Of Consumerism and Valentines

GiftsValentine fever is catching on and couples are not the only ones excited about it. Malls, gift shops, restaurants, bars and flower stalls are all gearing themselves up for the festival which has become as popular and extravagant as Diwali, Id or Christmas. The chill outside does not seem to be the spoilsport, in fact, it adds to the romance in the air. Topics commonly broached include gift options, attire, and even where to go. With advice pouring in from all sides on the countdown to V-day, (even including advice for those who do not have a valentine), one certainly does not have to fret about anything. The spirit of this occasion just takes one over and unconsciously, one becomes a part of these festivities. But has any story ever had a happy ending? What’s the fun without some drama?

Some conservative sections of the society denounce this “celebration of love” and fundamentalists belonging to such societies attack institutions and other public property. On the other hand, those in favour of this festival add more glamour to the event and make it a complete fun-filled package.

However, digging deeper into this, one would realize that it is not as simple as it seems and, in fact, raises several questions about our economy, our cultural identity, our way of life, and how all of these variables are viewed in relation to society.

It is the age of consumerism and the world is driven by markets. It is the pervasive influence of a market oriented economy that an event like Valentine’s Day has become so significant in the country, something that would have been unimaginable 70 years ago. Globalization manifests itself in numerous ways, it has captured our minds and controlled our behavior, in a subtle manner. It is the constant attempt of western economies to replicate market structures in newly globalized countries. This is evident in the kind of advertising and product promotion it seeks to carry out. Consequently, it has targeted consumption patterns, affected our choices and even altered our tastes to some extent.

It eventually aims at restructuring our culture and our beliefs by making deep inroads into the fabric of our society. Hence, it is natural that economies that wish to promote their products promote their culture too. For instance, by popularizing an occasion like Chocolate Day, chocolate manufacturing companies aim at expanding markets for their products. By adopting this clever methodology, they have succeeded in fooling us and disabling us from looking beneath the surface. Adding fuel to the fire are some fundamentalists who justify their staunch opposition to Valentines Day calling it a “violation of Indian tradition”. Fundamentalist groups that attack public parks, shops selling greeting cards instill fear amongst youngsters. This is not restricted to India alone: the same reaction is observed in orthodox Islamic societies where they even go to the extent of calling it a “shame day”.

Unfortunately, there is no realization of the fact that what we call our tradition our culture, which in reality, is a product of our economy. It is heavily dependent on global brands for its smooth functioning.

This kind of analysis is not directed towards discouraging anyone from celebrating love, but to give an insight into what makes it so talked about.

So, go ahead, have a ball, and spread joy and happiness this Valentine’s Day; not by exchanging gifts, but by imbibing the spirit of the festival.

Rohini Raj Mohan


(image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lleberhard/2254568081/)