A History of Love: Valentine’s Day in Modern Media

February 7, 2024

by Indy Fawcett

In the age of social media, streaming services, and instant connections. Valentine’s Day, once confined to traditional notions of letters and candle-lit dinners, has now expanded in the realm of modern media. Once a simple celebration of love and affection, this age-old tradition has undergone a metamorphosis in the hands of modernisation.

No longer confined to handwritten notes and heart-shaped chocolates, Valentine’s Day has found a new life in the digital age, evolving into a multifaceted spectacle that transcends our traditional expressions of love.

The portrayal of Valentine’s Day in contemporary media through the rose-tinted lens that impacts society’s perceptions of love and romance. Questioning whether this modern lens enhances or distorts the essence of romantic celebrations. From movies, television shows, books and articles, the presence of Valentine’s Day in our digital landscape beckons the question of how much of it is relevant now?

Valentine’s Day is often depicted in romantic comedies and movies as a day filled with grand gestures, declarations of love, and usually comedic mishaps. These films explore themes of love, relationships and the pursuit of happiness as the main driving force of its characters. That love conquers all, no problem is too big for love. Social media platforms just perpetuate those notions by portraying a clear idea and standard of romance that has been edited to perfection to mystify an audience.

Valentine’s Day is heavily commercialised, with advertisers promoting gifts for lovers of flowers, chocolates, jewellery and romantic getaways. Advertisements often emphasise the idea of expressing love through material gifts. The first Valentine’s Day chocolates were created by Richard Cadbury, who in 1868 made the first heart-shaped box of chocolates. With the rise of advertising in the 20th century, companies took advantage and capitalised on the holidays. This commercial push of Valentine’s Day further embedded the idea that tangible expressions of affection were a societal norm.

Photo By Susan Holt

Retail and consumerism only cemented that fact. The opportunity to boost sales in the lead up to February 14 became more pronounced with stores promoting various products and services to help the public celebrate the day with their loved ones.

I would consider myself a hopeless romantic, I read romance books, laugh and giggle at rom coms with my mum and besties. But the concept of how society has commercialised and modernised the holiday is difficult to overlook. 

We idolise celebrity relationships, their public displays through social media posts, interviews, and publicity all add to the cultural narrative surrounding expressions of love. In recent times, there has been a push for inclusive representations of love in media, acknowledging various forms of relationships beyond heterosexual couples.

Social perspectives and cultural attitudes towards love and relationships can influence how the day is portrayed in modern media. The changes in dating culture for Generation Z is also noteworthy in the context of modernised Valentine’s Day. Gen Z is navigating a different landscape than previous generations, with online dating culture and casual relationships becoming the norm. Most prefer a relaxed and flexible approach to Valentine’s Day.

Gen Z has grown up in the social media era, most forming connections through a screen. Unfortunately, making it harder to make meaningful connections. Cultural shifts and changing societal norms are having an influence on how individuals approach relationships and some choose to delay serious romantic interests.

Personally, I see my friends and people around me who will be spending Valentine’s Day single, choosing to focus on their fulfilling friendships, self-love, or other aspects of their lives.

Photo By Kayla Spied

See, originally it has been suggested that Valentine’s Day has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held 13-15 February, celebrating the coming of spring. Including a rise in fertility rates. Pope Gelasius 1 at the end of the 5th century forbade the Lupercalia festival, replacing it with St. Valentine’s Day. Though, the day was not celebrated till the 14th century. The beginning of love letters appeared in the 1500’s and by the late 1700’s those were essentially modernised to commercially printed cards.

The day is celebrated in several countries, the day is most popular in the United States, it’s loved in Britain, Canada and Australia. And several non-English speaking countries of Argentina, France, Mexico, and South Korea. In the Philippines, the day is used for wedding anniversaries and mass weddings of hundreds of couples.

It is recorded that the reason we are known to buy and give chocolates to our significant others is that it simply makes us happy, sending dopamine to our brains. It was once even considered an aphrodisiac by Aztecs. It is a powerful food, exotically romantic. An edible declaration of love that recipients enjoy because it tastes good and makes our hearts happy. As of 2023, more than 36 million chocolates are sold each year.

Valentine’s Day has evolved significantly in the realm of modern media, transcending its history. While commercial aspects persist, the emphasis on self-love, friendship and diverse affection has gained the prominence it so rightly deserves. So, any way you celebrate, Valentine’s Day is a day for love. Love your partner, your friends and family, parents and children. Spend the day with those you love. I will be spending the day with my girls! I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

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