Saturday, October 17, 2015

The New Romantics: Love and Consumerism in the Modern

(Originally written as uni assignment and titled: Romantische Liebe 2.0: Liebe und Konsum in der Moderne)
Written by: Patricia Novanti

Love. One simple word. A never ending stories, interpretations and concepts. Today the concept and idea of “Love”, such thing as “Soulmate”, “The One”, “Mr. / Mrs. Perfect” is pretty hard to grasp. What is love even mean? Is it even real? Can I order it online and get it delivered to my house within 5 working days? Since when does love become something so complicated, so repulsive? Literature and Art show us how easy love is, how natural and beautiful. Where did we do wrong?

Let’s take a little detour and have a little look on the history of love.

Long time a go marriage is considered as a medium that connects two families into one, a kind of collaboration, if you will. Say, you are a king and would like to have a better relation with the nearby kingdom, marrying your daughter to their son sound like a perfectly good idea. Marriage therefore inherit a functional value, be it political or economical.

Fast forward to the 18th century. A lot of changes has taken place, from the social structures to the marriage arrangement. Slowly there were whispers and talks about this new thing, a romantic love they said. It was written all over books, carved into dainty sculptures, shown in theaters. It was told from mouths to ears, from one village to the next one, spreading so fast like a virus outbreak. This romantic love now has an All-In-One function, a one stop shopping for Love + Marriage + Sex. The person we shall marry is the person we love, a friend, a care-taker, a mother or father to our child. The romantic love is not rational, she is chaotic but she is natural. We know her not only through leather bound books or copies of Shakespeare’s plays, even in the pop culture we might stumble upon the essence of romantics. In the 90's with boyband culture, a song from Backstreet Boys perfectly encapsulated the idea of romantic love,

“...I don’t care who you are / Where you from / What you did / As long as you love me…”

The attraction in romantic love is so abstract, so vague, hard to explain and put into words. Important keys in romantic relationship are exclusivity, perpetuity and interdependence. The concept is, that there is someone out there who is 100% right for us, who will accept us for who we are.
The reality though isn’t as pretty as Disney movies. The “perfect love” is 7000 miles away from us, he is across the ocean, he has a mole on his face, or even worse: he has a girlfriend.
We then ask ourselves, does this love thing really exist? Where can I find it?

Slowly we noticed yet another changes in our lives and society, it’s everywhere, from the technology to our ideology. All these new we call “modern”, or the modern society.
With the industrial revolution that first started in England and France and now almost the entire surface of the earth people are urged to move to cities, in pursuit of better living, like such thing as The American Dreams. Another character of modernization is mobilization, rationalization, division of work, individualization, globalization and growth of information, technology and capitalism. 
What follows after mass production is mass consumption.
Love, now is also a commodity, love is also being consumed.
After all, since the beginning of time love has always been inherited an economic value, but today the play between Love and Capital is getting even more complicated. Eva Illouz coined the term “Consuming Romantic” for this phenomenon.
She mentioned cars have quite a big role in this consuming romantics. Cars move people, cars mobilize. Love that before is a private matter, something that is shown and done inside the house. With the rise of industrialization, more and more cars are being produced and introduced to our everyday lives. Cars take lovers to the cinema, to go dancing, to fancy restaurants. Mobility enable the bloom of tourism and other leisure and recreation industries, something that is now considered as base of social construction of the modern love relationships. Leisure activities is where love meets consumption. Love today is expressed through dates, going to cinemas or romantic getaway to Bali.

Different from the past, people in the industrialized countries, or the the Periphery and Semi-Periphery according to Wallerstein’s World System Analysis, are now able to live better, to be able to afford their basic needs and granted the opportunity to reach for the higher needs. With the shift from Fordism to Post-Fordism, people are able to work less, given more free times. This allows Selbstverwirklichung, self-actualization and building a more extraordinaire biography than it was possible in the past. Other than that today we are given abundant amount of products to choose from. We buy water with nice packaging (cough Fiji Water cough) and stuffs we don’t even need because of their shiny pictures in magazines or ads on TV. The key is to trick people into buying the idea that is shown in pictures through exchange between money and goods. Romantic love is often used in the packaging and advertisement to sell products. Romantic love is often idealized as happiness, as something beautiful.
In today’s modern world consuming stands in the middle. Consumers also can dictate what is to be produced. People consume things not only to cover their basic needs, but people also consume to define themselves, as a mode of self-presentation. I buy fair handle organic coffee because I care about others wellbeings and to prove that I am a better humanbeing than you. Consuming is now an act of building and showing your identities and so much more. Consuming is an act of showing affection. Isn’t that the new romantics to spend monthly paycheck to splurge on someone who gave their heart to us?
After all, how could I let the people at the bar know that I am interested in them if not through the act of buying them a fancy drink?
Gifts are being exchanged, on Valentine’s day, anniversaries, or even with no reason at all. Love is materialized, if you like it then you should have put a ring on it. Rings, Roses and Teddy bears are now marketed as something romantics.
The original idea of romantic love that we knew since the 18th centuries is now labelled as the new romantics, Love 2.0: it comes with nice packaging and a price tag.

Society and its components change constantly. It is hard to keep track of all the things that are happening and it’s hard to label or name the society we are in, not only because of the constant change but also because they way we view the world may differ from other people. Zygmunt Bauman propose that we are living in the Postmodern  or what he called as “ Liquid Modernity”, a step further from the modern society.
Today we still crave the idea of romantic love. The idea is very good, but perhaps too good to be true. Maybe love is just an advertisement, a propaganda or an utopia.
Maybe and just maybe, if I buy that toothpaste my teeth will turn sparkling white, so bright my prince will be able to find me! I shall be happy then.

But in reality love is hard to find  and most of us just give up the idea of it. After all, in the present, it is me and myself that is all that matters.

But sometimes there are lonely days, maybe when it rains, maybe on the walk home from work, maybe at the park during afternoon jogging session, or when a certain song being played on the radio, maybe in the shower or in the depth of a sleepless night.

We give love another chance, but this time with caution and a little hesitation.

In 2003 Zygmunt Bauman published his book, Liquid Love, and even after 12 years it still is relevant. Today with the ever increasing amount of serial monogamy and where “Dating Culture” is a thing people talk and write about, we still eager to believe of a thing called love but also clever enough to handle it with more or less rationality.
In the time of self-actualization, we put ourselves first, before anything else. We need our free times, we need space. So even when someone special come along, we are still used to that disposition. On one hand we want a significant other, on the other we want to collect experiences and live to the fullest. To be trap between security and freedom is then the underlying consequence.
We find ourselves in a relationship with someone yet invest minimal effort, because only so will we be able to avoid the pain when it eventually comes to an end, and only so we are able to move on.
Now “love” or romantic relationship is being consumed. To be with other people, to collect number of partners and experiences −that is ironically the complete opposite of the romantic love that values the quality of relationships.

In the Postmodern, like Bauman said, everything is liquid. The unity of love, marriage and sex in the old romantics has vanished. To sleep with someone doesn’t mean to love that person, or to have desire to live with them forever; One Night Stands and Friends With Benefits is now normalized. Bauman’s Liquid Love is fragile, filled with anxiety, afraid of commitments, weights and the future.
Capitalism, Consumption, Individualization or as a whole: postmodernization is affecting human relationships, love, affection and leading us to an even more depressing state of being.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this, it's fascinating, but also rings with truth