This article is part of the Voyeur 2020
We don’t really need another article talking about how Valentine’s Day is a commercialized hellscape. I think everyone’s intellectually aware that it’s something of a scam; I think everyone knows in their head that love doesn’t need to be written in dollar signs.
But I also think everyone subconsciously wants flowers, chocolates or jewelry at least a little—and why wouldn’t we?
There are people who are paid millions of dollars a year to sit around all day and figure out how to make us want these things. Social media sites sell our data to big corporations to create targeted ads. Corporations create yawning voids inside us and then generously offer to help us fill them … for a small fee, of course.
Karl Marx’s theory of “commodity fetishism” argued that capitalist society turned a production chain from a relationship between people—the sheep farmer and the weaver—into a relationship between things—the wool and the blanket. Products of human labor and ingenuity became endowed with a sort of pseudo-life of their own. We love our coffee-makers but do not think about the people who built them.
Worse than our obsession with objects, though, is the way that our feelings become expressible only through consumer goods. Commodities colonize
the entirety of social interaction; authenticity degenerates to the point that critical thinking and genuine interaction are rendered impossible.
Asking someone to marry you? Buy a diamond ring. Want to tell someone you love them?
You owe Hallmark five dollars.
Valentine’s Day is emblematic of the way every genuine human emotion is snatched up by clever marketing teams and beaten like a piñata until money comes out. Protestors are jailed, pepper- sprayed and beaten, and their struggles are used to sell Pepsi. Martin Luther King’s speeches play in the background of car commercials. Wendy’s cheerfully roasts people on Twitter and we pretend there isn’t a team of marketing executives huddled over a laptop debating over which gif to use.
It’s exhausting. It’s terrifying. The endless infiltration of consumerism into every aspect of our lives—the advertisements plastered onto buses and billboards and t-shirts—alienates us from our own emotions and manipulates us into thinking we need things that we certainly don’t.
Before you get scared, though, consider getting angry. This is not an accident or an inevitable byproduct of advancing technology; this is deliberately engineered by marketing scientists, permitted by lax regulations (many of which existed in the U.S., by the way, before a certain TV-star-turned-president decided to take a hammer to the FTC’s consumer protection laws) and profited off of by CEO’s across the world.
I’m not saying this to ruin anyone’s Valentine’s Day dinner. Yes, your chocolate was probably produced by child labor, and the profits of your purchase almost certainly went to an elderly billionaire who sexually harasses his female employees and can’t figure out how Google works.
But, if we’re going to acknowledge that, we should probably also acknowledge that the food we eat, the technology we use and the clothes we wear every other day of the year come with the same problem.
There is no ethical consumption under capitalism, Valentine’s Day or no.