Buying Up Love – Commodities and Romanticisation

In the theme of Commodities and Romanticisation, the most important thing to remember is thus:

The Romanticisation of Commodities + The Commodification of Romance = The Intensification of Emotion 

We live in a society which strongly promotes both of these aspects in our everyday life an consumer habits. Love has become something which is used to make us buy, to make us want, and has become highly publicised rather than intimate an private – although to many of us it still feels to be a highly private affair.

As a concept, love is highly subject to contextual feeling and situation. Historically love was a fanciful notion, not tied into relationships or marriage in particular, and strongly associated with women and the court. Here the early ideas of femininity and romance were born, and consequentially tied into ideas of love and romance. To be feminine invites romantic attention, to be romantic is perceived to be an act in a feminine light. Love became expressive, evocative, sensual, and a highly social construct at the same time.

Language is highly important to how we regard and understand love. Words can be loaded with feeling. Words like ‘adore’ and ‘beautiful’ are both highly reminiscent of love and romance, as well as having feminine associations. Language around love gives context, and as discussed, love is highly contextual. Love does not simply exist in a spectrum that is confined to the heterosexual, romantic sphere.

There are many types of love which all hold equal validity – because the context is that which defines love, not whether it is romantic or heteronormative. What does exist, however, is a universal feeling of love. We know what it feels to love and be loved in a variety of ways. The love between and parent and child is different to that of an owner and pet, and again to that of a couple. Yet all of these contexts share similar feelings of love, of deep down security and happiness within one’s self. However it is important to remember that love can also be destructive or negative – obsessive love, jealous love and overprotective love can all still have feelings of validity in terms of how one party feels (positively), but these are not forms of love that promote the inherent goodness of the feeling.

What this then leads on to is how love is felt in institutions, cultures and social contexts. Love as an institution can be felt in things like religion and places of worship – the love of the deity surrounds you in the place of worship, it is a place to embody feelings of safety, security, and feeling loved. Similarly places of romantic renown, such as Paris, Verona, New York, all inspire certain feelings within us, even without us actively seeking them out or feeling them to the extent that say, a honeymoon couple might. Yet the key thing to bear in mind is that these are ultimately cities, places which have no emotions or auras of their own, but yet at the same time embody these romantic notions of love and romanticism. Again, the evidence shows that love can be felt wherever a person is, it is all relevant to the context in which it is felt as to how it is defined.

In understanding love as a form of capital, we need to move away from the ideas of how love feels and is felt. There is a relationship between love and capital, but we need to bear in mind that love is not a tool that is used to manipulate us, nor is it a utopian concept that can solve all problems. Love is not incorruptible or eternal and all about ‘The One’, but similarly it is not a design by evil corporate giants to make us want to buy things. Love is too complex to be boxed into either of these, and nor can it be defined by either of these too. It is too complex and contextual to be seen as simplified in this way. What we can understand though, is that love is a tool, used to evoke feeling within us, that is often played upon by forms of capitalism – adverts are the perfect example of this.

From understanding love as a tool of capital and a way in which we can be persuaded, structures of feeling are built. Things are shaped around these structures of feeling and what are evoked within us. Whether it is happiness, obsession, or jealous, these feelings of love can be used as forms of capital to persuade us to buy. Various technologies can be seen to be using these forms: adverts can make us want a product, to believe it will make us happy and in turn bring us a form of ‘love’ as consumers. It is here that the romanticisation of commodities and the commodification of romance start to become more obvious and more separate from love as a structure of feeling.

The Romanticisation of Commodities emphasises that commodities have developed their own auras of romance and love. When commodities are romanticised we see them as desirable, as keys to feeling love in a more everyday and self-attainable way. We start seeing associations between ourselves and the culture which buying commodities as keys of happiness promotes (celebrity culture). Here, we can see how love and consumption have become completely intertwined and inseparable. Commodities are well loved because we love them and constantly want things that give us that rush of ‘loved’ feeling.

The Commodification of Romance is more related to the ideas of how romance has now become a part of the spheres which encompass private/public/domestic life. Commodities make public life more intimate – mobile phones, social media platforms – all make things that were once deemed private affairs more public. Yet the interesting thing is while our private affairs become more public and visible, we still see them as distinctly private. It is the strange paradox of a private setting within a public sphere.

We begin to see Affective Economies emerge as a result of these ideas of love becoming public. Cultural industries begin to be seen as selling love, and we in turn are expected to love our work. The idea that the more ‘love’ we put into our economies and work lives, the better they will be. Surrounding yourselves will love however, in such public spaces like work and online spaces, commodifies romance. It becomes something we can use to make our lives better, rather than something we experience as either a consequence of feeling, or as something that we desire to enact.

What we can see though, is that commodities, romance and love are all highly intertwined, subject to context and grounded inherently in personal, emotional feeling. Understanding how all of these are used within a postmodern world highlights the difficulty in understanding and knowing what they truly mean.

KEY THEORISTS

Eva Illouz

Sara Ahmed

Adi Kuntsman

Debra Ferreday

Gregg and Seigworth

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