Let me make one quick comment at the beginning of this post: I do not hate Valentine’s Day. I don’t love it either – it’s a day. Valentine’s Day, as a date of measured time, has never done anything to personally advance or hinder me so I bear it no feeling. For those out there hating Valentine’s Day, here you go. So why am I talking about it then? This is a blog dedicated to media’s (marketing/advertising/pop culture) impact on the world. I can’t entirely ignore it.
In many ways, Valentine’s Day is like every other major holiday. It has a history, it has a focus group. Many out there will claim that Valentine’s Day was invented simply to make money. Well, they’re right. In the same way that Santa Claus was invented for Christmas and costumes purposed for Halloween: there is a definite money-making angle associated with Valentine’s Day. Yet Valentine’s Day, for the record, is not a Hallmark celebration.
According to internet history a.k.a. Wikipedia, Valentine’s Day is a feast celebrating the life of St. Valentine. Which St. Valentine you may ask: good question, there may have been at least three so… all of them? The particular one people celebrate lived during the time when Christians and Romans were anything but bros. In fact helping Christians was a crime back then… yeah, Roman Emperor Claudius II had no time for these new crazy Jesus folk. In fact, St. Valentine was arrested for marrying Christian couples – Christian marriage back then being entirely illegal. Boy, if only there was a modern day equivalent for that:
So anyway, St. Valentine got arrested. He was ultimately put to death for trying to convert the emperor (Claudius II had taken a liking to his prisoner just not in the way: “I like (will switch my faith) like you”). There it is: the official reason for Valentine’s Day. Celebrating a man who was jailed for helping others find love. That’s an excellent cause for celebration but probably not what most people take offense to.
Merchandising. Corporations are making a nice profit today, specifically florists, card makers, chocolate makers, and restaurant owners. For them, their valentine is small and green and smells like money. But here is the thing: nearly every holiday out there has been marketed to death (thank God for Thanksgiving) so Valentine’s Day isn’t unique. This isn’t even an invented tradition, people have been giving “valentines” to each other for hundreds of years.
For those out there protesting corporate intrusion into something as personal as love: that I can support. Good thing there’s an easy remedy: don’t buy sh*t. Seriously, if anyone out there in a relationship can’t think of anything more personal than chocolates and flowers for their significant other… how well do they know each other?
Yet I think there is more to the Valentine’s Day resentment than just the commercialization. This is day celebrating the joy of sharing love. Many out there don’t have another human being they feel that way about so naturally: there are feelings of exclusion. Again, I blame this on marketing. They’ve been better with other holidays:
Unfortunately here is the principle of marketing: making you, the individual, want something. Valentine’s Day is the double-dose of this principle. Since the day itself is purported to be about celebrating love with a significant other – there is already a need for someone else. Now Valentine’s Day advertising says that someone else isn’t enough, the consumer must buy things to please that other. And if buying things make the other happy than not buying things might make them sad and so on… it’s a rabbit hole: don’t go down it.
You know the most precious thing about love: it cannot be commodified. Every love is unique. Asking a corporation or really anyone else to make a gift for your significant other is like asking a stranger to decorate your house or name your child. They have no way of knowing. It doesn’t make them soulless or evil, just outmatched. If you are in a relationship: you are the only person capable of getting your significant other what they truly want. Don’t ask Hallmark – they don’t know.
And for those out there without a significant other: your love is still special, so you’re part of the celebration. Doesn’t really matter if you love another person or your job or something else in this wonderful world of ours – Valentine’s Day is about celebrating that healthy love. I say healthy because there are those out there just in relationships because they don’t know how to be alone… that is one romantic love that should be anything but celebrated.
Yes, marketing can make single people feel bad about themselves today. Marketing can (and does) make people feel bad about themselves every day: that’s their job (really sick when you think about it). Don’t blame Valentine’s Day, it’s just a day. And really: could be worse. Take Korea for instance, not only do they have two days for couples, they also have a day where single people are required to eat black food in mourning of their lack of relationship. Yikes.