Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Valentine's Day Massacring

The Council of Mallorca has been undertaking its version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. No submachine guns have been involved, only the small fire of a campaign aimed at "dismantling" Saint Valentine, disassembling the old fellow, taking him apart and leaving him divorced of romantic love.

Saint Valentine himself may or may not have been physically disassembled when it came to the act that led to his martyring. One reason for such uncertainty is that there were various Valentines who may have been the saint. The chances are that he was combi-Valentine, made up of components, and moulded into saintliness with legend fully attached. According to the inexact history books, he copped for it in 275 when in Rome. And when in Rome in those days, it wasn't a wise thing to be going around being a Christian. If 275 was the date of his untimely end, then at least he wasn't a victim of Diocletian, who pushed martyrdom to unprecedented levels.

Valentine supposedly got into trouble for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. Not each other, you understand, though this might be taken as something of a theme for the Council's massacring. His legendary association with weddings was to come to the aid, several centuries later, of Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1382, Chaucer scribed Parlement of Foules, which wasn't a parliament of fools but one of birds. On Saint Valentine's Day, according to Chaucer, every bird went to choose a mate, and his work was written to mark the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.

One of his lesser known works, it was to have a profound influence, as it popularised the concept of romantic love. Without Chaucer, it is unlikely that we would have Valentine cards, Valentine candlelit dinners, Valentine city-breaks for lovers or any of the contemporary manifestations of the saint. Indeed, had it not been for Chaucer, I wouldn't be writing this and the Council of Mallorca wouldn't be engaged in its disassembling.

It wasn't as though Chaucer invented romantic love within a courtly setting. Other mediaevalists had done likewise, none more so than Andreas Capellanus with De Amore, which has come to be known as The Art of Courtly Love in English. But it was a combination of this early literary tradition and Chaucer that propelled not only Valentine's Day along its path to eventual full-blown commercialism but also inspired the dominant romanticism of Spain's literature. Despite Cervantes' lampooning of this chivalrous love, the influence remained and did so to an extent that society - part of it anyway - reflected the unreal world of literature more than literature did society.

What this bred (so to speak) was a much broader society based on what the Council of Mallorca now wishes to dismantle. This is the ubiquitous message of romantic love in which love is presented as a utopian state and that love is worth anything that it might take in order to achieve it. The mediaevalists' portrayal of romantic or courtly love placed enormous emphasis on the lengths that had to be gone to, and a current-day view suggests that this persists in creating dangerous situations that foster jealousy, control, possession. dependence and ultimately mistreatment.

Nina Parrón, the councillor for equality, believes that Valentine's Day is a celebration of "unbalanced relationships" in which the "myth" of romantic love dominates and limits love to a single way of wanting. It is this myth that the Council wishes to demolish in promoting "respect-based and equal" relationships. Furthermore, it is couching this against the background of the campaign against gender violence. Valentine's Day reinforces the presentation of a love that is not real and so leads to unequal relationships, in which violence may exist.

In addition, this leads to a stereotyping of relationships that exclude alternative ones - lesbian and gay. All of which has prompted the less than left-wing Balearic Family Forum to denounce what it considers to be the demonisation of love by the Council, which is doing so using public money. The forum argues that the Council is seeking to impose gender ideology in a totalitarian manner. "To try to say that romantic love is the same as imposition, disrespect, submission and dependence is a crude means of imposing gender ideology."

The Council's president, Miquel Ensenyat, accepts that some controversy has been aroused. But controversy is useful in order to engender debate. If the campaign makes people asks questions, then good, and he has placed it in the context of the "serious problem of gender-based deaths".

So, will people today be thinking deeply of the controversy as they head off for their Valentine's meals? What will they believe that the cards they receive really represent? Will they side with the Council's view or the family forum's view? What do you think?

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