Last night, America’s first couple—Beyoncé and Jay Z, obviously—took the stage at the Grammys, performing “Drunk In Love,” a song which includes sentiments familiar to everyone who’s ever been married, things like “can’t keep your eyes off my fatty/ Daddy, I want you/ drunk in love, I want you ” and, of course, “your breasteses are my breakfastes.” In other words, as Audrey Gelman put it on twitter, “so this is what being married is like, right.” That’s right! For all of you people who have never been married before, conjugal bliss is a real thing, and what Bey and Jay have? Well, it’s pretty much like that for everybody.
In fact, the theme of the whole night seemed to be marriage, what with the whole Macklemore/Madonna mass matrimony mayhem (sorry about the alliteration, I couldn’t resist). Which, the very fact that a huge wedding ceremony took place at the Grammys kind of makes perfect sense considering how the new liberal promotion of wedded bliss due to the ongoing fight for marriage equality has led to one of the most historically repressive social institutions becoming an end goal for people who used to be considered transgressive, and how that same desire to corral the things and people that stray from the norm back into some recognizable structure is also, maybe, why we have awards shows for artists and, like, music business majors in college. Basically, what we all watched last night was the grotesque way in which sex and music have been coopted by our capitalist society. Good stuff.
And, as Alyssa Rosenberg points out in an essay on Think Progress today, it seems like everyone—liberal musicians, conservative op-ed columnists, and even Madonna—has the importance of marriage on the brain. Yesterday, Ross Douthat wrote an editorial for the New York Times in which he calls on conservatives and liberals to cross party lines and come together on the one most important issue facing Americans today, namely, that everyone (except gay people, he says nothing about same-sex marriage) should get married and stay married and then this country will prosper in a way that it hasn’t since divorce ceased to be an aberration and instead became incredibly prevalent. Douthat (being Douthat) has nothing very worthwhile to say about marriage, but seems to have been inspired to write about it because of recent reports that married couples and families where the parents remain wedded are far better off than single people or single-parent families. And since wealth inequality is a very real problem facing this country, Douthat reasons that the best thing for Americans to do would be to get married, form “imperfect unions” and just, you know, stay married no matter what and procreate a whole bunch and never have abortions or use birth control because, um, states with the most stringent abortion laws and least access to birth control tend to be the ones with the highest divorce rates and highest percentage of the population living in poverty? I don’t know! Douthat makes no sense whatsoever and the whole conservative bullshit line of logic that promotes marriage as a goal without ever acknowledging that the demographic with the lowest divorce rates tend to be wealthy, highly educated people from traditionally liberal states like Massachussets is patently absurd.
Rosenberg addresses Douthat’s inconsistencies in her essay, and also points out that the type of marriage that most conservatives promote revolves around “the idea that marriage will discipline wayward men or provide support for women who can’t manage economically on their own,” when, in fact, a marriage like Beyoncé and Jay Z’s seems to be more about spousal economic equality and, you know, one hell of a sex life. Rosenberg rightly asserts that if conservatives want to sell the idea of marriage, they should avoid talking about the institution as little more than a staid waiting room for death, and should instead “hire Beyoncé and Jay Z as a product spokescouple.” All of which is probably true but also skirts around the larger issue which is that it’s absurd that liberals are allowing marriage to be seen as a panacea for economic and social woes at all. It seems sometimes that many liberal thinkers have been swept up in the (essential) fight for marriage equality and have forgotten that while it is important that everybody has the right to get married, it is not important that everyone get married. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. And yet because of the difficult economic realities of our country, the combining of assets through marriage is one of the better ways to consolidate and preserve wealth. Which is all well and good if you stay married or if you even want to get married in the first place, but if you don’t? Then you’re pretty much fucked even though you shouldn’t have to be.
It’s natural to focus on a public couple like Beyoncé and Jay Z and imagine that they are what a marriage could look like for anyone. But any rational minded person knows that’s not true. There is only one Beyoncé, and you’re not it. Is it fine for us all to celebrate their marriage and their choices and their sex life? Yes. Of course. But there’s no reason to pretend that this is attainable for most people, or that Beyoncé and Jay Z weren’t just fine even before they were married. That’s the big secret with the economic success of married couples anyway—most of them were already economically successful before they got married. So instead of thinking that marriage is the solution to any problems at all, let’s focus on building a foundation in our society that will help everyone, whether they want to get married or just stay single forever. Besides, it has to be said… “Drunk In Love” is a great song, but “Single Ladies” is so much better.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen