Sunday, February 13, 2005

it was the nightingale and not the lark

so the most stressful day in the calendar for all teenagers and for far too many so-called grownups (apart from christmas) looms, like a leering gargoyle, some krusty ronald mcdonald of the senses, most cynically exploiting the better part of our human natures in thrall to the worst.
be my valentine.
kill me.
in common with most subsequent commercial abominations, we Brits were originally to blame, of course. together with the Merry Christmas Whore of bauble-trash and guilt-shopping, and the invention of photography, and the not-unrelated invention of the Welsh national costume, some unspeakable Victorian entrepreneur dreamed up and marketed the Valentine as the definitive expression of secret love. the idea caught, emigrated to the US, took fire - and from 1910 there was Hallmark.
being in love is a wonderful thing. when you're in love, every day is Valentine's day. at any and every opportunity you're going to think up some new way of showering your soulmate with gifts. nothing is less of a chore, more of a delight. constructing those handmade cards, filling in the I love you balloon letters in neon red, covering them with glitter-glue, stuffing the envelope with glittery hearts that are all going to fall out all over the carpet when the beloved opens it. oh the delight!
new lovers - beware - accept no substitute for those tacky handmade cards. cherish them. the tackiest, most amateurish handmade card, crafted, literally, with love, is worth a thousand of those ten-quid padded and be-glittered Hallmark monstrosities. once you either receive or stoop to sending one of those, the writing's on the wall. there's an all-too familiar formula relating the likely endurance of the new love, in weeks, expressed inversely as a function of the size of the card and the price per square centimetre. ugly, but true.
like all similar states of fever, or chemically-induced delirium, the being-in-love state is experienced at several dimensions removed from the universe as it is known and experienced most of the time. everyone, once in it, wants it to last forever. on average, it lasts about three weeks. what happens after that is that guilt begins to emerge - guilt at the cooling of the fever, and the reluctant emergence of the realisation that either this is something that matters, that needs to be considered as an ongoing life-changing event, and, if so, necessitating the scary sacrificial absorption of the being-in-love cell into the larger organism of this other thing, or not. and where there's guilt, there's profit, as Quark used to say.
what does it say about us that we're so desperately reluctant to disengage from the fantasy narrative of romantic love that we'll collude in such a tacky industrial process of emotional surrogacy rather than confront the real? where in the canon is the alternative to the Romeo and Juliet model? why is everyone so happy at weddings - the statistically near-inevitable moment of love's murder?
in 2003, Hallmark reported consolidated net revenues of $4.3 billion, which is more than the annual Gross Domestic Product of the Seychelles, Eritrea, Burundi, Djibouti, Liberia, The Gambia, Comoros, and Guinea-Bissau combined.

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