Nothing compares to the 21st-century marketing machine that persuaded Americans to spend $17.6 billion on Valentine’s Day (VD) in 2012, an average of $126 per person, according to the National Retail Federation. That figure was 8.6% higher than in 2011, impressive in an economic recession. In fact, VD is the third largest retail holiday of the year. That’s real money spent primarily on one-time gifts that are reasonably priced the rest of the year, such as a culinary orgy of designer dark chocolate touting medicinal and love potion benefits.
VD is a psychologically nerve wracking day even for those madly in love, and only fuels the fire like a lithiumion battery on a 787 Dreamliner. It’s the artificial pressure to have a romantic experience through huge expenditures of personal capital. And often it’s a downright depressing day for many, like the lonely super-model who couldn’t land that GQ-looking billionaire.
The free market creates this insidious, illogical, yet highly effective guilt trip, pimping out Cupid for the explicit purpose of making an obscene profit. VD is pure capitalistic manipulation to make you feel guilty, like the talk-show audience peer pressure to clap when the sign illuminates “applause” right on cue, despite an underwhelming performance.
Most holidays and celebrations are based on religious and heartfelt events, such as marriage and birth, as well as recognition of achievements like graduation, promotion, and retirement. The exchange of gifts on those traditional days is symbolic and practical, though frankly, some people max out their credit cards, forgetting the true meaning of the celebrations.
Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day celebrate the efforts and achievements of, and ultimate sacrifices by, others past and present, so that we are able to enjoy our rights and freedoms. Of course big business has found a way to hijack those holidays, too, by persuading consumers to engage in bacchanal shopping sprees.
However, big business is savvy in anticipating consumer backlash against blatant consumerism during VD, so those businesses make sure to make money on both sides of the trade. Like casinos and Goldman Sachs, the house always wins. For example, did you notice how the perceived anti-VD release of the action film A Good Day to Die Hard, with Bruce Willis & Son, occurs on VD? Mainstream movies are released on Fridays, yet this one is being released on a Thursday, which happens to be VD. Was the release timed so that the girl gets what she wants and the guy gets what he wants, on the same day? Chocolate and bullets.
Love and respect cost nothing, so why should you spend money on a particular day, just because big business and the media tell you to prove it? Nonetheless, many consumers are so deeply indoctrinated that they think VD is a national holiday.
One can’t eliminate Valentine’s Day, because there’s too much profit to be made on an ersatz holiday that’s nowadays “too big to fail.” As Gordon Gecko quipped to Bud Fox, “It’s all about the bucks. The rest is just conversation.” The solution? One day of total consumer abstinence to break their corporate hearts. ?
—Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation megaprojects, energy, and urban planning. He has also been a resident of Williamsburg for ten years and is an internationalist and avid jazz aficionado.