This Feb. 14, at 2501 McGee Street in Kansas City, Missouri, bonuses will be awarded, champagne will be poured, expensive dinners will be had, and at the afterparty, presumably high-stakes blackjack will be played and copious quantities of scheduled substances will be consumed in a recreational manner. That’s the headquarters of Hallmark Cards, which you may know as “the company that makes all the cards” because you’re not creative enough to think of your own card with a picture of a kitten on it. Meanwhile, at 333 West 34th Street in NYC, Govia Chocolatiers are binge eating their own product, and at Three Limited Parkway in Columbus, Ohio, Victoria’s Secret is having an enormous (well, probably just a slightly bigger version of the normal weekly) lingerie party. (Probably the most exciting thing ever to happen in Columbus Ohio, let’s get real.) All will be making record profits related to this weekend’s Valentine’s Day celebration.
It’s easy to be cynical about Valentine’s Day like that. It’s commercialized. It’s overblown. It encourages copious consumerism and depresses the singles amongst us.
And without copious consumerism and egregious marketing, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t exist. The American public pours an estimated $13.2 billion into gifts for the holiday annually, according to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.
Is this worth being cynical about? A 13 billion dollar stimulus to the retail economy is nothing to sneeze at. Whether you’re single and alone on the holiday, or snuggling with your, what is it that millennials call it, “Bae,” you might say that this holiday isn’t for you. It’s for Hallmark Cards. Or it’s for global cacao suppliers, of which less than 1 percent are fair trade. Or it’s for the Thai workers making $7 a day manufacturing bras for Victoria’s Secret. It’s for Georgia-Pacific and Weyerhaeuser, producing paper for Hallmark, outside the eyes of the Forestry Stewardship Council. Your ethics mean that for Valentine’s, you can’t give puppies because they come from mills, and you hate Steven Singer, not for his low, low prices, but for the blood diamonds he sells.
This cynicism about ethics, or commercialism, or capitalism, is all great, well-founded, and largely correct. But, why confine it to one particular day? This cynical article was composed on a laptop built with Foxconn parts (the company with the suicide nets) on a word processing system run by a company that owns and profits from our private information, transmitted to your home or to our printer via a Comcast-owned fiber network which has a legal monopoly on Philadelphia-area broadband. This holiday is not uniquely consumerist or unethical.
There is no ethical consumerism under capitalism. Happy Valentine’s Day.