Yesterday, Facebook mogul Sean Parker published a 9,500-word essay on TechCrunch debunking criticism of his $10 million wedding in Big Sur. Contrary to media reports that portrayed him as a forest-destroying egomaniac, Parker writes, his wedding was “beautiful,” “tasteful,” “enchanted,” and “epic.” He invokes fairy tales, God, and J.R.R. Tolkien. He uses the phrase “unparalleled beauty.” He also uses the phrase “imbuing the moment with a feeling of supernatural bliss.”
This is honeymoonster behavior.
The honeymoonster is social media’s sequel to the bridezilla. Though its origin is difficult to trace, bridezilla appears to have entered the lexicon in the mid-nineties to describe a woman behaving monstrously during the planning and execution of her wedding. The earliest print reference appears to be a 1995 Boston Globe article about bridal greed: “She also cautions brides-to-be about turning into Bridezilla, the name wedding consultants bestow on brides who are particularly difficult and obnoxious.” Bridezillas reach their peak on wedding day, but like mayflies expiring at dusk after a day of noisy mating rituals, they expire when the night ends. After that, the conventional wisdom goes, they’re just cranky wives.
But modern weddings have a second life online. They are photographed, Instagrammed, and posted on Facebook for admiration, discussion, nostalgia, and gawking. Wedding website templates at The Knot and My Wedding offer mechanisms for distributing pictures after the party. And so a new genre of wedding-adjacent divas have emerged. Let’s call them honeymoonsters—newlyweds who want to manage their weddings after they’re over.
Bridezillas control what you do at a wedding; honeymoonsters control how you document it. (They may ban electronics entirely.) Bridezillas enforce wedding hashtags; honeymoonsters force deletion of tagged material they don’t like. Bridezillas terrorize wedding planners; honeymoonsters terrorize the videographers, photographers, and scrapbookers. Honeymoonsters go to great lengths to trash the dress. They pose for morning-after boudoir photos.
Sean Parker helped engineer the invention of social media, so he is both cause and effect of honeymoonster culture. He is the mother of all honeymoonsters.
Image management is more complicated for a public figure than it is for the rest of us, but according to Parker, the dilemma exists on a continuum of relative digital celebrity. “One of the most salient themes of our ceremony and also of our vows was the notion of ‘sanctuary,’” Parker writes. “Such a place is increasingly difficult to find in our technologically supercharged and hyper-connected world.” For those “cursed with celebrity or notoriety,” the effect is “only exaggerated.” (For the sake of expediency, let’s not dwell on the tortured self-portrait embedded in those statements, tantalizing as it may be.) “We chose a setting for our wedding that was a literal expression of our search for sanctuary: a place that was safe, private, and intimate,” he writes. “We didn’t court attention – quite the opposite, we asked guests to check their cell phones and cameras at the door.” Nevertheless, he planned a multi-million wedding that involved fake ruins and a settlement with the California Coastal Commission, and his essay contains photos and descriptions of the ceremony, all available for public consumption. His angst isn’t about attention alone. It’s about control.
Parker faced an unusual level of wedding backlash. But the pursuit of control drives non-celebrity honeymoonsters, too. Check out the rationale from this “cell phone/Camera Ban” discussion at The Knot:
Is anybody banning cell phones and/or cameras at their ceremony so that the guests can actually enjoy the moment without having to duck around other guests’ electronics in the way of view and so that when you look out to see the happy smiles and tears of joy on their faces you can actually see their faces instead of the electronics? I plan to hire a photographer and videographer for the ceremony and possibly set up an Instagram hashtag for the reception so that guests can share their photos from that.
The bride wants to edit how her guests “enjoy the moment” (preferably with visible tears of joy) as well as how they will look in the professional photographs she commissions (no cell-phone facial obstruction). She’s not against attention; reception Instagramming is fair game, as long as the images are properly tagged. She wants to influence when and how people pay attention to her, both in the moment and when they look back.
Wanting to remember your wedding a certain way is not inherently monstrous. Nor is the post-facto pursuit of privacy. Both can be indulged healthily. But when your post-wedding triage approaches the length of the Epic of Gilgamesh, consider taking a break. The wedding is over. It served its purpose. You are now married. You probably even had fun! “Our wedding day was a beautiful dream come true,” Parker writes. “After all the stress of the preceding 19 days, the wedding itself went off without a hitch. Afterwards we were excited to run away on our honeymoon and forget about everything.” But he could not. Some toxic combination of digital feedback loops, attention, and wedding stress had driven him to madness. He had become a honeymoonster.