Shahbal Shabpareh and his band Black Cats — a premier Iranian American pop group — have performed American hits with a Persian twist at upper-crust Iranian celebrations almost weekly for years.
They've seen lots of lavish weddings, but one stands out as the most over-the-top.
As guests enjoyed hors d'oeuvres outside the banquet hall, the bride was placed in a glass coffin. The groom fitted on a white half-mask. Then, the carefully planned Phantom of the Opera theme devolved into chaos.
Condensation formed inside the coffin as guests delayed filtering in. When the groom finally took his cue to present the bride, the lid wouldn't budge. Before long, he was slamming the glass trying to break through as the bride wailed inside, her makeup running down her face. It would be an hour before she was finally freed.
For Shabpareh, the night crystallized the breakneck rise in ostentation at weddings hosted in recent years by L.A.'s wealthiest Iranian Americans. For some, party hosting can be a competitive sport, with spending used as a yardstick for status. Weddings boasting guest lists almost a thousand deep with price tags nearing half a million dollars are not unheard of.
Status-striving among the kind of white people featured in Stuff White People Like comes in for some ribbing around here now and then, but I've got to admit that it has its upsides versus the kind of status-striving that's increasingly common in LA.
If wealthy Portlanders obsessively compete over who has, say, the kayak with the latest high tech innovations, the world eventually gets better kayaks. In contrast, when Beverly Hills Persians compete over who can throw the most garish wedding, the world just gets more garish Persian weddings.
I suspect the Beverly Hills Persians are behaving closer to the human default mode. The SWPL mode of status competition goes back to, I suspect, 17th Century England, and is a rarer and more productive form of behavior, one that might not last all that many more generations in the U.S.
I suspect we'll miss it when it's gone.