In the cultural wars secular liberalism continues its slow, laborious march toward victory (two steps forward, one step back), but one bastion of male-centered tradition remains inviolate: the marriage proposal. Men do the asking, and women wait for them to ask. The vector indicated by this dynamic mimics the sex act itself, with the coin of sexual access being the engagement ring, preferably one with a diamond.
As that famous spy Ian Fleming once said, diamonds are forever, and therefore an appropriate symbol for a promise that is to be kept until either of the parties dies.
Of course, in the mercenary age we live in, this ideal has a more debased variant, namely, the one that says the chunk of concentrated carbon in question is “a girl’s best friend.” Sure, it permits sexual access, but if you guys want loyalty, get a dog.
If this kind of cynicism turns you on, you should probably check out the July 1 issue of Brutus magazine, a special called “The Man’s Get-Married Guide.” Trumpeting it as the first ever “boy’s bridal” magazine, the editors have put together an all-purpose manual on the (excuse the expression) ins and outs of everything leading up to, including and following the wedding ceremony, and all without compromising its usual half-baked Hefnerism.
They accomplish this by doing what bridal magazines for women have always done, which is to treat courtship and marriage as the ultimate fashion statement: Your choice of a mate, as with your choice of sunglasses, tells the world what kind of person you are. Just like your sunglasses, you can always, presumably, change partners. Nowhere in the issue is this advocated outright, but there are plenty of examples given of high-profile couples who didn’t stay married. The cover features the eternal queen of glamour, Audrey Hepburn, in a famous photo taken on the day she married Mel Ferrer, who can be seen in the background.
It’s no secret that that marriage didn’t last, but that’s not the point. The opening pages contain photos of other glamorous couples who split quickly (Bardot-Vadim, Delon-Schneider), who married for convenience (Jack and Jackie), or whose union emerged from the ashes of scandal (Dali and Gala).
What these couples have in common is that they all sealed their romantic pacts with Cartier rings. Or at least that’s the assumption, since each black-and-white photo is accompanied by a picture of a red Cartier ring box in the corner.
Just as diamonds are the coin of sexual access, product tie-ins are the coin of magazine revenues. In fact, the theme of the issue was most likely thought up not by the magazine’s editorial staff, but by its advertising department working in collaboration with whichever advertising company it normally works with. In addition to the Cartier celeb spread, there’s a gatefold for Star Jewelry; a 13-page section for Bulgari featuring an interview with 19-year-old pitching star Daisuke Matsuzaka; and a CD-ROM from DeBeers about the history and culture of diamonds as a “symbol of love.”
Of course, no one is going to be fooled into thinking that the purpose of the issue is anything other than selling engagement rings (or honeymoon packages, which are also advertised), but the editorial tone is so flip that the articles send up marriage as much as they promote it.
In one feature, five unmarried female TV personalities are surveyed about the economic value they place on the trappings of their ideal weddings, including the ring (half a million to a million yen), the honeymoon (20 million yen-100 million yen), and the house they will live in (90 million yen-500 million yen). If you want beautiful women like these, the article says, you have to be prepared to pay big time.
As in the Cartier “endorsements,” celebrities are the filter through which the readers are invited to envision their own potential for matrimonial bliss. The relationships, wedding styles and sexual proclivities of everyone from Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly to Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra are analyzed. In one section, famous wedding ceremonies are dissected and indirectly tied in to the eventual success or failure of the marriage. The particulars of both of Seiko Matsuda’s weddings are given for purposes of comparison.
With the Hepburn cover, it’s obvious that the publishers are trying to get women to pick up the issue as well. Over the years Brutus has evolved from a young man’s lifestyle magazine to a couple’s lifestyle magazine, albeit unmarried couples. Published by Magazine House, which has perfected the art of advertising tie-ins, Brutus is the final step toward manhood that teenage readers of Popeye (unabashed hedonism) eventually graduate to after passing through Tarzan (self-exploration through personal health) in their college days. When you feel you’ve outgrown Brutus, you can assume that you’re a budding oyaji, at least in spirit.
So while the boy chuckles over the articles, his girlfriend studies the ads, planning her assault on the citadel of his bank account. The jewelry companies hope it will be a lifelong crusade. Several years ago DeBeers ran an ad campaign suggesting that women buy diamonds for themselves. This is radical, since diamonds are one of those items, like musk melons and neckties, that one almost never buys for oneself.
Radical, but not revolutionary. The women in the ads were housewives, so presumably the money they will spend on diamond jewelry is money their husbands have made. The ads told the women to reward themselves for all the work they do, thus suggesting that they aren’t being properly rewarded by the husbands themselves. This work isn’t mentioned, but it’s easily imagined: keeping house, raising the kids and, of course, providing sexual access.
The war rages on.