“Love, American Style”: Valentine’s Day and the Commercialization of Happy

Every two or three months there is a “holiday.” These are special days that are nationalized or christened by the government whereby the public is encouraged to go out and spend money, en masse. Whether it be Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, Americans and those living in these 50 states and I suppose those in American territories, are encouraged to do something that almost always necessitates the spending of money (hence the “political economy” of U.S. holidays).

Of course, every now and then, there is nothing wrong with spending money or offering a kind gesture to acknowledge someone you know and care about. However, Americans tend to take these special days to the extreme. Valentine’s Day, for example, is packaged and marketed for lovers and the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” roll freely from the lips of perfect strangers. Notions of being “happy,” “loving,” “in love,” or headed “towards love” are promoted quite indiscriminately. Nevermind the fact that we live in one of the most violent if not THE most violent nation on the PLANET, especially when it comes to gun violence. What nerve we have to promote the idea of love with a special day called Valentine’s Day, which is named for a Greco-Roman festival that made sport of violence against women!

Those who know me personally and via social media know how I feel about love. The experience and the feeling of love are topics that I often feature and discuss. To love (whether social or individual) is one of the most revolutionary things one can do in a violent or loveless society. And, it is something that we ALL can do. Love, however, is not limited to the expression of positive acceptance or approval, sometimes we love self and others by setting clear boundaries, detaching, or by resisting the abuse of power or position. I have learned from life and from black feminist bell hooks that to love is to do justice; it is to be and act in a manner that is equitable and fair. And I assume that most mature adults know from experience that achieving or articulating fairness, equity, or even justice is not always comfortable or pleasant, especially in personal relationships – because it is there that we learn about ourselves most acutely. There is a cost and sometimes a sacrifice associated with love, and, there is a responsibility that goes along with love and loving, which I suppose is why so many suck at maintaining healthy, loving relationships. They don’t want the responsibility of loving.

Truth be told, many are not very good at being honest and thus taking responsibility for one’s actions in a relationship is minimal; dishonest people avoid love because it requires a certain degree of accountability to self and to others. Love, American style, encourages those who consume more than they give and those who live beyond their means along with many veneers. Love,  in the American style, appeals to those who are afraid to be vulnerable and present because, most likely, they are afraid of getting hurt, which is inevitable. Ironically, such people who don’t want the responsibility of love, or the ones who are very afraid of getting hurt tend to be the biggest consumers of special days like Valentine’s Day even when they know that most American marriages end in divorce; and these same folks seek after “the institution of marriage” as if it were not a failing thing. Love makes the world go ’round, not marriage. And, if you don’t genuinely love yourself before you come to the idea or the question of marriage (by being true to yourself and your feelings), if you are not emotionally able or willing to be loving, vulnerable, equitable, and if you have never truly committed or invested yourself emotionally in another person in or out of marriage, then call it what it is, but don’t call it love. If you are not successful in pre-marital relationships, don’t look to be successful in marriage. It is hypocritical of men (or women) who say they want marriage – that they are “looking” for a wife (or a husband) – when they are not remotely interested or active in establishing committed relationships (i.e., when from day one they say, via words or actions, that they are not looking for anything serious…that they are just “going with the flow”).

In addition, don’t call it love if all you’ve really got to give are “happy” days and quick commercialized, capitalistic arrangements of time and events where, for instance, “happy” is bartered, bought and sold with dinner to the highest bidder, or with the one or ones who cause you, the buyer or financier of all that stuff to feel good, for the time being. In my book, the American style of loving is where happiness is tied primarily to personal, material and economic success and thus commodified. As far as I’m concerned, you can have all the money in the world; you can own the tallest building, or the biggest mansion, or the most luxurious car; you can be as good looking as Denzel Washington and have everything to achieve the “good life,” and still that would not mean to me that you are good at loving yourself and others. Love in the American style thrives on material-oriented and vapid social interactions that exploit the desire for the accumulation of things, possessions or attention/approval from others; and, the powers that be will market any and everything that is important to us as human beings for profit, because they know that many people will do almost anything to feel loved or happy. In contrast, the practice and the art of loving do not work like that, and the expression of love needs no special day to be apparent or tangible. Love is a feeling and an action, and if you feel love then acknowledge it, act upon it, today and everyday. The hyper-commercialization of love or a day for love will not bring us any closer to the ones we consider special or the ones that we care about. Rather, articulating love and being loving are things that we courageously do on a day-to-day basis to affirm and sustain our humanity and that of those around us, even if it costs us nearly everything to do so.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

*Please note that “Love, American Style,” was also the name of an American television sitcom that aired in the late 60s until the early 1970s. I am not referring to that series in this blog.


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