Iri, Monica and the wedding of the century

Iri and Monica were married yesterday and Romania shed tears of joy as it remebered love can conquer all. As Iri and Monica descended from their rented boat (big enough for a couple hundred people) for the lavish party thrown at Iri’s waterside mansion, thousands of Romanians remembered their own weddings. Those sunny Saturdays when they stepped out of their dirty Dacias in a pile of mud and headed for the corner restaurant where bored men with moustaches covered 80s tunes and drank foul smelling wine.

The wealth, the pomp, the pageantry, the stage carnival aspect of Iri and Monica’s wedding were just part of the “props of love” paradigm. They means nothing and had nothing to do with love, which is strong no matter how expensive the wine, the dress and no matter who sings at the wedding–be it your drunk uncle Costel or bands that don’t leave the house for less than $1,500-$2,000 a set.

On Saturday Romania lied to itself thinking it rediscovered love when it did little else than prove it’s a sucker for rich men rescuing young women from the abyss of the regular life. As Iri and Monica prepare for their next big event, the birth of their child, Romanians will struggle to keep up, putting together broken homes, looking to the stars, falling in love and making out in front of television sets replaying the happiness of the First Couple. As love takes over, people will stop smelling the crap we all stepped into when we entered Iri and Monica’s world.

Iri and Monica are Romania’s pair (as seen below in a picture from EvZ.ro). Their wedding was dubbed “The Wedding of the Century” and it was broadcast live on the B1 TV station, a network with national reach. The station showed the ceremony for about 5 hours in the afternoon and continued with an all night broadcast of the party. This is like broadcasting the funeral of Ronald Reagan or something, right? They must be important, right? Iri must be the guy who invented a cure for cancer, right? Oh wait, Monica will give birth to the Romanian savior, correct?

Wrong.

Iri si Monica (de pe evz.ro)Irinel Columbeanu is a 49-year-old chubby man who made his fortunes in various business dealings after communism. One of his businesses is a modelling agency staffed my many (very young) girls eager to pose in front of all-terrain vehicles wearing a thong. He is by training an electrician and his first job was turning off the lights at an animal farm. Now he orders himself designer clothes, owns lake-front propriety and drives cars that have many zeroes in the price no matter the currency you use.

Monica Gabor is a 19-year-old slim woman who became famos by becoming Iri’s girlfriend when she was 18. She was a model at the agency and continues to be little more than a pretty face. She graduated from high school this summer and says she will go to college. Various articles have said she has had a rowdy life before meeting Iri. Those must have been some wild grade school years.

This is the couple fascinating Romanians. The pair has been satirized in a song, featured in a weekly two-hour reality show that Monica owns, and as the coup-de-grace, married on live television. The ratings are strong and many Romanians love them for being in love–or so they say.

Age difference? That’s the media being gossipy. Wealth? No, we’re not watching because we want to know how the rich live. We watch because of the love. Shady business practices? Iri is a decent and succesful man. Stupid bimbo? You can’t say that about a girl who aced all her school tests.

The broadcast itself was an unwilling parody of today’s Romania. Astrologers, sexperts, psychologists, designers, priests, other couples–they all flocked to offer perspective and context. It’s as if this was the first marriage ever held on Earth and the populace needed to be briefed on how to go about making it work, getting God and the church on board and surviving the gossiping media.

“The Romanian people were expecting this wedding,” one of the five women doing the play by play said.

But why? Why does this couple command so much attention? Why has it hooked the country? Why are we so obsessed with it? They are not famous for something other than being famous and rich. They don’t even make moronic dance music. They don’t hold elected office. They don’t run hospitals and schools. They are not running for office. They are not even that beautiful. So why? Why Iri and Monica? Why the “Wedding of the Century”?

The answer, I believe, is that Iri and Monica are the seminal crossroads of everything that is regretable about Romanian society today. Let’s try a list:

  1. Fascination with the rich. As it becomes more westernized Romania is developing the same kind of fascination other nations have for the lives of the rich. But few of the Romanian rich are movie or music stars (they are certainly no Jessica and Nick), which forces us to follow the lives of individuals who’ve made their fortune in all sorts of dubious businesses–this is somehow worse than a cross between “Growing up Gotti” and “The Simple Life.”
  2. The dearth of cultural arbiters. Many Romanians don’t know which cultural goods have value and which don’t. Coming out of communism, our cultural gurus were old white males that rejected most of what was new in favor of the perenial value of goods such as 18th century literature or 1970s rock. The few places where one could go for guidance are restrictive, supposedly great just because they are “alternative.” But they carry much of the elitist attitude of the old white males. The mainstream needs a culture arbiter, too. In many countries this role is played by the media–both local and national, which here has lost all interest in selection as long as crap sells or brings ratings. Iri and Monica do both.
  3. Vaguely pedophilic tendencies. The way Romania abuses its teenage girls has been called on numerous times. It’s not strictly a Romanian phenomenon that 15-year-old teens are dolled up and sexed up for television. But it is Romanian–or maybe Eastern European–that many of them become the lovers of wealthy businessmen or even worse, the currency these men use in their hotel lobby business deals. Certain men who are 30 and over don’t mind women who are 17–they actually welcome them. It’s hard not to feel like a family values Republican when you hear 40-year-old sweating bald men who own local gas stations saying that 16-year-olds make for hot pieces of ass.
  4. The stay at home wife of the 21st century. Romania has never been through a feminist movement and if it’ll ever come to that we’re certainly taking an interesting route. It was “tradition” that women would stay home “la cratita” (next to the crock pot) while men would earn the salary. Women cook, men hunt. It was also common to hear of spousal abuse, beatings and statements proclaiming that men have no business cooking or cleaning. Strong shades of that still remain even among the brighter populace. But we’ve ushered in a new type of woman, one that continues to stay around the house, but one that doesn’t have to do anything but look pretty, trendy and be a good spender–this in turn would set the trend for us, the less independently wealthy. Again, nothing new in the world at large–the problem is we’ve again lost the middle ground. I’ve heard many smart women in Romania saying they hate women in general because they are a horrible species.
  5. The power of populism. Look at our president–he is the “talk like you,” “dance with you” and “drink with you” type of dude. A George W. Bush figure. Decency, politeness, a polished discourse is elitism. We like the straight talkers. We would have hated Iri if he had made his money inventing some kind of heart pump and who knows what kind of device that wouldn’t have required his words to be [BEEP] censored on television. We like Iri because if we are smart like him and fudge the rules here and there, we could land a hot woman and bathe in money and still be one of the people; just a luckier one.

The clip below was on the evening news on a different station than the one broadcasting more than 12 hours of their wedding (which was apparently put together by 150 people). They are not the only one and they are not on premium cable either.

14 Responses to “Iri, Monica and the wedding of the century”

  1. Iri and Monica are as popular in Ro as American Idol here… well sort of. I bet in 10 years nobody will remember them unless they divorce live on TV… wouldn’t that be an innovative reality show?

    PROTv is always letting me down with the type of coverage they had 🙂

  2. Live divorce wouldn’t be a first. Media/garbage entrepreneur Prigoana and his wife, journalist Adriana Bahmuteanu, divorced live for about three times now.

  3. Oh yes, the Prigoana divorce always dubbed “sensational!!!” on B1TV, right? But come to think of it, everything is dubbed “sensational” on that B1TV show 🙂

    Anyway, to quote a friend of mine (although I’m seriously reconsidering), “Monica is set for life, divorce or not, with that baby she’s giving Iri.”

    I hope to God this friend of mine never has children, ‘coz that’s one hell of an education to give them 🙂

    Oh… Ruxi, do you think someone will remember Kelly Clarkson or what’s ‘er name in 10 years? 🙂

  4. Somewhat off topic: I agree about the lack of feminism in Romania. It’s usually seen as an embarrassing attitude and we equate it with not shaving our legs… I think that it’s part of an overall lack of initiative when it comes to social inequalities. Instead of being proactive about reducing them, we sit back and find philosophical arguments for the existing inequality. This was probably the thing that bothered me most when going back home.

  5. Is the lack of feminism a national phenomenon? I know a few cases, but not enough to be able to say it’s that popular. I rather tend to believe this is part of a larger issue – the mighty stereotype. I think Romanians thrive on stereotypes, and probably because we were never really realised that the world isn’t all black and white. We’re either black or we’re white (girlie girl or tom boy, person of the people or stuck-up nonsense-speaking arrogant ass, loser who always follows the rules or cool-person who always bends them, nationalistic commie or country-bashing democrat, gay or anti-gay… the list goes on and on) – we’re never grey, cause grey is lame.

  6. How do you think the whole Communist anti-intellectual thing affected the culture? Ceausescu embodied that, right?

    So now maybe the culture has evolved from workers-are-awesome to workers-are-awesome-especially-if-they-have-lots-of-stuff?

  7. fine post. lightly satirical and an interesting analytical comment.
    karla: “we’re never grey, cause grey is lame”. i think the reverse: the mainstream is “grey”, loud and glittering, but always grey.

  8. acrv, aren’t we using “grey” as a metaphor for two different things?

  9. You said about Iri “He is by training an electrician and his first job was turning off the lights at an animal farm” – it’s not true. He is the only child of a nomenklaturist(former communist elite activist). He is NOT a self made man.

  10. One of the interesting phenomena to come out of the American feminist experience was the eventual rejection of a “one-size fits all, compete like a man” attitude by a large portion of women. While some would still like to sell bra-burning books, the vast majority of women have moved on with their lives and realized all it was ever supposed to be about was choice. Not a particular choice.

    Women choose to be lawyers. Women choose to be porn stars. Some want to be mothers. Some want drag racers. But the mature ones should know better than to sneer down at the choice of others.

    As for this Iri and whatshername gig, I don’t get it personally. I haven’t watched, refuse to watch, and this post is actually the most information I’ve ever learned (because I tune out any discussions around me).

    He’s a grown man. She’s a legal adult. Their choice is theirs. If you and I wouldn’t make the same choice, it’s not for us to belittle them.

    As for the circus, I understand. It’s Romania’s latest (first big?) attempt at generating American-style celebrity distractions. Soon we’ll all be learning about Andrea Antonescu’s dug habit, Caddy Daddy’s alimony payments, and Tiriac’s newest mansion by the sea.

    It sickens me, but that’s only because I don’t give a f*click*

  11. sick sick sick
    there’s no other way to put it

  12. First of all,Irinel Columbeanu graduated a university in Bucharest,so he is an educated person,not an electrician.So,if we wanna say the truth,let’s say it all,not only half,because that’s the way we are used to do it,as romanians.Secondly, USA is full of this kind of marriages,some of them last,some don’t.
    Let’s judge none,it’s their choice,that’s all.
    Thank you.

  13. I agree about the lack of feminism in Romania, but we do need to address something that separates Romania from the Western world. Remember that the second wave feminists of the Western world raised against being just mere housewives. Keep in mind that this was happening in the early 1960’s.
    Women in Communist Romania in the 1960’s were not housewives. The Communist tendence was that men, women, all had to work for the “progress and well being of the people”. Women in Romania under Communism were doing all sorts of men’s works… so they didn’t really need to have a feminist revolution to get that right, did they?

    Only in the countryside, and funny enough in the rich families were the women actually staying home.

    Of course, they were also breeding machines ( abortion was illegal for 20 years in Romania, having as its direct result the thousands of orphans the West still hasn’t forgotten about.

  14. sunt caraghiosi impreuna
    comunismul nu are legatura cu grotescul
    ciao

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