- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

The Valentine's Day news of note came from health writer Jane E. Brody, who explained why chocolate "especially expensive dark chocolate" is practically health food. It seems that chocolate remember, "especially expensive dark chocolate" is brimming with anti-oxidants called flavenoids that help fight "bad" cholesterol and make blood platelets less sticky, thus "diminishing the risk of artery-clogging clots." This eliminates some of the emotional complications of the old struggle. Whatever chocolate has in common with broccoli won't take the fun out of boxes of bon bons, but it's bound to reduce the existential tug between our better and lesser natures over that one last truffle.

If chocolate has lost some of its complexity, what of love? Cupid has a new look these days, having traded in the arrows, paper doilies and red tissue paper for something less angelic and more Britney snakes, belly buttons and low-rider jeans on auto-slither. While the medical community withholds comment, what's remarkable about Britney Spears as love goddess (or goddess-ette) is the veritable Good Housekeeping seal of approval she bears as the modern-day patron saint of schoolgirl crushes and puppy love. Not only does she lead the pop pack, but her face now joins Mickey, Minnie and Scooby Doo in boxed valentines for the lunchbox set.

The branding of Britney may be an old story, but it definitely has legs almost literally. Every week I watch a cluster of quietly dressed mothers watching a class full of gyrating young daughters finish up a modern dance class that lacks only an MTV logo or bartop and tips to fulfill the dancers' fresh promise. What could these matrons be thinking as they watch their bumping and grinding preteens leapfrog the lessons of life and love for a crash course in lust? Talk about emotional complexity.

The question is, do any current cultural expressions of love have more layers than a one-track pop tart? So-called romantic comedies starring the plentiful blond layers of Meg Ryan aren't the answer. What else is out there? A recent review of Linkin Park, a "rap-rock" group that first caught my eye last year as a favorite of the Santee High School shooter, conveys a sense of the depth (depths) to be found in the anti-pop-tart scene: "Chester Bennington, the singer," opined the New York Times, "is a tuneful screamer with a lip ring; he seems incapable of communicating anything less (or more) than total anguish."

Who, as the songwriter wrote, could ask for anything more? But there is more: "As he howled about 'the sound of your voice, painted on my memories,' he bent over at the waist sometimes punching himself in the head for added effect." Remember what they say about spilt milk. That is, don't even think about what Shakespeare, Tschaikovsky or Lorenz Hart might have achieved with that "added effect." Too depressing.

Then again, it may be that depression is the key to contemporary adult sentiment. The truly recherche thing to do these days to mark Valentine's Day, that poor little holiday of Hallmark, hearts and flowers, is to attend a "V-Day" performance of what's unfortunately known as "The Vagina Monologues," a celebrity-loaded off-Broadway hit dedicated to visions of peerless female anatomy and loveless male brutality. You can see one of a whopping 800 productions of the show in the coming months just about anywhere in the world (it's playing Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Feb. 15) thanks to the crusading efforts of the play's author, arch-feminist Eve Ensler. There you will learn just how lowdown the male animal is.

"The underlying belief that men are to blame for the world's ills and that only women, united in global sisterhood, can cure them informs much of her activism," the New York Times Sunday Magazine recently wrote of Ms. Ensler. Does this belief inform her activism or her fantasy? No matter. For Ms. Ensler who, through her "V-Day" foundation, plans to end violence against women by 2005 (no word on when she might end terrorism against nations, road rage or graffiti) the oppression of women, or just the thought of it, is her precious muse. The liberation of Afghanistan's women (also men and children) by strapping, young American men with buzz cuts, for example, doesn't appear to have jarred her placid flow of brain waves. The "V-Day" campaign goes on with its new slogan, "Afghanistan Is Everywhere," while "[Miss] Ensler herself frequently draws parallels between women terrorized by the Taliban and American housewives beaten to death in their own homes."

Frequently, huh? That's emotionally complex, all right, but not what I had in mind. Meanwhile, pity any Hallmark card-writer ever assigned to wedge "Afghanistan Is Everywhere" into light verse. (What rhymes with "burqua"?) Next Valentine's Day, forget about love and send chocolate. At least it's healthful.

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