By Bethany Teuten, First Year Liason Officer
Illustrations by Rashi Agarwal, Creative Director
Every year without fail the week leading up to February 14th is full of reds and pinks, chocolates, teddy bears, love hearts, Colin the Caterpillar with his new girlfriend Connie in their love cocoon…
The fact is, Valentine’s Day is nearly inescapable. Our intensity with celebrating it has increased so much to the point where everything under the sun is embellished with a heart, teddy bear or something along those lines. Valentine’s Day has become a commodity, a day for the market to capitalise from. Quite simply, we’ve been enticed into thinking we need to celebrate love on a certain day of the year, and to do this requires the purchasing of numerous ‘love-themed’ commodities – you can’t show the person you love without a chocolate love heart. Nope, in the eyes of capitalism words simply are not enough, to really show love you gotta invest in that free market!!! At least that’s what we’re being told through the copious advertising and commodities that come out each week around February 14th.
And that is not to say that Valentine’s Day isn’t a good thing, love is integral to sustainable development – our love for the planet and wider society are exemplified through the topics of environmental and social justice – love is needed in sustainable development. Yeah, that does sound cheesy and it is, but when you think about it, what drives and motivates us to fight for our planet is the respect it deserves and the love we want to show it! The frustration we feel when governments are not working hard enough for the environment (Boris Johnson I’m looking at you and your coal mine…) is derived from our love for our planet. And a consumerist centred Valentine’s day does nothing to help us move forward in sustainable development – it simply exacerbates this mentality that we need to consume and fulfils the capitalist ideals of continuous growth and commodification.
When we start to question the why, we realise the autonomy we have – waking up and being attentive to why Valentine's Day is capitalised the way it is, we begin to notice that we can make the decision to not contribute to mass consumption. It’s also important to acknowledge that whilst yes, we ultimately do the physical purchasing and consuming, being enticed into this consumerism is part of a much wider picture that is telling us what to do; we are spoon fed the idea of the need to consume and that is done through advertisements and the subliminal messages we are presented with. In a pre-Covid world I’d walk into Aldi and in February the famous middle aisle would be stacked with love heart teddies, sultry chocolates, Valentine’s day posters and quotes hanging from the ceiling convincing us that we need to consume, and whilst I can’t deny the fact that I do love Aldi’s middle aisle, it’s reminiscent of the larger picture that Valentine’s Day has been consumerised to the extent that you basically can’t escape it.
So, Valentine’s Day – should we celebrate it? Of course, sustainable development is not about denying people showing love! But do we need to consume to do so? That’s where we can question and enable the autonomy we have as individuals to choose to go against the capitalist incentive of consumption and choose to show love in other ways that have not (yet…) been commodified. Realising our own agency even when it comes to just one day like Valentine’s Day is quite liberating, and something to hold onto even when it feels futile. That’s not to say it's only down to us as individuals to change the world and be more sustainable, no, for sure actions like these are miniscule when it comes to the large steps that government could and arguably should be taking but surely it's better to go against this system rather than encourage it?
And so, when Valentine’s Day perpetuates this consumerist rhetoric, let’s question that.