My Big Fat Moonie Wedding

The Herald, UK/December 8, 2007

On July 1, 1982, Madison Square Garden, New York, staged a huge communal marriage ceremony that paired off 2000 young men with 2000 young women. The massed happy couples were devotees of the quasi-Christian religious cult begun by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, but that day they were mostly strangers to one another.

Each bride wore a traditional white dress; the grooms all wore equally traditional dark blue suits. Everyone, male and female alike, wore white gloves. Their bizarre-looking large-scale union - "a wedding in a hall of mirrors" was one participant's description - was initiated and conducted by the cult's Korean self-styled messiah himself.

Twenty-five years on, My Big Fat Moonie Wedding softly probed the sad aftermath of this odd exercise, homing in on the memories of a small sample of assorted ex-Moonies who'd been processed through the marital wringer that day. Displaying a certain lack of journalistic rigour, the programme's makers failed to tell us exactly how many of the day's marriages survived - although given Moon's perfunctory approach to match-making, it can't have been many.

For while Moon claimed to unite folk via close analysis of their spiritual ancestors, he actually employed only a cursory glance, apparently taking a perverse pleasure in pronouncing life-partnerships between the most obviously different men and women: black and white, tall and short.

Nevertheless, the giant ceremony had been strangely exhilarating for those taking part. Its purpose was to draw global publicity to the Moonie religion as well as lay the foundations for a perfect race of future Moonies: according to Moon, his wives and husbands would - so long as they obeyed his singular marital rules to the letter - give birth to children entirely free from sin.

However, with the benefits of increased age and wisdom, the ex-Moonies saw an altogether different purpose, one that was much less benign. Their mass arranged marriage had simply been an exercise in submitting to the absolute authority of their leader.

Moreover, Moonie womenfolk couldn't help but notice they had to do more submitting than Moonie men. This, as feisty Mancunian Caroline found out when she queried it, was because women "had to pay more indemnity" for Eve having occasioned Adam's fall.

Subsequently, Caroline found that marriage entailed her being thrice painfully smitten on the bottom by a Moonie "indemnity stick" - to shock Satan into submission, allegedly - wielded by her husband. Her husband was a Norwegian fisherman, resident in Alabama, with whom she had nothing in common. Caroline binned the marriage, and the Moonies. But at least Dutch Anna had stayed together with Californian Forrest. No longer Moonies, they had a child to stay together for. But nothing else. Certainly not love. "We tolerate each other," Forrest ventured uncertainly. Added Anna: "In a romantic sense, he's not my type and I'm not his type." A heartbreaking silence ensued - it felt 25 years long.

Birdsong and insectival buzzing were much to the fore as The Nature of Britain reached its conclusion, along with couthy chuntering from Alan Titchmarsh, bard of the loamy tussock and the brown-banded carder bee.

"I'm sorry if you're eating your tea," Alan quipped, doing little to obviate the ghastly sight of a great green bush cricket making dinner out of a living relative.

On Salisbury Plain, where military manoeuvres have encouraged rare marsh fritillary butterflies to breed, Alan reached fresh peaks of laboured wit. "Perhaps they should re-name it the artillery fritillary," he jested. Boom-boom, Alan, ya flippin' pillock.

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