As you probably know already, Valentine’s Day is almost here. I’ve often found that people tend to react to this immensely successful faux-romantic ‘holiday’ which has greeting card companies thanking their lucky gold lined pockets for capitalism in one of two ways. They either embrace it and go all out with celebrating it, showering their beloved with gifts and cards and other fun romantic things, or, they reject it entirely, cursing anyone who even mentions love at this time of year, shooting proverbial daggers at whoever dares to walk down the street hand in hand with a loved one. In accordance with my tendency to stay neutral with most things (I’m one of those crazy folk who thinks Marmite is just okay) I could take it or leave it, whatever my relationship status is (right now: very single… call me? Or not, whatever).
What does bother me though, is that the tendency for most things that are marketed as being romantic – particularly at this time of year – tend to be utter drivel. Romantic comedies are often neither comedic or actually romantic and, in the end, can be kind of misogynistic, while also pandering to some very annoying stereotypes about men and women. Popular romance novels as of late tend to focus on female characters who are unhealthily monopolised by their love interest and put into positions where their own agency doesn’t matter. Modern popular love songs are… Ick. All of this may just make me come across as some kind of stuck up hipster, but honestly, I’m kind of sick of being unable to find texts in the genre of romance that are actually genuinely romantic, in no way problematic or dare I say feminist? I can’t be the only one who wants to rip their face off every time the ad for this year’s wannabe Valentine’s blockbuster, Endless Love, starts playing when I listen to Spotify lately? I can’t be the only one who wishes Nicholas Sparks would just stop?! With all that in mind, if you’re anything like me and whether or not you’re loved up or single and ready to mingle, I’ve made a list of (what I think think are) inoffensive, non-pukeworthy, face-ripping off things that could possibly occupy your time this Annual Commercial Love Day. Enjoy!
A Bride’s Story – Kaoru Mori
What Amazon has to say:
Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
This may seem like somewhat of an unusual choice, given that the story takes place in what is clearly a patriarchal society and, er, dat age gap. I was definitely somewhat sceptical before I started reading it, but I’m a fan of the mangaka’s previous work, Emma (which I would also recommend if you’re ever in the mood for a manga that reads exactly like a Jane Austen novel), so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m glad I did. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. The story not only follows Amir, but also explores the lives of other new brides and their own particular circumstances. There’s a wonderful variety of female characters, strong and otherwise. Mori’s attention to detail, both artistic and historical, makes the manga both a feast for the eyes and a fascinating read. The burgeoning love between Amir and her new young husband is actually really sweet and not at all creepy, which is no mean feat (I’m unsure if that sort of thing could be pulled off if the genders were reversed). Another of Mori’s talents – which was also apparent in Emma – is her ability to evoke an atmosphere of romantic intimacy and sensuality with just a small number of panels and very few words, without ever crossing that line into vulgarity.
Parks and Recreation
In case you aren’t in the know, Parks and Recreation, follows Leslie Knope (portrayed by the lovely Amy Poehler) – a passionate public official who works for the parks department in Pawnee, Indiana – as she balances her work life hi-jinks, friendships and a blossoming political career. One of my missions in life seems to be getting more people to watch this damn fine show. Although I don’t think the latest season is as good as the previous previous ones, it’s still definitely worth a watch, if not only for the strong female cast of characters (and the fact that it happens to be funny as hell to boot.) While it isn’t solely focused on romance, it is one of the few sitcoms I can think of where the romantic elements of it are genuinely heartwarming – I actually care about whether they’re going to work out or not (shocking!). Also, there is a plethora of Valentine’s themed episodes which are all immensely enjoyable. If you’re in a position to marathon a whole lot of funny this Valentine’s Day, I urge you to take the time to marathon Pawnee’s finest.
Chances are you’ve already seen this one since it’s relatively new and nominated for a whole bunch of Oscars and what not, but I do think it’s a worthy addition to the list, especially if you’re the kind of person who falls into the anti-Valentine’s Day camp. It’s not that the movie is anti-romance, however it does deal with some emotions that you rarely see dealt with in romance movies, where romantic love and the emotions related to it are often portrayed in very straightforward, black and white terms. In Her everything is but black and white – Spike Jonze manages to explore said emotions and insecurities related to love in quite a relatable and unique way. What’s all the more striking about this is the fact that these emotions are dealt within the setting of a narrative where one of the lovers in question isn’t even human. I will admit, I had some misgivings before seeing it. The idea of a guy falling in love with a machine because he had issues with real women didn’t seem very romantic to me at all, not when we live in a culture where certain men have no qualms with falling for creepy dolls over real-life women due to what must definitely be some deep-seated misogyny and issues with real relationships. Thankfully, Thedore’s (played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix) love is a lot less creepy and far more empathetic.
Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (Hotarubi no Mori e)
If you’re in the mood for something more bittersweet and less of a time commitment this Valentine’s Day, this one’s for you! With only a 45 minute running time, Hotarubi no Mori e is a charming tale of first love, loss and mysterious forest spirits. It tells the story of a six year old girl named Hotaru, who one day – when exploring the forest near her uncle’s house where she stays every summer – meets a mysterious masked young man called Gin. It turns out Gin is a forest spirit and as such, he soon warns Hotaru not to touch him, lest he disappears forever. A friendship quickly blossoms and the movie chronicles the relationship over a time span of ten years. It’s all very enchanting and inoffensive, but I dare you not to get a little misty eyes at the end.
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Yes, that’s right, a musical recommendation! Bombay Bicycle Club are one of my favourite bands so I suppose I’m a little biased, but let’s just ignore that, shall we? They provide a definite antidote for those who are sick of the ickyness of modern popular love songs. Bombay Bicycle Club have always had a knack for writing pretty sounding love songs with a dancey edge, and their latest album is no exception. The song above, Luna, is especially lovely.