The Semiotics of Valentine’s Day

Everyone is aware that Valentine’s Day is now a commercial phenomenon, operating on a global scale.

From supposed origins in the early days of Christianity, Valentine’s Day has spread around the world. But it’s interesting to us to see what happens when all this overt emotion meets British culture, specifically how we Brits feel about and deal with such declarations of love and affection.

There is a global default style- lurid pink, over-priced roses, maybe a teddy bear or two. Certainly, a heart-shaped box of chocs. Escaping this kind of thing is difficult.

In response, there is a new ‘cool’ Valentine’s style emerging. Pictures of ‘slebs’ and US Presidents abound, poking fun at the inflated public egos. The cards demonstrate the wit and cultural nous of the giver. Lines like ‘you’re right swipe material’ show a knowingness about technology and its effects on relationships.

But there is, of course, real British awkwardness underlying the new style. Messages that masquerade as wit – ‘You’ll do’, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. Let us never speak of this again’ actually are about escaping the pressure of real emotion, not dealing with it. The ‘sexy’ cards of retailers like Scribbler – ‘You make my foo foo go woo woo’ – capture perfectly British repression and awkwardness when it comes to sex. Benny Hill would be right at home with the new cool.

Annoyingly, the smooth Continentals do it all so much better, being much happier dealing with real emotions. In America, everybody gets a card – brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, classmates and parents. Our American cousins are also mystified by the British secret admirer ‘from you know who’ – another classic case of hiding from emotion.

So what we say is, let’s stop trying to market pink and teddy bears to the British at Valentine’s Day. Let’s EMBRACE British repression and awkwardness. Let’s do limited editions that CELEBRATE the dirty postcard and the smutty joke. Like we always say: brands can’t change culture, they need to fit in with it.

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