self-identity, ritual, and symbolic meaning today is how norms are being pushed in different and unexpected directions through the use of digital technologies and social media. For example, symbolically destroying a wedding gown shortly after marriage would have sent a few grandmothers and great aunts into culture shock. Today, however, such violations of cultural and aesthetic sensibility seem to be celebrated widely on social media, especially YouTube.
Social Psychologist Erving Goffman contends that people present a “face” before others that make “every man his own jailer.” In this context, the social constraint of trashing a bridal gown and the ritualism associated with it may seem like busting out of a jail of culturally imposed restraint.