Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Freakin' Valentines Day

I hate "greeting card company" holidays. This is an axiom.

Life isn't difficult enough without some stinking corporate group taking out a monopoly on yet another date on the calendar? We're not smart enough, on our own, to know when it's time to do "that something special" for someone?

Actually, rhetorical in nature as they may be, the answer to both questions is "yes". Yes, life is plenty damned difficult. And yes, we're generally not smart enough to know when to do something special for someone; in this day and age, we generally stink at doing little things such as calling or writing someone just to let them know we care. That's a great pity, and a loss to us all.

This, however, is no excuse for Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is no excuse for Valentine's Day.

It's generally agreed that the day is Saint Valentine's Day, in observance of the martyrdom of some Roman named Valentinus in approximately 269 A.D. Defiantly did he cling to his faith in the face of persecution, the legend says. To his heathen detractors and their strenuous arguments in favor of free love and other fun ways of living, did he scoff "Your words don't even have a smidgenth of a point!" This made his detractors very angry. For one thing, they resented being patronized with a fallacious argument based on something as weak as mere diminuitive hyperbole. For another, they were mad because they didn't know what a "smidgenth" was, but they were pretty darn sure that it meant that Val was saying that something of theirs was small. Jumping to the usual conclusion along those lines, they decided that they'd show him that they had a point, after all. Lots of them. So they tied him to a tree, sharpened up a bunch of arrows, and shot Valentinus repeatedly through the heart. Normally, this is fairly lethal, but apparently he lived long enough to pose for several famous paintings before expiring, his eyes turned to heaven in that dramatic look saved for martyr icons which cries out "I didn't sign on for this!" Always just a smidgen too late.

By the way, the contention that this murder was carried out by a bunch of Juvenal delinquents from the theatre is just a nasty rumor.

But I digress.

That Valentine story always gets me all hot, bothered and libidinious, how about you? Don't feel bad, the Vatican wound up bailing on it and officially dropped St. Valentine from canonical celebration in 1969, coincidentally just two years after the historic Summer of Love. Coincidental because it didn't matter what the Vatican said, a lot of Catholics went and used Valentine's Day as an excuse for a lot of casual sex. Other days, they used completely different excuses in addition to fresh- well, perhaps I'm going into more detail than I need to. Let it pass.

Now, I could go through the whole bit about the obvious sexual symbolisms of the heart & arrow, and the sociological evolution of the exchange of thinly velied, sanctioned invitations to various forms of social intercourse, but it's been done to death already. It's not the point that I'm eventually trying to get at. Or rather, back to, since I already broached the subject.

Corporations. Doing their bidding for their profit, while we're supposed to blithely go along and think that it's our idea, spending billions of quatloos that we don't have each February 14th to let our "significant others" know that we love them. No, we dare not try to ignore it or risk failure; the fiendish truth is that they've so carefully contrived this "tradition" that it isn't our significant other we have to worry about looking bad to. It's everyone else!! Think about it: Are we not trained to ask each other what we gave/got for Valentine's Day to make sure we "meet the standard"? Haven't we been cornered into worrying about what everyone besides our significant others will think? Look, we have 364 other days of the year to get it right or wrong at home (personally, I think that a little bit of honest effort on a daily basis beats the concept of risking blowing the whole wad on 2/14), but people are not going to shut up about Valentine's Day for months, especially if you gave your wife a blender. If you give your wife a blender for Valentine's Day, you deserve what you get. I've done a lot of intense research into the field of innuendo, and there's nothing remotely sexual about a blender.

So, who are the robber barons in this sham of a holiday? Easy: Greeting card companies, florists, chocolatiers, jewlers, and plastic surgeons. Leaving the latter behind for another time, this group of corporate thieves are what finally bring me around to the center of my argument proving my point that it is mere money-grubbing, and that center is: Buddha.

No, not that Buddha. This was the nickname of a friend of ours, now sadly gone. However, he came, in his own way, to be the proof incarnate of the underlying insinuation of this whole enterprise: That if you give a woman the right gifts, then she has to have sex with you. Oh, don't look at me like that, that's what the whole Valentine's industry is focused on. Let me tell you a little story....

I was working with a local producer on a couple of television commercials for a very loyal supporter of the local theatre. As a way of thanking him, we were going to help put together a couple of TV commercials. This is a guy who doesn't fool around. He started off as a jeweler, and now sells jewelry, flowers, chocolates, cards, and fine wines and more, as a sort of one-stop guilt assuagement center. He is deadly serious about Valentine's Day. We made two; the first one I was in, but the second featured Buddha. Why was he called Buddha? Well, tipping in at 480 pounds, he kind of looked like a Buddha. Actually, what he really looked like was a grown-up Eric Cartman from South Park, and had many a personality quirk shared with Cartman. My concept was simple: We collected together ten very attractive women.... then took clips of them variously enjoying all the wonderful products from the store. Well, one thing led to another and soon it became a competition between them, seeing who could render a more "sensual" appreciation of their flowers, or candies, or whatever the case was. Then we cut to a group shot of them all together, all these women who were totally enchanted by these wonderful goodies..... suddenly the group split apart, revealing Buddha, who stood up and said "Yesssss!!" and thanking the store for his good fortune. Then there was some music, and he did a little dance.... all in all, this was a really cute 30 second spot. The gag, of course, was that even an overgrown Cartman could score with gorgeous women if he came to this store and bought the right things. Not just one, either; TEN of them! Obviously, this must be one hell of a store.

The commercial had been playing for a while, when I got a call from the owner telling me he was pulling the "Buddha" spot. I asked why, and he said he'd gotten a few complaints from callers saying that the commercial was overtly sexual, and that it implied that women could be bought with jewelry, flowers, chocolates, wine, and all the rest. This confused me for a moment, as I weighed the news and tried to put in in perspective, since we're talking all of three callers. I said "Tom, isn't that more or less the whole point of your store?" He paused on the other end and said he'd think about it. Prudes be damned, the commercial soon returned to the local airwaves.

So there you have it: "Insider information" that proves that the whole Valentine's Day scam is about profits and nothing else. We should be ashamed of ourselves for falling for it, but the effect is endemic. True to the deBeers commercials, I actually know men who have saved up and spent exactly two months' salary on an engagement ring. I'm sorry, but I refuse to buy into this whole Pavlovian response business. I prefer to do things my own way, thank you very much.

Which, uh, does not mean that I didn't send my wife flowers today. Yeah, I did, but I did it because I wanted to, not because of the expectations of---

You're not buying this, are you?

OK, I caved. I sent two dozen roses in red, pink & white to be delivered conspicuously to her at work. I did pass on the optional singing stripper, it seemed excessive. The bottom line is, while I feel perfectly comfortable (yea, entitled; I even feel obligated) to make fun of people for falling into this trap, I'm not comfortable with those same people making fun of me for falling down on the job when it comes to VD. That's "Valentine's Day", for those of you who just took the perverse meaning of the acronym. For it is we, who are of snide mind, who are best qualified to figure out a way to put an end to all this nonsense.

Uh, maybe next year.... right, guys?