There are several people in the CNN newsroom and elsewhere who refuse to accept my cynical standpoint on Christmas. I have grudgingly grinned and borne it, despite the following defenses for my dislike:
But while Christmas has its plus points (family togetherness and food chief among them), I cannot fathom why anyone would choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not the cynical one here. The whole occasion is a cynically conceived and cynically executed exercise in fakery.
I was once asked to compile a PDF guide for English learners entitled “How to make the most of Valentine’s Day”. I would have gladly followed my instinct and composed a one–line wonder (“Find the nearest cave and hide in it”) but I am Scottish and I valued the dollar-per-word payment system too much.
Valentine’s Day is so grim that, last year, Hollywood executives assembled a roll-call of America’s finest acting talent (and Taylor Swift) to make a really grim film about it. The New York Post described it as “less funny or romantic than your average colonoscopy” under the headline “Valentine’s Day is a heart-shaped pox”. (Still want to watch it? Let Entertainment Weekly tell you why you shouldn’t.)
The falsity of “The Most Romantic Day of the Year” (TM) is certainly not limited to Hollywood. And it extends far beyond the commercial exploitation of retail and restaurant bosses. The poisonous tentacles of Valentine’s Day stretch out and take a stranglehold on the field of news, thanks to the odious efforts of PR practitioners worldwide.
You do get the odd gem in your inbox. On Thursday’s News Stream, we featured the Arizona State University study that concluded it was perfectly possible to fall in love with inanimate objects. The story gave our team a perfect excuse to watch this clip from 30 Rock again. And it must have offered reassurance to Erika La Tour Eiffel, the San Francisco native who, yes, married France’s most famous landmark in 2008.
[Erika then went on TV to tell Tyra Banks and her audience all about it. Apt that it should have been Tyra, a woman who has more qualities in common with Valentine’s Day than most: cold, vacuous, synthetic, taste-deficient… I could go on. I’ll resist. ]
Here’s the deal. PR “experts” hide their real agendas behind the most ludicrous story hooks imaginable. And they expect news outlets like CNN to lap these stories up and regurgitate them to an audience salivating for Valentine’s Day dross.
Let me provide a few examples of PR pitches that are doing the rounds at present. Next to each I’ve suggested how these pitches might reasonably be interpreted in a newsroom such as our own.
1. Pitch: Further to their 2004 split, should Barbie and Ken get back together? Mattel is encouraging fans to go to Barbie’s Facebook page and vote on whether the reunion should happen by Valentine’s Day.
Interpretation: Barbie has become increasingly redundant in a toy market dominated by new-fangled video games and – for the younger demographic – dolls that fart, pee and gurgle on demand. If it weren’t for Toy Story 3, nobody under the age of 18 would know who Barbie is. Help!
2. Pitch: UK retailer Debenhams unveils research proving that British men are increasingly buying their lady friends lingerie – rather than flowers – for Valentine’s Day, as it’s generally cheaper and lasts a lot longer.
Interpretation: Debenhams just so happens to be a major retailer of underwear and is not renowned as a florist. Men of Britain – get thee to Debenhams, where lingerie is, like, a TOTAL bargain. And, whatever you do, don’t go and buy flowers from Marks & Spencer next door, because they’ll only cost you a fortune and wither before your girlfriend’s weeping, mascara-stained eyes.
Interpretation: “Never Say Never”, starring Justin Bieber, opens in theaters nationwide Friday.
At last count, the Bieber “story” features in 1325 articles on a Google news search. Don’t tell me public relations forces aren’t at work here.
Seriously, PR people. We all suffer enough with our personal Valentine’s Day demons without being Bieber-bombed into the bargain. We are not on Earth to serve as your Valentine’s victims.
At News Stream, we will show our audience some love on Monday and only report what is actually newsworthy.