How was your Valentines Day? I heard many complaints from students about the anti-climatic falling of such a holiday on a Wednesday of all days, the booked reservations at restaurants, the pressure to find someone or have someone to share the day with, the lack of matching shoes with their perfect date night dress, etc. I could do a whole article on the stigma surrounding this holiday, as well as the horrible tendency of our culture to try to commodify something so indescribably wonderful as love and what it means and how people should act if they are “truly in love.” But what I want to talk about has nothing to do with that…or does it?
The truly terrifying aspect of a culture, when looking at trying to change some piece of it, is when you see how interconnected every part of it is. That just makes it so much harder to try to create any type of permanent change. I realized just now that cultural perceptions of love, what it is, how and when we should feel it, what it feels like and who we should give and receive this emotion from, is an extremely powerful tool. For example: Valentines Day. The consumer culture has taken it upon itself to use media outlets to commodify just about every aspect of the average American’s life — and can we blame them? How else can a family-run business expect to sell their homemade shoes if they do not try to reach out to the public and sympathize with them, telling them they know their daily struggles and that this pair of shoes, with it’s sturdy but fashionable design, as well as economical price, is exactly what they need. But when did we cross the line? When did the American society stop thinking for themselves and start letting the voices on their televisions speak for them?
“Come on down and get the sparkling diamonds that will really tell her you love her!” proclaims one commercial, while an that online ad says, “Spending too much time away with work? Tell her you are still always thinking of her!” strongly pushes sending a $200 bouquet, the only true declaration of love. What do these advertisements tell people about how they should define love? You may see commercials as annoying clips to skip over, but whether you pay direct attention or not, they do influence your life. The American lifestyle pushes spending ridiculous amounts of money (in a mainly middle class society that already lives in this tax bracket solely because they can put their new commodities “on credit”) as the only way to proving feelings of love. And if you need to keep working and cannot ask off to get dinner with your special someone, then send them some flowers! Because obviously what they want most is a computer-generated note printed on a beautiful card with some lovely flowers, not the joy of your presence or just being able to talk with you.
The pressure surrounding Valentines Day, even the memes I see online saying, “I’m going to be at home alone Valentines Day with my Netflix and my pizza and ice cream and I do not give a f*ck,” have an underlying sense of insecurity. It’s as if they can only find some kind of solace about being alone on a day like this by making fun of their situation, because the outside pressure makes it seem like being alone means that there is something wrong with them. How messed up is that? Love is something wonderful, indescribably vast and mysterious and comes in infinite forms that should not be trapped into a few stereotypes surrounding a certain heart-shaped box of candy. I carry a love for my family, a love for my friends, a love for my significant other and (as hard as it can be sometimes) a love for myself. All these variations of this one feeling are so diverse in how they affect my love and to whom I express it that they can never be concentrated into the ideas society wishes to put into my head. As I think more and more about love and how it is portrayed in todays society, I have come to the realization that love, this vague, mysterious feeling, that dictionary.com pitifully tries to encompass as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person,” is the solution to the ambivalence swallowing up so many people around me. I think there is a point to be made in the falling of such a horrible shooting on this specific holiday.
I could talk to you all (as I had originally intended) about the devastating effects of becoming desensitized to violence and shootings like this and what that kind of lack of emotion, that emptiness instead of sympathy, that gross lack of shock, can lead to. I looked around me on Wednesday and saw a world rolling right on by, with greedy media outlets eager to get the latest information as they exploited this horrific event and people scrolling past in their news feeds without much of a second thought. Maybe the ambivalence, the lack of decisiveness, the “trouble with the curve,” troubling so many people as they leave college and enter the workforce today is because after letting the media around us decide how we feel for so long, we are left empty with a vague feeling of sadness and wish to define this shooting as “wrong,” but beyond that we do not know what to do. Maybe with definitions of love that did not originate themselves in commodification, people would truly be able to express themselves and have more agency in defining their emotional responses to events that inspire an emotional response within them. Maybe the person who committed the atrocious acts in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would not have felt the urge to do so if they had felt love moving in their life in a different way. Love, even just from one person, has the powerful effect of giving someone validity and someone else to have on their side in this world so they are not so alone. Maybe all of these shooters felt the need to publicly display their beliefs because they felt alone and unloved. Maybe before you declare this shooter a horrible person, based on the choice facts the media has decided to let out, you should try to understand them.
The only way we can stop this terrible kind of violence, this horrible and long overdue indicator from society that there is something definitely wrong with our way of living if it is causing these violent outbursts so frequently, is by trying to understand it and in doing so, loving a little more.
The author of this article wishes to send her most heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of all affected by the shooting last Wednesday, and to let them know they are not alone in their desire to inflict change upon this broken society.