The annual calendar is peppered with deplorable consumer holidays. Some have origins in ancient customs or religious traditions, while others were conceived by individuals or governments. But whatever their roots most are now characterized by an unabashed, cynical commercialism.
The Worst Commercial Holiday Contenders
Being the West’s foremost proponent of shameless, made-up consumer holidays, US citizens celebrate bizarre days such as Sweetest Day, National Boss Day, Administrative Professional’s Day (formerly Secretary’s Day). All of which are truly dire examples but are rendered innocuous by their relative obscurity (though still open to criticism for the simple fact that Hallmark sells cards for them).
The twin commercial guilt-fests of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are also worthy of special condemnation. Not only do these holidays disparagingly equate filial love and appreciation with commodified consumption but also function as a cynical form of emotional blackmail in which non-participation is met with social disproval and parental disappointment (i.e. if you don’t buy your mother flowers you’re an ungrateful, cold-hearted bastard). As if all those attention-seeking parents weren’t already garlanded with enough praise and chocolates, President Clinton bowed to pressure from the greetings card lobby – much to the dismay of orphans across the US – to add yet another commercial holiday in 1994 with the introduction of Parent’s Day.
The daddy of all consumer holidays, Christmas, is clearly a frontrunner, having pimped its last vestige of religious relevance to the licentious advances of consumerism some time ago. But despite the festive period’s unabashed embracement of all things capitalist, wasteful and environmentally-damaging, it earns a reprieve for two reasons: most people get time off work and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is usually on TV.
The Winner: Valentine’s Day
And so we arrive at the (painfully imminent) definitive crap commercially-oriented holiday: St. Valentine’s Day. What marks VD – to use a fitting abbreviation – out as the worst of the bunch is that it combines the soulless commerciality and gratuitous consumption of Christmas with the unavoidable secular inclusiveness and oppressive social coercion of Mother’s/Father’s Day while also adding its own particular brand of depressing cynicism.
I’m no curmudgeonly trailblazer: there are millions of right-minded VD critics expressing these sentiments. A quick internet search will uncover countless VD diatribes, criticism of its environmental impact, a (rather uninspiring) Wikipedia entry for “Antivalentinism”,anti-VD products and even (humorous) calls for violent action against Hallmark stores. Having little effect on the status quo, however, these widely-supported and utterly justified criticisms only serve to make the universal toleration of the day even more galling.
In fact, criticism of VD, and the other holidays mentioned in this article, is often rendered ineffective due to a unique characteristic which allows them to effectively deflect criticism of their cynical nature back at the critic. Thus, people who decry the commercial evils of Christmas are labeled Scrooges and those who dislike VD are labeled heartless misanthropes.
But perhaps the worst thing about VD is the very visible social schism it generates between two groups: those in a relationship, and the other ones. But while many singletons moan about the emotionally harrowing the experience of VD when you haven’t got anyone to give (or, more importantly, give you) some overpriced, clichéd gesture of affection or a gift card with some hollow, saccharine rhyming couplets, they’re clearly better off – for VD is one of the few days of the year when the singleton’s chances sexual/romantic success is significantly improved due to the increased levels of desperation, inebriation and emotional insecurity it generates.
No, I feel sorry for those people in relationships who participate in whatever manner and for whatever reason: whether happily due to a predisposition to unquestioning social conformity, begrudgingly due to the wishes of a pro-VD partner or tentatively due to the unknown expectations of a fledgling relationship. Because, ultimately, a certain hollowness lies in kowtowing to this most unspontaneous and unexciting form of standardized romance.
Thus, on February 14th, sitting in an unauthentic Italian chain restaurant surrounded by 50 other couples, potentially oblivious to having been sucked into the soulless vacuum of hackneyed commodified romance where sincere and vital human expression is substituted for pre-packaged, manufactured sentiments, a small part of them will die. For the processed and packaged chocolates, the soulless corporate gift cards and the limp, mass-produced flowers represent less the expression of one human being’s love for another, than the expression of our societies’ infatuation with mindless consumption.
Anyway, I better wrap this up – I’ve got to go buy a heart-shaped card and some chocolates 😉