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#DongYan: Conspicuous Love

The wedding celebration of two popular Filipino movie stars, Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera (or “Dongyan,” as their fans call the couple), was, by matrimonial standards, ostentatious. A crowd of celebrities, including President Benigno Aquino III, packed the church.  A swarm of bishops, dressed to the hilt, concelebrated the rite. A live stream of the ceremonies was shown on a large screen outside the church for the non-invited masses to behold.  The wedding reception was held at the gargantuan Mall of Asia where at one point, to the oohs and ahhs of well-clad guests, entered a 12-foot wedding cake for the bride and groom to slice and partake.  Press and television passionately covered the event and for many days, the Dongyan wedding was the hottest item on Philippine internet.

Reports quoted Dingdong the groom as saying that except for the giant cake, he paid for most of the bills – and not, as some wags claim, the companies and corporations whose products Dingdong, also a popular model, endorses.  Asked why he spent so much for the wedding celebrations, the groom said that he did it “for love.”  All that expense, all those goods (gowns, tokens, flowers, food and what not), all those arrangements – for love.  We’re talking like the Taj Mahal here except that the bride and wife in this Philippine case is very much alive.

The Norwegian sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to describe consumers who buy expensive items to display wealth and income rather than to satisfy their real needs.  This display, done conspicuously to make an effect, can be read as a way to gain and signal status in the community, to assert one’s superiority, and to acquire a great deal of symbolic capital.

The Dongyan wedding serves as a vivid example of conspicuous consumption.  Dingdong the groom may say that he did it for love, and we believe he’s sincere when he says so.  This is his intended action.  But the unintended consequences of his action, following Veblen, is that his lavish wedding signals his superiority among peers in the movie world (consider, too, his rise in popularity after the wedding), his placement in the ranks of the Philippine upper class, and his summa cum laude status as a man who has claimed the heart of a beautiful woman and who has demonstrated his capacity to provide for her in a manner fit for a queen.  Not surprisingly, the media has labelled the event a “royal wedding.”

Dingdong has conspicuously consumed his wealth and connections to conspicuously display his love and in so doing, to conspicuously inform the world as well that he’s such a success, a man above most men.  A simple ceremony and reception, the kind that for Pope Francis (who will soon visit the Philippines) would suffice will not do for Dingdong.  A few selected guests will be just as meaningful but will not do for him either.  A relatively more private declaration of commitment between bride and groom would be just as touching but will not work for him as well.  The wedding, in his mind, must be one that will be remembered for a long time as proof of his love and affection.  Back to the Taj Mahal but without the building.

We appreciate his wishes.   But private wishes, when displayed as conspicuously as this, have public consequences.  And in a country where millions of poor people suffer and where typhoon victims swell annually, an ostentatious wedding appears as a callous and insensitive affair.  Perhaps the Dongyanatics, the couple’s fan base, still giddy over the wedding, should appreciate this point as well.

Image taken from this site.

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