Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Young girl -- they call it the diamond blog.*

This posting is in honor of my new sister-in-law, who opted out of the engagement ring thing.

Now, I'm not opposed to engagement rings if they represent pure devotion and true regard and are not just a sparkly cattle brand (for the boy) or an eight-cow* certification (for the girl). I am opposed to the ridiculous insanity and obsession associated with the whole institution, and no place is there more engagement ring insanity than my beloved alma mater, BYU. My feelings on the topic are well summed up by the following, which is the snarkiest college paper I ever wrote -- a textual analysis of a local engagement ring ad that ran in the student paper. If you click on the above image you'll be able to read the text of the advertisement I was dissecting. It's a real stinker.

My professor's final note on the paper was, "Really funny, Marie! Are you truly so cynical?"

When it comes to engagement ring frenzy, yes. Yes, I am.

However, to show that I'm really a romantic under it all, I've added engagement pictures of my adorable friends and family, looking blissful in spite of the diamond vampires. Proof that it's possible. The second-to-last photo is my brother and cousin doing a fake engagement photo shoot to freak out the grandparents. And if you endure to the very end of this long post, you'll see a picture of the guy I was trying to impress when I wrote this paper. He laughed when he read it, just as I'd hoped, but as you can see, he ended up in the arms of another woman.** I'm sure he loves her for her snark-free soul.

Oh well.

English 425
November 3, 1997

Selling Beyond the Mark

It's enough to turn the stomach of even the sturdiest R.M.*: a quarter carat diamond blown up to roughly 20 carats, sparkling like the evil eye of a lovesick coed, stares back at him from the Daily Universe*. And that's just the graphics. In the text of this shameless Wilson Diamonds ad, a chatty, empathetic voice establishes a you-and-me-buddy relationship between the author and the reader, while an array of rhetorical devices are pulling the poor bachelor's every string. And all this man-to-man confidence is a facade -- even while the ad is reasoning calmly with the poor bloke, it screams right past him to his fiancée who stands behind him, entranced and drooling. The ad hollers to her in a frequency imperceptible to the male ear, "Hey, sister! Tell him if he loves you, he'll take you ring shopping at Wilson's!" To accomplish this amazing feat in two different keys simultaneously, the ad employs ethos and a mother dose of pathos, woven into an intricate unisex code.

Firstly, this "ideal" business feeds the unhappy Boy an unhealthy dose of ethos at a time when he is largely incapable of defending himself. Why is he so helpless? Well, for this particular decision there are few people he can truly trust. His starry-eyed fiancée does not have his best interests at heart, and whether or not she sympathizes with the ring's drain on her Beloved's finances, he knows she longs for a sparkly to put that wench in her Y Group* to shame. His parents are likely hovering between the Hope Diamond (which will reflect well on their boy and, by extension, them) and a Cracker Jacks ring (which will mean one less interest-free loan to the happy couple in the lean years ahead). And his buddy's telling him, in all sincerity, to get her the best cubic zirconia that money can buy and live with the guilt. Wilson's descends upon this scene with the voice of the Love Veteran (as well as a couple of strategically placed capital letters) to calm the tempest in the young man's heart, head, and pocketbook. "Relax," the ad croons in its best Condescending Psychiatrist tone, and gently settles the feverish fiancé onto the leather couch for a masterful healing-and-dealing session. This single word sentence, "Relax," solidifies the inherently manic nature of the ring-buying venture and the young man's inability to cope with the pressure alone. And while other ring dealers are shamelessly hounding him and "are busy showing cheaper and cheapest," Wilson's simultaneously slaps the Band-aid of Reason on his angst and establishes itself as the Diamond Mecca with the introduction, in the ad's fifth sentence, of the "Ideal Cut" diamond. No explanation is ever given of what exactly the "Ideal Cut" is, or if it is a respected standard in Diamond-dom. And yet the capitalization of those first letters lends the whole ad a definite air of authority. The prestige of carrying the aforementioned "Ideal Cut" diamonds is reinforced by an official-looking logo in the lefthand corner of the ad, which proclaims Wilson's to be "Utah Valley's Ideal Cut Diamond Jeweler." The ad has first established that Wilson's merchandise meets an absurdly high standard with the use of capitalization, and now assures us that no other jeweler in Happy Valley* meets that same standard.

Ethos is at work on Ms. Right, as well. Her faith in Wilson's good sense is cemented in the ad's heading which proclaims, "Buy Your Ideal An Ideal." Right from the beginning, her merits as a prospective wife are compared with the best diamonds in existence, giving the folks at Wilson's instant credibility in her mind. And again the capitalization of the word "Ideal" gives the ad a sort of divine, scriptural aura, as if they were talking about Truth or The Word or some other spiritual absolute. The little slogan right above the Wilson Diamonds logo boasts an especially clever breed of ethos -- a sort of Emperor's New Clothes tactic. It says, "The More You Know About Diamonds The Better We Look." In other words, the ad is saying to the discriminating bride-to-be, "If you are wise and have any taste whatsoever, it will be obvious to you that Wilson's is the ultimate diamond authority." (And of course the implied, "If you're skeptical about our claims to superiority, then you're so thick he could give you glass and you'd never know the difference.") The slogan makes her knowledge about diamonds, which is probably limited, the key to deciding whether or not the ad's assertions are sound -- and no girl wants to holler "Wilson's claims are as naked as jaybirds!" and be branded as stupid and low-class by every "discriminating" female in the suckered crowd.

And we mustn't forget that the ethos of this masterpiece feeds directly off the pathos of the whole prenuptial situation; first, pathos as it afflicts said Boy. The voice is first one of empathy, citing how "hard," nay, "impossible" it is to track, capture, and tag the perfect girl while staying sane and financially stable. A voice of camaraderie, a voice of commiseration. "I've been there, man," the Wilson's salesman seems to say with a half smile and a knowing chuckle in the first two sentences. There is also an appeal to the guy's feelings of pride in both his fiancée and his own ability to choose diamonds and women. The ad is quick to agree wholeheartedly with Boy's glowing opinion of Girl by referring to her as "the ideal mate" -- no skeptical comments like those he gets from his roommate, who has actually met her. The ad also suggests with the reference to "finding a diamond worthy of her," that she is worth a whole lot, but that that worth is easily converted into diamonds and/or Deutschmarks. (Note that "priceless" isn't an adjective that comes up a whole lot in jewelry ads, to describe either women or the diamonds they supposedly deserve...)

The ad's author knows how tidal Girl's emotions are on the subject of her upcoming marriage, yet he/she is not above exploiting them. Girl believes that a good marriage must be built on a rock, but she's not sure if that's figurative or not. Even if she knows that her man would go to the end of the earth for her, she secretly wouldn't mind having hard evidence of that devotion to flash at girlfriends, archenemies, and innocent passersby. The ad tells her that if she can convince her beloved that Wilson's is the diamond dealer of choice, she will be doing him a favor because they carry "Ideal diamonds [he'd] be proud to give," and she of course wants him to be proud of the Ring which symolizes their Love. Also, she likely has a genuine concern for her fiancé's fianancial situation (which will soon be her financial situation, too). So the ad emphasizes that her honey can get her an extraordinary Ideal Cut diamond for "less at Wilson's than an ordinary diamond...elsewhere." Apparently, she can have his cake and eat it, too. By handing her true love this Wilson Diamonds ad, she can practice being the supportive and frugal wife she so longs to be, while simultaneously securing her very own Ideal Cut Diamond which will ward off potential competitors for time and all eternity*.

Writing an advertisement as brilliant as this one is no small achievement. The author realizes that the guy is paying and is therefore ultimately the one who has to be convinced of the product. And yet with something like an engagement ring, it's hard to tell which half of the happy couple is the ventriloquist and which is the dummy. In fact, (to strain this metaphor even further) the two are so hopelessly tangled in the marionette strings that a wise advertiser must make sure that every word speaks to both halves. The Wilson's ad seems spontaneous and conversational, but it is as perfectly crafted as (and more convincing than) most campaign speeches, using a complex combination of ethos and pathos to steer the star-crossed lovers into the welcoming arms of the Wilson's family. In fact, The More You Know About Rhetorical Devices, The Slimier This Ad Looks.

* = Mormon/Utah/David Bowie references. If you're a no-Mo or no-Bo, Google 'em or ignore 'em.

** = Lest you wonder, I have no ongoing obsession with this fellow nor with the woman who won him -- I started saving engagement photos in high school for all my friends and family and so they're just part of that larger collection. The collection itself might indicate mental illness, however. I won't deny it's a bit odd.


Gawain said...

That scan of our engagement announcement makes both of us look slightly manic. Mayhap our baby pictures from the announcement would have been more flattering.

Marie said...

Manic? Nah. I see bliss. Maybe manic bliss, but hey -- bliss is bliss. You guys are adorable, as anyone can see from your blog photo. Ha!

I'm excited you've finally let slip your true online identity. I shall be leaving obnoxious comments on your blog within 24 hours.

Sarita said...

Wonderfully snarky Marie.

I've recently come to the conclusion (as yet another good friend goes ring shopping) that a band is enough for me. And not a fancy schmacy one at that, I want a plain ol band. There is something terribly romantic and pragmatic about that in my own mind.

Partially to do with the fact that my sisters, (2 of whom got CZ's by choice, one of whom got a Tiffany solitare at a steal of a deal) have all purchased seperate rings at TJ Maxx for about $15 bucks because one lost her ring, another cant wear her's as her weight fluctuates with pregnancy, and the third's yellow gold isnt always her favorite anymore, so she sometimes opts for the silver colored knock off.

They all, however have wonderfully healthy and romantic relationships with their husbands.

It doesnt mean that one who wants the icing need feel bad about it, I just dont like icing. (Unless it's the cool whip kind, I sometimes like that).

Marie said...

Sarita -- I agree that there's nothing inherently evil about wanting a classic diamond engagement ring. I hope that was clear, so no one gets offended. I was thinking as I re-read this paper, that it's easier for me to snark because I personally don't like diamonds and I'm not much of a jewelry person in general. But...if the societal norm for proving romantic commitment were a three-month honeymoon in Italy (I guess you'd flash your passport at people to prove his love for you?), would I be so indignant about it? NO. Sign me up.

I agree that there's something nice about a perfecly round band -- something nicely symbolic. There are also other stones that I like better than diamonds and which are way less expensive. Would I throw a diamond back in his face if he offered me one? I'm no fool. Would I care if he used the money for a down payment on a house instead? Not a bit.

But if those engagement ring vampires try to come after my Special Someone and I while we are in our weakened, blissed-out state, I'm throwing him over my shoulder and fleeing the scene.

Gawain said...

Yes, I thought it was not fair at all for me to immensly enjoy your blog without letting you know how to find our blog that goes in fits and spurts. In all aspects it goes in fits and spurts.

Sarita said...

I concur Marie.

sophie said...

Let's start the three-months-in-Italy tradition. Right here, right now. We can use the DeBeers campaign as a jumping point: diamonds are for women who feel like getting themselves cool glittery rings. But ITALY IS FOR LOVERS! YAAAAAAY!

(If it really happened, how long would it take the BYU phone book to be invaded by travel agencies, hmm?)

Marie said...

Gawain -- I like fits. Spurts -- not so fond of spurts. Please try not to spurt when I'm around. Thank you. And thanks for reading!

Sophie -- I'm hoppin' on your train. Do I have to have a lover before I head to Italy, or can I look for one once I arrive?

I guess you're right -- whatever thingy means True Love in the present moment will infest Provo's billboards, whether it's diamonds or daisy chains. Maybe we could start a "Cheesecake: the Flavor of Eternal Love" campaign if the Italy idea doesn't take off.

citymama1 said...

I like your snarkiness.

ThomCarter.com said...

After reading a half a dozen or so blogs on this subject, I think that an adjustable CTR ring is the way to go. I am going to buy a bunch either online or the next time I am in Salt Lake and just go with it. (wink)

PS - A cousin that works at the Manhattan Temple - Hook a Brother UP! (double wink)

Anna Maria Junus said...

I thought that I was the only one who thinks the ring thing is over rated.

Give me a three month vacation in Italy instead!

And diamonds are a scam anyway. There are more diamonds in the world than they know what to do with.

The advantage to diamonds is that they go with everything.

Marie said...

Citymama -- Thank you! Right back atcha. If your offspring get to be too much, I'd take one off your hands. Cute AND bloggable.

Sorry, Thom -- she's "involved," as they say. And your CTR ring idea would no doubt work for us desperate ol' spinsters who are dialing down our expectations in hopes of dialing up our chances, but when pursuing those Angelina-Jolie-slash-Lindsay-Lohan ordinance worker girls, you might want to invest in the traditional sparkly. Just to be safe, y'know.

Anna -- you can join me and Sophie in Italy. It shimmers more brightly than a thousand diamonds, or so I hear...

Sarita said...

I saw Marie last night from afar. She smiled at me. I feel sorry for all of you that missed out on that.

wynne said...

Well, Marie, this was great to read! Can I tell you how much I agree? Ethos and pathos! *snort!*

I remember talking all of this over with my True Love (or Ball-and-chain, depending on my mood), telling him I didn't need a stinkin' expensive ring. Heck--did I need one at all? (And it's not that I don't mind something sparkly. It was more that I didn't want to carry around something valuable on my person at all times. Didn't he know how easily I LOST things? Wasn't he paying attention?) He didn't believe me.

So we got one that has the diamonds small and set in as close as possible to be as band-like as possible. And eight years later, I still have it. Can you believe that? I can't. What it really felt like was a down-payment, or...what do you call it? Earnest money? SPEND LOTS OF MONEY SO THE GIRL (and the rest of the world) KNOWS
YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT...purchasing her?

What a weird and dumb aspect of our culture, and the only reason we do it is because De Beers wanted to sell LOTS of diamonds and campaigned for it. And it worked.

Beware o' advertising! Just look what they did to Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day. Everything is a buy-fest! And don't get me started on advertising campaigns like "choosy moms choose Jif" or anything that suggests you suck as a mom/wife/woman if you can't make your toilets sparkle. Like diamonds. And smell like roses. (Better tell the kids to use the bushes in the back yard, because why would you want to defecate in such pristine works of art?)

Thanks for giving me something to chew on.

Marie said...

Sarita -- that's very nice, but I assure you -- my smiles are not widely prized. However, hang onto that one -- it might appreciate in value if my stock ever rises :)

So, Wynne -- what slummy peanut butter DO you feed poor Jakey? Do I need to call social services on you, you un-choosey monster?? :)

Amen to everything you say. And thanks for the link to the article. Very interesting stuff.

Gawain said...

Have you informed our dear Manhattan cousin that she is a mix between Jolie/Lohan? (I'm assuming that is purely looks and you don't think she's a blood vial wearing/cocaine snorting wreck of an ordinance worker)

Marie said...

Ha! Yes, looks only (though you never know what the big city might do to those nice Mormon girls after a few years...) Actually we had this discussion when I was visiting her in NYC in aught-five. I think someone had already compared her to Jolie, and I don't think she appreciated it when I suggested there was also a touch of Lohan there. But she shouldn't be miffed -- Lindsay Lohan is pretty. A pretty blur of red hair, fast trackin' to misery.

And you -- you're like a cross between....Heath Ledger and.....some guy from a techno group, no doubt. I'll do some research and get back to you on that.

Azúcar said...

My mother in law picked out my ring. What does that say about me?

emily said...

marie, how many of your readers appreciate the significance of the last picture? only i.

Marie said...

Azúcar -- I don't think it says anything about you, but it might say a thing or two about your Beloved. ;) Kidding. Did your mother-in-law chose wisely?

Emily -- You get the significance even more that *I* do, since you actually dated the guy.

emily said...

you use the term "dated" very, very loosely.

Marie said...

I have to for my own sake, so I extend that courtesy to others as well. :)