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Offbeat – 17 February 2012

If not for the glitz and chocolate that the shopkeepers assure us is the currency of love, or lust as the case may be, Valentine’s Day could easily become money in an envelope.

Twenty will buy you a smile. One hundred will buy you a hug. The more you spend the more you get. The sliding scale of prices goes all the way up to a moment  of happiness. Does this sound like a sex worker to you? I was thinking of Valentine’s Day, the way retailers see it.
As I get older, I become more conservative and dour. Valentine’s Day begins to fill me with resentment. So do Christmas and Easter. In the unwritten gospel of the grocer, if you want joy, you need to welcome the shopkeeper into your life, a companion at the table, on special days, in the bed.
I do not know how to approach the day. My act of cutting cards, creating rhymes, using a pen to write things by hand, feels pale and less worthy than the pricey box of chocolates and the awful plush toy, or whatever other expense can be found and afforded as proof of love. The feeling of the day falls short of passion and enthusiasm. The box of chocolate in my hands shames and saddens me.
Valentine’s Day has been degraded. Let’s start with the name. Three decades ago, it was ‘Saint’ Valentine’s Day. Valentine was an early Christian who was sentenced to death. In his cell, waiting to die, he wrote letters to someone who was obviously in his affection.
Remembering this moment of pathos, for hundreds of years we used to write letters or notes, usually in the form of poems, speaking of our love. That language, produced on paper, with a pen, could be complemented with flowers, which have a language of their own, each flower meaning something specific.
But the pen is no longer a friend, and the language of flowers has been reduced to uncomprehending grunts. ‘Give me that bunch’ will do. The poems are things that can be cribbed from the internet. Now it’s just ‘Valentine’s Day’, without the underpinning of spiritual significance or pathos of love and the hope that it brings in spite of hardship and brutality. It’s a day of manic smiles, plastic passions and spending.
This year, my disappointment found its nadir in seeing a chocolate with the words ‘text me’ inscribed in some glutinous scrawl upon its top. No pen. No poem. No effort. No thought. Just an anodyne message and the whole range of passionate and heartfelt communication reduced to two thumbs and the money it takes to buy that bit of chocolate.
Where does it head? If not for the glitz and chocolate that the shopkeepers assure us is the currency of love, or lust as the case may be, Valentine’s Day could easily become money in an envelope. In fact, this might be a more honest option, but for my dislike of those loveless people who think that a lasting relationship can be fostered with the convenient ease of cash on the barrel head, not a hug or a lovingly planned gift into which has gone thought, effort and a knowledge of the recipient.
For now, it remains the purchase of kitsch and the handing over with murmured platitudes. And as we become immune to the pleasures of the soft toys and chocolates, more and more and more will be needed to elicit a response that is not jaded.
There is an economic purpose to the thing. Nowadays, there is so much to give. There has to be: the global masses have to be employed. Making things for money is about the only hope. If we don’t buy what they make, they starve and revolt. Valentine’s Day consumption is a way to create jobs, and show our love for our fellow man, if the economists of the IMF and World Bank are to be believed.
That’s not love though, just an economic phenomenon, and Valentine’s Day is still impoverished.
Materialism is killing emotion, on Valentine’s Day, Christmas and all the other special days of the year. Heartfelt gestures that are made in the absence of the transaction are seen as cheap or a sign of poverty. Kids are trained to it by parents who are too busy to take the time, and the attitude passes on into later life.
If the love of another is valued by the transaction, then everyone becomes impoverished. It’s a sad situation that can only grow worse.

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