Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day (The Death of True Love)

I detest cheap sentiment.

— Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in All About Eve

Ever since I found out in 6th grade that Valentine's Day was largely invented by a greeting card company, I've thought it was complete bullshit, because, well, it is. I mean, Kwanzaa is invented too, and its critics have some good points, but at least it's about honoring your ancestors and stuff. Valentine's Day is about buying a bunch of crap. Red, white and pink crap. But mostly pink. I mean, for chrissake, there are gay rallies in the Castro with less goddam pink.

Sure, I'm a misanthropic bastard, curmudgeony beyond my increasingly untender years. But deep down in your he- *gack* blood-pumper, you know I'm goddam right.

Yeah, sure, buying a goddam Hallmark card is a sign of love, just like wearing a flag lapel pin means you're a goddam patriot, and wearing a cross makes you a Christian, and being a think tank "scholar" means you're a fucking genius like Mike O'Hanlon or Doug Feith or Dinesh D'Souza, and being George W. Bush means you're actually running the country versus Dick "Richelieu" Cheney and you're touched by the great God almighty and as infallible as bejeezus himself and just all-around, goddam fucking brilliant.

(At least the Japanese Festival of the Steel Phallus encourages costumes, dancing and has a myth behind it.)

Just to be clear, I have nothing against twue wove. Nor against True Romance. (Although I'm not a fan of Patricia Arquette.) I rather admire the real thing. But honestly, do you think Hallmark, Madison Avenue and most of Hollywood are going to teach you anything about love? Do you think their cloying, materialistic bullshit with a soft filter close-up on a big hair chick with Celine Dion screeching away in the background brings you anywhere except one step closer to Hell?

The Wiki entry on Valentine's Day reports that the Greeting Card Association, not content with the evil it already sows, has since 2001 given out an "Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary." No offense to Ms. Esther Howland, but there are no goddam "visionaries" in the greeting card business. If Joan of Arc were alive today, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be spending her time designing fucking greeting cards. It's almost as ridiculous as fashion industry wankers sporadically pretending they're doing the Lord's Own Work, which normally entails them talking about how awful things are in the world, and how they give people a much needed distraction, because heaven knows we're all not shallow enough and shouldn't bother our pretty, coiffed little heads over genocide in Darfur. Don't think about Iraq and feel bad — watch this skinny blonde in an ugly trash bag of a frock designed by a heroin-addicted misogynist and feel bad for not being anorexic instead, you damn fatty.

Because it's all about image, kids. I'm still gobsmacked by how many people I run into who really, truly buy into this sappy, saccharine, unrealistic view of love. That includes people who really should know better — although if they're the type terrified to be uncoupled for longer than two weeks, it's a not a big goddam surprise if they're addicted to bad luv and 'but slenderly know themselves.'

I wonder how many couples have broken up over the years just because of all of society's bullshit pressure over an impending Valentine's Day. I'll bet the number over the past thirty years exceeds the number of people who think well of Dick Cheney today. (Speaking of bad heart trouble, and Cheney valentines.)

Sigh. Well, in any case, here's a valuable piece of advice from Gene Weingarten's chat this week, for a few of the gents out there:

Boston, Mass.: Gene - I have a question which I believe only you are qualified to answer. My girlfriend is telling me "I don't want anything for Valentine's Day." Does that mean I REALLY don't have to get her anything? Or does it actually mean "I'm going to say I don't want anything, but if he doesn't do something, he's a big fat pig?"

Women are so confusing. I stand by your word - if you tell me not to do anything, and I get dumped, it'll be all your fault.

Gene Weingarten: Do something, moron.

Were you born yesterday?

Weingarten's right, here. There are exceptions. But generally speaking, gents, if a woman tells you Valentine's Day doesn't matter to her, or that she doesn't want anything, she is lying. Even if she swears it on a stack of Bibles or flag lapel pins or Dick Cheney's pacemaker, she's lying. She may be lying to herself also about how much it means to her, but that factor will be irrelevant in the carnage to follow. And even if she's not (since again, there are some exceptions out there), you'd best play it like Pascal's Wager on this one.

(I don't know to what degree gay and lesbian couples ignore all this bullshit, but if they do, it's one more reason to legalize gay marriage posthaste.)

There's a saying that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. Or there's what Pete (Paul Rudd) says in Knocked Up: "Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond, only it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever." Hey, I can keep dishing 'em out. Sure, I've got some touching, inspirational, romantic prose I could quote to ya. But why string you along?

Oh, all right. Here's something.

Much Ado about Nothing is probably my favorite Shakespeare comedy. It's got all the wit of Taming of the Shew with much less sexism. (Keep in mind that "nothing" was pronounced "noting" in Elizabethan England and the play's about misperceptions, and that "nothing" was also slang for female genitalia, and you've got a triple entendre). Here's the great wisdom of the play.

Shakespeare presents us with a pair of young lovers, Claudio and Hero, for whom it's love at first sight, who swoon, get jealous and spout flowery sentiments about love. They're supposedly our ideal.

(And let's face it, if they're pretty like Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard, a little swooning is understandable.)

But Shakespeare also gives us Benedick and Beatrice, an older couple with the wit, banter and sexual tension of a screwball comedy. They constantly undercut the sappiness of Claudio and Hero. And they're just much more fun to watch.

(Not that Emma Thompson or Kenneth Branagh are hard to look at, either.)

So Shakespeare gives us what we think we want, but also what we really want. Add in a few brilliantly written comedy scenes, and that's true genius.

Shakespeare also pokes gentle fun at all the characters, most of all the proud Benedick and Beatrice, but laughs with rather than at them. He wryly mocks their vanities, but ultimately celebrates their foibles. As in The Marriage of Figaro (or even Cosi Fan Tutti, or The Master and Margarita, Crime and Punishment and Gawain and the Green Knight, for that matter), it's a very forgiving, wise work.

So if you must celebrate Valentine's Day, keep that in mind.

You can also do it in a slightly subversive, sincere style, like Gene Weingarten, who adores his wife:

I like any day that affords us another chance to buy presents for our women. Because our women are SO grateful for SO minor a fact. Because they are SO certain we will forget. Yes, it was invented by the chocolate and florist industry, which is why I never gives chocolates and flowers for Valentine's Day.

So that's one route. If you're going the film-and-cooking-dinner route, I'd keep in mind that with the exception of a few films like Casablanca, Hollywood doesn't do romance that well — or at least, treat love honestly. Maybe watch Annie Hall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, possibly the B story in Knocked Up, maybe even There's Something About Mary, The Fisher King, The Apartment or The Graduate. And for god's sake, see Scenes From a Marriage before you stop shacking up together, living in sin, and finally get married, you filthy heathens. But if you need a more romantic flick, there's Sense and Sensibilty with the aforementioned Ms. Thompson (plus the divine Kate Winslet), the Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, and A Room with a View. Hell, there's even Mann's Last of the Mohicans and Rob Roy if you want some action and drama with a dash of period romance. There's Much Ado... and other good Shakespeare films, of course. But you may do still better with the 1990 Rappeneau-Depardieu version of Cyrano, Amélie or The Princess Bride.

So take that, Hallmark. Beyond the reach of you and your bourgeois, unimaginative compulsion to reduce everything truly beautiful, wild, erotic, wonderful, spiritual, passionate, and transcendent to some trite little homily or cliché you can comfortably handle lies the real thing.

Of course, Shakespeare said it all better, many times, and in many ways. But that's why he was Shakespeare.

And if he were alive today, the Immortal Bard wouldn't be writing fucking greeting cards, either.


Anonymous said...

"Yes, it was invented by the chocolate and florist industry, which is why I never gives chocolates and flowers for Valentine's Day."

Great idea! I'd add diamonds (jewelry) to that list, since they're hip-deep in this made up holiday too.


Faded said...

Lmfao... Bat, you really need to rant more often. Loved this post...

Brave Sir Robin said...

Much Ado ...

Great, great film.

You nailed it, my friend.

Swinebread said...

I'm just glad the turning 9-11 into patriot day never took off...

I myself have a soft spot for A Midsummer Night’s Dream…

A tragic love story that I really like is Escape From the Planet of the Apes… No really, think about it

Anonymous said...

I don't want any gifts but if he doesn't state clearly today that he loves me, from tomorrow on I'll consider him just a friend.

See, Valentine's Day can be used as a test.

Batocchio said...

Fade: Haha — my blog posts are rather more serious than I am by nature. I blame Bush! ;-)

Robin: It really is a good one, isn't it? I recently read the play with some actor friends – we get together every few months to read a Shakespeare play. I'm not sure I have a copy of the film, and need to rectify that. (I was in a production in college.)

Swinebread: Alas, it is officially "Patriot Day," although I find that horrendous, since if anything it should be "Remembrance Day," as 11/11 was known and still is in some countries (I still call it Armistice Day). But you're right that that public hasn't gone along with that name, thank god.

I remember Escape moving me as a kid. And you're right, Midsummer can be awfully good.

May: I don't know your specific situation — I think Valentine's Day can put undue pressure on couples early on, per my post. I also tend to think a conversation is better than a test, in most cases. For the interested but undeclared, there's the problem of shyness, which for some people can be severe. But I don't know your situation. If someone's feeling used or unappreciated, that's a very legitimate problem and it's certainly important to address. In any case, when a VS commenter reports a problem with another person, I have to be biased in the commenter's favor. ;-) Best of luck with everything.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comforting words. No one really ("really" should be in italics) loves me.

I'll read some more of your online journal. On Valentine's Day's Night.

Amy said...

I offer this to you, one of my favorite poems, from my blood-pumper to yours:

Margaret Atwood


I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;

I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.

All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.

But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitious,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,

and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.

It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?

Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.

Batocchio said...

My goodness, May! Again, I don't know your situation. I just received a great e-mail about Valentine's Day from a single friend, though. There are different types of love, and a good friendship is pretty damn valuable.

I'd recommend a good film or book or poem or evening out with a single friend or two over my meager blog, too! Maybe a comedy. Or the new episode of Lost tonight. Or something cheery, like King Lear or Schindler's List. Whatever works for your mood.

Batocchio said...

Ooh, Amy, that's a good one!

But dammit, I was holding out on the love poems! See, the reason I hate Valentine's Day is that I am a romantic, and hate the fake Hallmark crap. And here ya gotta go all poetic!

Speaking of Atwood, this one might be my favorite from her:

Variations on the Word "Sleep"

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

- Margaret Atwood

Batocchio said...

I'm planning to run three tunes for the music pick tonight, which should cover most, um, moods... ;-)

Batocchio said...

Seriously, since I fear my comment at 2/14/2008 12:39 PM reads awfully glib, there are times I find I'd like to be alone, there are times I'd like company, there are times when I'm down where I need to honor that feeling, and there are times when I just could really use a good laugh or two.

In Shakespeare, most of the tragedies focus on an individual. Most of the comedies are about a whole community. That is not a coincidence.

But I'm commenting too damn much.

Anonymous said...

Love this. I've never been comfortable with conventional interpretations of this "holiday."

Anonymous said...

Very funny post. I'm not much of a Valentine's Day celebrator, and hadn't thought much about the giving/receiving of gifts for the holiday. I stopped in the local grocery and was nearly knocked out by all the pink balloons and flower arrangements that greeted me when I entered. I was equally surprised by the number of men buzzing about with arms full of flowers and candy (at last minute pit stop before heading home?). It made me smile.

Swinebread said...

Remembrance Day

I told people this very same thing

kimono hime said...

I adore Margaret Atwood. Her writing drags one down and doesn't let go until you are gasping for air, or perhaps forgot you were even breathing to begin with.

We had broth for dinner, he went to bed early because he had to get up for work 2 hours earlier than usual, and I stayed up 2 hours late working in my studio, took a bath, then slipped in beside him to be warm, but barely touching so as not to wake him.

I don't do holidays, I work through them. They are superfluous to me, some slightly degrading reminder that we've forgotten how to actually celebrate living. I walked into the grocery store yesterday and saw three men, one after another, walking out with bouquets of red roses and thought, my man won't be doing that, thank goodness. He'd rather spend the money on fixing his car, but at least that will still be around in six months whereas the roses would be dead in a few days.

There's a romantic somewhere in my soul, but she's been broken too many times and prefers to remain shut away. Maybe when I'm older and decide to become a lesbian she'll come back out and I'll woo a woman with dark eyes and her own sadness inside. Who knows?

C.J. said...

The Grump (my husband) and I never exchange gifts on V-day. But yesterday he slipped a love note into my bag which I founnd at work. We've been together a long time and he hasn't done that kind of thing in years.

Yeah, that got him laid! ;-)

C.J. said...

I love Margaret Atwood as well.

Batocchio said...

Okay, now I'm laughing, Kimono and C.J.!

ThePoliticalCat said...

APPLAUSE!!! Batocchio, te amo!

I must be the only person on the planet who truly doesn't want fuck-all for VD (which I usually refer to as Sexually-Transmitted Disease Day in a fine burst of curmudgeonliness). But then again, other than the very occasional sushi dinner, sauna, hot tub, or massage, there's really nothing I want out of life.

Time alone in the garden. Books. Good movies. That's it. And yes, LGBTQ folk do indulge in all that VD crap too. Sad, innit?