Over a Brief Item on Chinese Weddings, a Times of London News Editor Put the Headline “Better Wed in Red.” If You Don’t Get the Headline’s Pun, What Does That Say About You—and the Editor?

The above item and image about couples planning their marriages to coincide with the 8-8-08 opening of the summer Olympics in Beijing, appeared in the Times of London on August 6, 2008.

I thought the headline—“Better wed in red”—was a brilliant play on the Cold War era phrases (expressing pro or anti-Communist sympathies) “Better Red than dead” and “Better dead than Red.”

The headline seemed to encapsulate just how substantially China—and the world—has changed from even just two decades ago.

The headline implies that the Western world’s once tragic ideological death struggle with “Reds” has transformed itself into the “comedy” of marriage—what shall I wear at my wedding?

Then it occurred to me that many people under thirty might not even pick up on the pun—and not even know that the color red has had a long historical association with communism. 

Many might read the phrase as fashion advice—that it is simply trendy to wear red, as opposed to white, wedding gowns in China.

They might further surmise that the rising economic and political power of the Chinese signals that Westerners should now be following the Chinese in terms of fashion trends.

Thus “Better wed in red” could be construed by those unfamiliar with the headline’s historical reference as a kind of wry and resigned call to join a global fashion-trend bandwagon.

In short, if you initially read “Better wed in red” as something akin to fashion advice, you’re probably under 30, and we can surmise that the headline writer is probably over 30—and perhaps substantially over 30.

This potential disconnect between an older author and the younger portion of his or her audience reminds us of the ever present problem of interpretation in reading.

It is a sobering thought that, in so short a lapse of time (less than 20 years since the unravelling of Soviet communism and the winding down of the Cold War) that a phrase can be so grossly misread.

It ought to give one pause about assuming, when reading texts from previous eras, especially from the distant past and in translation, that we are understanding them in the way that their authors intended.

Even when we think that scholars have given us enough historical context to read an ancient text, how much we still must be missing and misunderstanding when reading, for example, the Bhagavad Gita or a Greek tragedy by Euripides in translation.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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