It is not often we have an interesting and lively debate in class, so I should not disdain the intense exchange we had yesterday.
Disclaimer: this is a nerdy topic, but I am in graduate school, so this is my primary material (talking to themselves coffee drinkers notwithstanding).
As the title suggests, we were talking about Clifford Geertz. At the end of class our prof suggested that we try to analyze a ritual through Geertzian analysis - Valentine's Day.
Mostly the ritual of celebrating Valentine's Day was described as about showing love, acknowledging people that you care about, and, of course, I added to the mix commercialization and obligation. My suggestions were not greeted with happy smiles. I listened as they objected to Valentine's Day being put down as merely a hallmark-created day to zap you of your money. They expounded on the various non-commercialized ways to celebrate the people you love in your life.
But there were a few little cracks in the argument .... someone brought up the fact that her friends (a couple) secretly wanted to celebrate the day, but were afraid to seem "uncool" if they did. So each, individually, confided in this woman his/her desire to buy this or that ... and she gently encouraged them both to do so since she knew first hand that both were secretly supportive of the event.
Someone suggested that there were women (though I can guess there might be men, too) for whom only certain gifts would be appropriate... IE don't bother if it's not worth at least $100. So the discussion of how the gift was meant to symbolize the amount of love by virtue of its commercial value. Of course, the stars in their eyes continued their steadfast defense of V Day.
Another suggested it wasn't just about couples ... it's "friend day and love day" (dia del amor y la amistad) in Mexico, from where she had just coincidentally returned having celebrated there with her boyfriend and friends. Additionally, she suggested that the fact that her family also sent her valentines was proof this was about love not couples or obligation.
I confessed that I don't mind celebrating it. My suggestion of obligation and commercialization actually stem from the fact that I had had an interesting exchange on facebook with someone I barely know ... it's a little bit of a digression, so you can skip it if you like.
He (Kevin) suggested that setting aside ONE day to celebrate your love was succumbing to commercialization. I read that as a sincere dislike for the onslaught of media trying to convince us all that we have no love in our lives if we aren't going out and buying something expensive and/or shiny for someone. I responded that it was our choice to celebrate in a non-commercial way ... I can't remember the exact words; but I swear that was my intention. He felt a little sting from the comment I made and responded something like Wow or Ouch or something. And a few hours later his female friends agreed with me (I don't know them either) and suggested that he was cheap and implied that he was hiding from commitment and put forth their ideas for appropriate gifts and greetings. A few hours later, he posted a different comment celebrating love and friendship today and EVERYDAY. Again, that was the original point he was trying to make. Honestly, I felt guilty for having opened the flood gates against Kevin since I agree that the commercial nature of the day is overwhelming and unnecessary.
I went so far as to try to find an "original" meaning of St. Valentine's Day -- anything that pointed to a day that was to celebrate love and connection and not buying of goods. I came up empty. I haven't memorized the statistics from wikipedia, but you can check it out. They seemed to uphold Kevin's point. There were no less than five St. Valentine's -- in one case there is a headstone somewhere but it is not clear who is buried there or what his life story is. There are saint stories written about a St. Valentine's but not necessarily the one buried there. There were several early roman Valentine's one that was buried in Ireland, other's relics are buried in churches in Italy. Even the Catholic Church removed St. Valentine's Day from the regular calendar in 1969 since it was such an ambiguous story. The story some know of St. Valentine was actually popularized by Chaucer. In short, the modern Valentine's Day was really started sometime in the middle 1800's in Great Britain, but not really based on any special life story of a loving saintly man. The US ran with it and it is considered a "hallmark holiday" since it isn't really related to anything but commercialization. Ahem.
I shared that I was presenting this view not because I necessarily hold it, but because it does act in the ritual we were analyzing. I also related the research I had done on whether or not it was based on anything else. The lovers were not swayed.
When we were then asked to come up with a purpose for the ritual ... it got messy. According to Geertz, a ritual should smooth over something (I am roughly stating this because to quote Clifford would take too long and then we would also have to untangle his contradictions) ... this was hard for the lovers. Since they refused to see V Day as anything other than the sincere acknowledgement of true love, what could it possibly be smoothing over? Again, I interjected something they did not want to hear. I said perhaps (and this was the tamer version, though, later I did go there) relationships are difficult, and living in close contact with people you care for causes problems and fights and troubles, so it is good to have one day when you put all that aside and affirm your love, despite the difficulties. You would have thought I said love did not exist. But I was amused at the protestations ... I suggested we not talk about Valentine's day at the beginning of it all ... but no, they wanted to talk about it and now they were unwilling to follow through on the academic endeavor which was the point of the conversation. Ah...
I did go there... giving them other less rosy positions. I pointed out that many people just get whatever is advertised on TV (you know that which is supposed to symbolize your unique love yet is mass produced and ugly, by the way). The prof chimed in that she recalled seeing many men lined up with the very same bouquet on the actual day at the grocery store. These hardly seemed like true expressions of deep and abiding love. Then, I went on ... what about if you saw this day as the one day you had to acknowledge, then every other day, you could just do whatever you want ... cheat on your wife, etc. Yeah, that didn't go over well.
Fun was not had by all ... but I was thoroughly entertained.
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