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the Gauntlet

Valentine's Day and consumerism

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This past week, one of the daily polls on The Globe and Mail's website was "Valentine's Day makes me want to . . ." with the dominant response being "do nothing -- it's a consumer holiday and I won't buy into it." This answer received about 65 per cent of the 5,246 votes. This is unlikely a perfect portrayal of Canadians' thoughts on Valentine's Day, but the answer did garner a large portion of respondents, so it has some merit. Also, we have all heard that argument before: stop consumerism, reject this consumer-driven holiday! But if you are going to reject one day on principle, it is hypocritical not to continue this anti-consumerism the rest of the year. You want to talk about consumerism? Let's talk about consumerism.

There are a few different ways to use the term consumerism, some concerning economic systems and others with quite derogatory connotations. The consumerism cited by cynics of Valentine's Day is what the Oxford Dictionary defines as "the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods." Consider the ideal Valentine's Day for many people: it likely includes a nice dinner, flowers, a romantic card, chocolates or a tasty treat of sorts and perhaps a gift of the sparkly variety. Basically it is spending money on a pre-established list of goods to make your significant other happy. Yup, sounds like consumerism to me.

If you want to stop consumerism by not buying some scrumptious hedgehogs from Purdy's, roses from Panda Flowers, a Hallmark card or jewelry from Spence Diamonds, stick by your beliefs! But if you are going to disappoint the person you love, you better be living your entire life by the same principle.

An intrinsic part of consumerism is the brand of the goods being bought. Uggs and Lululemon pants are just Aussie slippers and spandex athletic pants without the label attached. Hector Liang, chairman of United Biscuits, a very successful producer of snack goods in the United Kingdom, said it well: "The most important assets are brands. Buildings age and become dilapidated. Machines wear out. Cars rust. People die. But what lives on are the brands." He has a point. There are people who are diehard Apple owners while others would never stray from a PC, but I doubt the majority in either group have a solid reason for their loyalty. Even so, it's unlikely they will change sides anytime soon.

Accept it, you are part of consumerism. Don't believe me? Put down your non-fat latte from Starbucks, turn off your iPod, and reconsider your purchase of a Honda Civic GT, GMC Sierra or whichever vehicle you chose to embody your persona. I am not faulting you for your purchases, I openly admit to making brand-specific purchases. My point is if you are going to chastise people for maintaining the strength of a consumer-driven holiday, you should be consistent in the rest of your life.

The high expectations on Valentine's Day stem from unrealistic Hollywood romance films, jewellers knowing their market ("jewelry is less expensive than divorce") and candy manufacturers understanding and reminding the population that people will be happier with something tasty -- consumerism at its best. But this same consumerism exists in your daily life. I vote next year you make your partner happy and just fulfill his or her hopes for Valentine's Day. If you must make a statement against consumerism, email or make a card on your computer (cards are lovely), prepare a special dinner and wear that outfit that just makes them crazy with desire. Combat consumerism by not buying, not by rejecting an opportunity to make someone else happy. In the end, it's the effort that counts, and I'm sure that effort will be rewarded.

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