(ISABELLE GARREAUD/THE OBSERVER)
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Valentine’s Day is a corporate scheme for revenue
What do Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas have in common? They are all holidays that allow Americans to satiate our inherent consumerist desires under the pretenses of love and unity. These holidays were not all created equal; they were all conceived with different purposes to fulfill. But somewhere along the way they began to act as a medium for American consumerism. Certain ideals have been imbued in our culture that allow us to shamelessly capitalize on different components of these holidays. One particular holiday in which we can find this trend is Valentine’s Day.
Before we get into the good and the bad of the day celebrating sickly-sweet façades, let’s go through a quick crash course on the history of the holiday.
Valentine’s Day is partially derived from the festivities of Lupercalia, a pagan holiday in which Roman men would beat women with the hides of sacrificial animals to “bless” them with fertility (and yes, this is precisely how the Romans put the “roman” in “romance”). Naturally, the holiday was christianized after the condemnation and death of St. Valentine as a way to honor him for combining persecuted Christians into Holy Matrimony. Chaucer then romanticized St. Valentine’s day by writing a poem about birds mating. The articulation of such an act evoked a romantic sentiment in Westerners and they were quick to start writing handwritten letters to their loved ones as a way to express their unwavering love for one another. In 1913, Hallmark revolutionized the holiday by facilitating the mass production of “valentines.” Profound (if tedious) handwritten letters then became superficial, quick and easy, the words having already been printed for them.
The irony of the violent sub-context is also evident in Valentine’s Day’s many iconic symbols. One example is its designated flower, a rose. A rose is a flower so narcissistic that it harbors thorns to prick your skin just to release a pigment that resembles its own. The holiday mascot is an infant in diapers shooting random individuals with arrows so they might fall in love with absolute strangers. It’s also hard to overlook the February fetishization of diamonds, the wrongly immortalized gems that are actually quite common in comparison to other gemstones. The diamond market strengthened the divisive racial lines in apartheid South Africa: people of color were predominately laborers in the mines, while white people were more than likely owners of the mines. And let’s not forget chocolates. No, there is nothing particularly violent about chocolates, but they do give you cavities and contribute to a myriad of health problems in the United States. Need I say more?
It is almost a consumerist chore to make sure these archetypes of Valentine’s Day are preserved when it comes to buying gifts for one’s beloved. It becomes tiring.
In simpler words, Valentine’s Day is a capitalistic scheme that creates an illusory scale in which we can quantify how we are loved based on the number of roses, diamonds and chocolates we receive. The more we give someone, the more we love them. Conversely, the less we receive, the less we are loved. Consumers will spend about $1.9 billion on flowers, $1.6 billion on candy and $4.4 billion on jewelry items, and each individual will spend an average of $130 to mundanely declare their love for someone.
Not only does the holiday of sentimental semblances want us to believe material objects can quantify satisfaction in relationships, but also it enforces gender stereotypes. More than likely, men are expected to dish out more money to take control of the day plans. Women are supposed to sit back and wait for her dashing prince to take care of her and to prove his love for her. This is especially enforced in the media, as most Valentine’s Day commercials portray women as damsels in distress and men as the knights in shining armor to come rescue them with delicacies.
I do not think we should completely say goodbye to grandiose gestures of unwavering love. Rather, I am questioning why we need one specific day to collectively appreciate and celebrate our love for one another. Have we become so romantically unimaginative that we need to collectivize as a society on one single day in which we gift each other the same cards, flowers and heart-boxed chocolates? Are we happy with the fact that the declaration of our love for one another can be reduced to the exchange of material objects? We have become too familiar with the expectations of Valentine’s Day, and familiarity breeds contempt.
Furthermore, if you’re sad about not having a valentine, just know that it may not be in the cards for you right now. Valentine’s Day has nothing personal against you, it’s just a holiday known to single out certain individuals.
As the romantic I undoubtedly am, I’ve taken the liberty to write a poem for those of you with or without a valentine:
Whether it’s love in the air
Or just the flu
Valentine’s Day is coming
To a town near you