Just to be clear about this right from the start: Personally, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s day. I never celebrated it, I have no relation with it and my (pitiable, some might say) girlfriend never got a single gift. Not because of deliberate rejection, but because of indifference. 14th of February for me never was Valentine’s day, it was just a day.
It would have probably been just the same this year, but during the last week my indifference was severely disturbed. Not, how one might assume, by overly organized lovers already buying flowers or by aggressive advertisement. No, not the supporters but the haters were the loudest. Just like every year the run-up to the holiday was coined by commentators engaging in the discipline of ‘valentine-bashing’. And since this year the ‘athletes’ seemed to reach a new level of dedication, I started to wonder how the day of the lovers became the most hated holiday of all.
Unfortunately, I’m still wondering. I just couldn’t find a good reason for all the fuss. Which in return makes me worry about the nature of the criticism. But, slowly. Let’s have a look at what usually infuriates people about the 14th.
The biggest problem seems to be the commercial aspect of it. For critics, Valentine’s day is an invention created by the industry to take people’s money under the pretext of celebrating a Christian tradition of love. And I think this is probably as accurate as it gets. The holiday was pushed intensely by flower and candy-companies, thereby reaching a new level of public recognition. However, it is also not really shocking. We live in a capitalist society; people will do just about anything to sell you their shit. The fairly obvious attempt of commercializing a holiday seems to be one of the more harmless plays of this system. On top of this, nobody seems to have similar concerns with other holidays which are bluntly commercialized. Now you might say Christmas wasn’t invented for the sake of profit-making, but that also counts for Valentine’s day. At the core of both holidays is a religious tradition and both are today dominated by the commercial aspect of it.
Lovers participating in this commercial shenanigan are usually critized for being superficial and putting forward a false sense of romantic. Come on, really? As if something as personal as the romantic relationship between two people would come down to an event like this. If it does, something is wrong with the relationship, not Valentine’s-Day. One has to be a rather humorless and prentious fellow to judge somebody’s relationship based on his or hers participation in this holiday.
Why then is it so tempting to bash the lovers-day? Maybe because it is so easy. First of all, whoever criticizes the superficiality of Valentine’s Day defines him or herself in return as being anti-superficial when it comes to love. What sounds charming at first – who does not want ‘real love’? – appears to be superficial itself when given a closer look. Defining ‘real love’ is rather hard and, for some, buying flowers for Valentine’s Day might actually be a part of it.
Secondly, it is easy because it feeds into a popular discourse: anti-Americanism. Valentine’s Day is considered to be an American import – an historic fact that is questionable at least – and criticism of it almost exclusively consists of motifs that have constituted the european anti-american discourse for centuries. While cultural imperialism is one of these motifs, the central one has always been superficiality. Europe always regarded itself as the center and origin of higher culture, resulting in a dichotomy between depth versus superficiality and individuality versus the masses. The bashing of Valentine’s day fits the pattern: Europe has ‘real’ love while the US is flooding us with their superficial version.
The fact that criticism of the event is effectively created by means of an anti-american stereotype is interesting at best, worrisome at worst.
Before I get my ass kicked zwarte-piet-style: I’m not saying that everybody who critizes Valentine’s Day secretly hates Americans. As I said, I’m not a fan either. All I am saying is that it might be healthy to give your criticsim a closer look. It might turn out to be more superficial than Valentine’s day itself.