The Series Philosopher

Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn

S03E13: What is the point of getting married if no one can see?

HAPPY ENDINGS: 3x13 Our Best Friend's Wedding - Penny (Casey Wilson) tells her old friend Dave (Zachary Knighton) how her fiancé's wanting to elope is killing her

HAPPY ENDINGS: 3×13 Our Best Friend’s Wedding – Penny (Casey Wilson) tells her old friend Dave (Zachary Knighton) how her fiancé’s wanting to elope is killing her

What is the point of living, helping, cleaning up, getting dressed up, succeeding in life, if no one can see? Why is it so important for marriage, in particular, to be spectacular?

We already tackled the question of marriage with – among others – an episode of United States of Tara, so you should probably read Is Marriage a Private Matter Gone Public? But in this episode of Happy Endings (ABC), the question is phrased in so much more interesting a way that I could not have not written an additional article about it. Penny (Casey Wilson) has finally found someone who wants to marry her, Pete (Nick Zano, 2 Broke Girls), but he wants to keep it simple. Penny is horrified when she tells her friends: “Apparently, Pete’s dumb brother and his dumb fiancée got so caught up in wedding details that they lost sight of what’s important. So Pete wants to get married on a beach… just the two of us… with only the sounds of waves crashing and our hearts beating.” So to help her convince him that spectacular weddings are great, the group (Penny’s friends and herself — Happy Endings is a little like Friends) takes Pete to a Valentine’s Day weekend wedding expo, where Penny has the following chat with her childhood friend Dave:

PENNY: I really want a wedding. I always have. And as I got older, I started to think that might not happen. And I think some other people thought that, too.

DAVE: No… almost everybody.

PENNY: Oh. I-I’m making it out of singledom, and I want witnesses to that. If a Penny gets married in a forest, does anyone hear it?

DAVE: I know how you feel, Pen. I put so much into the planning of my wedding. I obsessed over everything, from the major decisions down to the smallest detail… A security company made up entirely of little people.

PENNY: They were very strong.

DAVE: So I had the wedding that every little boy dreams of, but Alex didn’t want it. And at the end of the day, she was the only thing that should’ve mattered.

PENNY: Hmm. The wedding that every little boy dreams of?

DAVE: Just let me have this.

We will focus on Penny’s question: “If a Penny gets married in a forest, does anyone hear it?”. As we said in Is Marriage a Private Matter Gone Public?, according to Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), appearance (what the others see and hear) is for us reality: “It is the presence of the others who can see what we see and hear what we hear that will assure us of the reality of the world and of ourselves.” (The Human Condition, 1958). It comes back to what we talked about in the article Can You Ever Be Yourself At Work? (with Dexter): the others are like a mirror to ourselves, they show us who we are to them, how they see us. In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel (1770-1831) writes that the constitutive Other, the Other Self is like a mirror that tells us who we are, it is the only adequate mirror of our own self-conscious self. We need the others to give a meaning to our actions. Hegel even says that the difference between the lunatic that pretends to be Napoleon and Napoleon himself is that  the Other does not acknowledge that the lunatic is what he thinks he is. So would be the difference between the a married woman and a woman who claims to be married.

But why does Penny attach such importance to shouting to the world that she’s not single anymore? Why would it be every little girl’s dream and not every little boy’s?

In Masculine Domination (1998), the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) describes marriage as a rite of institution of masculine domination. Women gain in respect and consideration when the achieve a good marriage. Spinsters are frowned upon, unlike confirmed bachelors. So unlike men, women would sport the ring on their finger as a sign of accomplishment (like Penny did to all of her ex boyfriends). Bourdieu cites Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): ‘Just as it is not woman’s role to go to war,’ says Kant, ‘so she cannot personally defend her rights and engage in civil affairs for herself, but only through a representative’ (I. Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View) and comments:

Clearly Otto Weininger was not entirely wrong in claiming to speak for Kantian philosophy when, having reproached women for their readi­ness to adopt their husband’s name, he concluded that ‘woman is essentially nameless because she intrinsically lacks personality.

As Bourdieu says, “renunciation, which Kant ascribes to the female nature, is inscribed at the deepest level of the dispositions constituting the habitus, a second nature which never looks more like nature than when the socially instituted libido is realized in a particular form of libido, in the ordinary sense of desire. Because differential social­ization disposes men to love the games of power and women to love the men who play them, masculine charisma is partly the charm of power, the seduction that the possession of power exerts, as such, on bodies whose drives and desires are them­selves politically socialized.

We will use an excerpt of Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen (1775-1817) to illustrate Bourdieu’s point. In her novel, the one who is considered as one of the first feminists, describes the relief of Charlotte Lucas’s family when the gross Mr. Collins proposed to her:

“The whole family, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid. Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband.

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.”

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