“Canadian Susan” swept the social media headlines this past week with her jaw-dropping tale of entitled, inappropriate rage at not getting free money from her friends and family to fund her $60,000 dream wedding.
I, like many, read the screenshots with that familiar sense of tingling schadenfreude that good gossip elicits—and really, it was a perfect little arc of dramatic beats.
A self-described farm girl works hard, goes to community college, starts dating the man of her dreams at 14, and by 18, he puts a ring on her finger (“worth nearly $5K” she adds).
A local psychic advises her to go with the most expensive wedding options, and slowly we see the farm girl’s inner Bridezilla surface and metastasize.
Soon she is expressing her shock and dismay that guests are unwilling to pay $1,500 each for the honor of attending this exclusive, Kardashian-inspired event of the century, calling them all a bunch of toxic C-words and furiously lashing out at her maid of honor for not ponying up thousands of dollars. She sets up a GoFundMe that fails spectacularly, then cancels the wedding and breaks up with her fiancé, who had the nerve to suggest a less lavish ceremony in Vegas. Vowing to leave social media and all her former friends and family behind, she announces that she will head for the hills of South America for a much-needed backpacking vacation.
Read the shocking story for yourself
This story was so horrendous it was perfect. And it did what such perfect little tales of drama do these days: it went viral. Most major news outlets wrote about Canadian Susan the Bridezilla, as did smaller sites with largely female readerships, such as ScaryMommy, Allure, Brides, and CafeMom. Many of my friends shared it, and none questioned whether or not it was true—in fact, some insisted it wasn’t hard to believe at all because, well, “people are awful.”
As verification, some posted links to the major news outlets’ stories, some of which included an update from the cousin of this now-notorious ex-bride. This addendum, surely, proved that Canadian Susan was real and probably angrily stomping around the Serra do Mar in her sequined Ugg boots and cursing the locals for not being able to brew a proper pumpkin spice latte, right?
Bridezilla tales, especially ones that originate from anonymous sources, are a type of modern folklore. And, like urban legends or things you hear about from a “friend of a friend,” they aren’t always reliable and they are certainly not likely to be nice. I’ve passed along my share, and nowadays I’m not really proud of it.
I recall hearing and fully believing that a woman had named her child Syphilis (pronounced “Sih-file-us”) after one of the guys I knew at the state fair claimed he’d airbrushed it onto a shirt for the unlucky kid. Only years later did I learn how much of a longstanding trope in modern folklore that story was and how it plays on racist stereotypes. (That said, there really are a ton of utterly terrible kid names on display at a state fair, bestowed by well-meaning parents of all races and creeds, so perhaps I’d been primed a little to fall for that one).
The Bridezilla story relies on a sexist trope rather than a racial one: it dredges up the notion that underneath the typical female’s humble façade lurks a monster just waiting to emerge. The taste of attention, that bit of excitement at planning our wedding, our special day, might just break the dam of our self-control and let our deepest, most spoiled inner nature come spilling out to wreak havoc on everyone around us.
In the words of “serial bridesmaid” Aoife Stuart-Madge, the Bridezilla tale assumes that
…inside every bride-to-be lurks a monstrous, tantrum-throwing diva just waiting to emerge from beneath the tulle the moment the date is set.
Indeed, countless cautionary articles aimed at brides-to-be bypass the folklore façade and directly scold readers to watch for behavior indicating they might be headed down that slippery slope to Bridezilla. So beware, ladies, this could be you!
Being of more a skeptical nature nowadays, I began looking into this mysterious Canadian Susan after I’d read her manifesto.
Reports say that the story originally surfaced on a private Facebook site dedicated to “wedding shaming,” then gained widespread coverage on August 24 after Chrissy Teigen tweeted the screengrabs to her 10 million followers and it subsequently circulated on Reddit and other forums. As of August 28, however, the Facebook site purported to be the source was either deleted or hidden, and Susan herself (or whoever authored the piece) indicated the futility of searching for the original source by promising that “one hour after posting this status, I am going to delete my Facebook.”
The person who shared it claimed it was only up for 15 minutes. So, alas, anyone trying to verify it would be chasing electronic shadows. Another screengrab soon surfaced, reportedly from the same wedding shaming site, from Susan’s cousin, offering a confirmation that Susan was indeed a “living breathing human being” and offering a bit more information about the farm-girl-gone-bad, saying that she wasn’t raised to be that way but had gotten quite obsessed with the Kardashians of late.
And, fear not, she said the family all doubted Susan would trot off to South America and leave her two-year-old son behind for months, as she had declared in her rant. She believed Susan had been drinking when she’d written the profanity-laced post, and she’d never in her life left the United States. That last detail didn’t make sense if Susan actually was Canadian, so it threw some doubt onto the story, the addendum, or the initial citizenship given to Susan when the story first emerged—unless of course the cousin didn’t know in which country Susan lived.
This statement by a purported cousin struck many people as verification that the story was true; yet such a sequel was just as anonymous as the original post and, like that post, even contained some perfect little morality tale beats. Susan was not always so awful, but had been corrupted by a tempting outside force—the Kardashians! She wasn’t just a terrible bride; she had been a materialistic new mom as well, asking for a $2,000 baby carriage! And she was prone to drink and post, an evil we all must guard against, lest one day we wake up to discover we’ve become a viral embarrassment to our families.
Well-crafted dramatic narratives like this always raise my eyebrow: rarely is something ever so perfect (or perfectly awful) in our actual lives. Even celebrities bend the truth when they recount adventures in their autobiographies, and yes, even the Kardashians are aided by a fleet of television producers and editors to make their lives seem exciting to hypothetical farm girls like Susan.
Snopes, which categorizes the story as “unproven,” mentions this disturbing trend of anonymous posts and tall tales from online forums being circulated as viable news content: “Nonetheless, other news organizations and widely-read web sites throughout the world, including Fox News, the London Independent, the Daily Mirror, and Elle reported the episode at face value without documenting that they had made efforts (successful or otherwise) to verify key elements of the story.”
So it’s not just that journalists were unable to verify any parts of the story—it’s that they didn’t even bother trying, and they made no apologies about this but instead, for the most part, reported the story as if it had been properly sourced and documented.
A few writers added caveats reminding readers that it originated from an unknown person on an anonymous site; for instance, Huffington Post Canada’s Maija Kappler cautions “Keep in mind this was posted in a private Facebook group, where content is user-submitted and unverified.
And, of course anyone can make anything up on the internet.” Yet her skeptical disclaimer was the exception, not the rule, and even her story quickly veered to the message that these Bridezilla fables, whether fact or fiction, can all teach us something about a “very real phenomenon.” Kappler continues: “Like anything else in life, this is a teachable moment. Don’t air your grievances on Facebook. (Especially after possibly throwing back a bottle of whiskey.)” See ladies, beware! This could be you.
A hallmark of many folktales is that they offer lessons, cautionary tales of how to behave appropriately or avoid danger. Or, rather (and often, historically, for women), how to not make waves or step out of place too egregiously … I’m sure I don’t need to include a list here of myths and fairy tales featuring women who trespassed too far beyond social norms and paid a price. Some heroines are noble but fall victim to a dangerous world they aren’t strong enough to survive in, while others are simply brazen females who get their just desserts after displaying too much hubris. The Bridezilla tales can surely be grouped into that latter category—more Medusa than Little Mermaid.
People are going to indulge in (and, these days, repost) folktales. That’s literally the origin of the word: tales of the people. Despite the best efforts of skeptics, this will happen regardless of whether the tale is verified, sourced, or just completely made up. But, from a journalistic point of view, should news outlets really be helping this trend along? The tale of Canadian Susan is juicy and fun to read and seems victimless, but it certainly does play on a longstanding sexist trope. What if it had been a racist trope instead? Plenty of folklore (which need not be “tales,” specifically, as folklore encompasses jokes, songs, rumors, and many forms of tale-telling) rely on racist stereotypes for their protagonist. Would news outlets still have reported one of those tales without any effort to source it properly, with journalists saying, tongue-in-cheek, that although that specific rumor might have been made up by someone on the internet, it provides a teachable moment after all, about a “very real phenomenon” …
And suddenly I’m reminded of President Trump doing just that, this past November, when he shared a number of faked anti-Muslim videos. His actions were defended by his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who explained that “the threat is real,” even if those particular videos were likely phony. Luckily, the press did not cut Trump or Sanders much slack, and, except for a few alt-right outlets that don’t even pretend to be practicing real journalism, no news organizations recirculated the story at face value.
So newsworthy folklore can be placed along a spectrum, perhaps, with harmful, racist, or incendiary rumors needing to be fact-checked before any respectable news outlets will give them credence. While less dangerous folklore—like Canadian Susan’s tantrum—can safely skirt under that wire and into all our news feeds with no verification whatsoever. Because of that, Bridezilla tales like Susan’s can show us how easy it is to fall for folklore and why.
One of the first things I noticed about this story was that it was mainly my female (and, honestly, my feminist-identifying) friends who posted it. And they didn’t just post it without commentary; they posted it with a sentence or two about how they differed from Canadian Susan. Status updates gasping at this horrendous Bridezilla waxed on about how important it was to stick to a budget, how the wedding was less important than the marriage, and how they had quite enjoyed their inexpensive little Vegas (or backyard, or courthouse) wedding. I’m not faulting any of my friends for this … I myself was tempted to do a little bragging in comments sections about how meticulously I’d budgeted my own backyard nuptials. After all, these were my Facebook friends; I was like them. We shared the trait of frugality, which Canadian Susan, that accursed outsider, obviously did not understand. So by bonding over how unlike that horrible Susan we were, it brings us closer together. We know better.
You see, of course, where I’m going with this. Folklore tickles our tribalism instincts. It allows us to virtue signal. We know better than to ask guests for $1,500. We would never name a child Syphilis. But we can imagine people foolish enough to do those things. And so the tale gets under our radar—especially if it’s juicy, if it sings to a preconceived notion, if it has the perfect melody of dramatic beats. A well-crafted tale can make well-meaning feminists unquestioningly share an unverified rumor that relies on a sexist trope. Something to remember the next time you hear of some other group acting gullible and falling for a tale that sings to their prejudices. We can (and should) all work a little harder to verify before we vilify. Most especially, this should apply to any organization calling itself a news outlet—or, of course, to a White House press secretary.
Baker, Peter and Sullivan, Eileen. 2017. “Trump Shares Inflammatory Anti-Muslim Videos, and Britain’s Leader Condemns Them,” New York Times, November 29. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/29/us/politics/trump-anti-muslim-videos-jayda-fransen.html.
Boyd, Kayla. 2018. “Bride’s Cousin Gives New Update After She Demanded ‘Selfish’ Guests Pay $1500 Each,” Cafemom.com, August 28. Available at https://thestir.cafemom.com/love/214195/cousin-speaks-out-canadian-susan-bride.
Coberly, Andra. 2011.“Battling Bridezilla: An Essay,” Colorado Brides Magazine, April 18. Available at https://cobrides.com/magazine/bridal-basics/battling-bridezilla-an-essay/.
Kappler, Maija. 2018. “Bride Goes Ballistic After Wedding Guests Refuse to Pay $1,500 Cash,” HuffPost Canada, August 27. Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2018/08/27/bride-cancels-wedding-after-guests-refuse-to-pay-1-500_a_23510281/.
MacGuill, Dan. 2018. “Did a Woman Cancel Her Wedding Because Guests Refused to Pay $1,500 Each to Attend?” Snopes.com, Fact Check/Viral Phenomena, August 28. Available at https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/susan-bride-wedding/
Sterling Weddings & Events. 2016. “Telltale Signs You’ve Become a Bridezilla,” November 30. Available at https://www.sterlingweddingsandevents.com/single-post/2016/11/30/Telltale-Signs-You%E2%80%99ve-Become-a-Bridezilla.
Stuart-Madge, Aoife. 2017. “In Defence of Bridezillas Everywhere,” Aquarius Magazine, February 6. Available at http://aquarius.ae/columns/in-defence-of-bridezillas-everywhere-1.1974103.
Tran, Cindy. 2018. “‘Our Request Was Not F***ing Out of the Ordinary’: Bridezilla Who Asked Guests to Pay $1,200 to Attend Her Wedding Calls It Off and Breaks Up with Her Fiancé When They Refuse to Cough Up,” Daily Mail.com, August 26. Available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-6101095/Canadian-Susan-cancels-extravagant-60-000-wedding-guests-refused-fork-1-500.html.