Love transcends all cultures and its close relative, ‘romance’ drives multi-billion dollar industries. Even back in 2009, Valentine’s Day shoppers in the UAE spend on average about US$200 (Dh734.58) on the so-called ‘day of love’ – more than any other country in the region.
Humans tend to hold onto fixed, oversimplified ideas – and visuals – of love. We find romantic love at the heart of classic texts and fairytales; both of which are highly visualized. The heart has represented love since ancient times. It was believed to be the center of all emotions, the strongest emotion being love. Though today, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with cards, flowers and chocolates, it is the heart-shaped visual that is universally recognized.
There are a lot of visual clichés associated with love and romance, such as, red roses, drinking champagne, sharing food, hugs and kisses, exchanging presents, offering chocolate or a ring or other jewelry – well, the list goes on. All these sentiments and thereby the visual concepts are consistent across majority of countries where Getty Images licenses images. Whether it is an Indonesian couple or an African American one, the underlying concept remains the same.
Despite these clichés, we all know that’s not what the 7 billion human hearts in the world actually look like. Each is three-dimensional, asymmetrical and unique, and “love” is far more embracing than such imagery would have you believe.
Human connection is underpinned by love. It is an intimate bond between friends, family or lovers. Such a bond or connection can even be extended to animals; their connection with each other and with humans, so much so that humans often anthropomorphize animal behaviour. When we see animals snuggling each other or touching noses, we transfer our own feelings about those actions – hence the popularity of those Buzzfeed cat listicles. Our connection with pets runs so deep that they are now part of the new Valentine’s Day equation. In 2015, of the $18.9 billion that Americans will spend on Valentine’s Day, $703 million is expected to be spent on pets. Think kitty sweaters in pink, and crimson and heart-shaped boxes of doggie treats.
Clicking with technology
The Internet has enabled global visual literacy. With camera phones set to outnumber humans this year, the volume of images that are shot, edited and shared every day is of prodigious proportions. The sheer range of images available means that old clichés are being re-pictured, adding diversity, character and personality to age-old depictions.
Work, commuting, chores, finances…there are so many things getting in the way of spending time with loved ones. Technology, too, has its advantages and disadvantages. While it enables loved ones to communicate across long distances more affordably and more visually than ever before, it is also a barrier to human connection. Our lives are controlled by technology, which enables work to spill into personal time. It creates a distraction when surrounded by loved ones and it does not offer a truly authentic emotional experience. As a result, the visual representation of human connection works better when technology is not present, or, if it is, it is enabling rather than distracting.
“Selfie” is the fastest growing keyword searched on iStock by Getty Images over the last year, and technology has driven this trend towards both solo selfies and selfies with others. We all see more portraits in a day than we probably wish to. The impact of this mainly adjudicated imagery is that self-awareness is higher – not necessarily in a self-conscious, overly aware way, but learning to love what we have – imperfections et al – and celebrating that through self-love.
Diversity is rarely a subject that comes up on Valentine’s Day, but this is changing and 2015 will be a year of celebrating the diversity that is humankind, a countertrend to the volume of images that represent same-looking people. Consumers are increasingly responding to models and images that are intriguing and different. This Valentine’s Day, it’s time to kill the cliché, break stereotypes and give a new vision to what love means to us in today’s world.
While classic Valentine’s imagery is no less iconic, consider departing from tradition this Valentine’s Day and tap into visuals that express a more modern, more inclusive sentiment: