Debunking Valentine's

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Debunking Valentine's


Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet."

- FROM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO & JULIET

Poor Juliet. She was probably bombarded by mixed messages from the mass media. Probably thought Romeo could "complete" her.

Probably saw "Jerry Maguire" and "Dirty Dancing" and "Titanic" - all in a row - then went to get Romeo a Valentine's Day card and selected something along the lines of this:

"One could say that we were destined to find each other."

Or this:

"I can't even imagine what my life would be like if you weren't in it."

Or this:

"I always hoped it was true - that there is someone in the world for each one of us to love."

If she had only just gotten over him, Juliet could have moved on with her life and chosen among thousands of other Romeos. But not in this society.

Not unless she were able to deconstruct some of the myths she encountered in those blockbuster films. Enrolling in Journalism 512: Sex, Love, Romance & the Media, at the University of Oregon might have helped, too.

"The commercialization of love creates in-groups and out-groups," said Debra Merskin, an associate professor in the UO's School of Journalism & Communication, and the instructor for the first-ever class of its kind at the UO. `It creates this feeling of, `I can't participate in popular culture because I don't qualify.' '

Merskin has 39 students in the class this winter term and developed the course based on the same one taught by Mary Lou Galician at Arizona State University. In fact, the UO is only the second university to offer the class in the nation, Merskin said.

"Now, when I see movies, I'm more critical," said Kristi Kepniss, a senior in the class from Clinton, N.J. "Now, when I see a stupid dating show, I see the falseness."

The commercialization of Valentine's Day perpetuates many of the myths and examples of unrealistic romantic love portrayed by the mass media, Merskin said. Thursday, Merskin had students bring in Valentine's Day cards as examples of some myths such as "love at first sight," and that there's only one true soulmate in the world for each of us.

"Some men search a lifetime and never find the love they're looking for," Merskin read from one card, as the class chuckled. "You are my one true love."

"It's sweet and it's lovely," Merskin told the class. "But talk about pressure on the other person."

Galician began teaching her class at ASU a couple of years ago and Merskin met her in New Orleans last year during one of Galician's seminars. The course uses Galician's text, "Sex, Love & Romance in the Mass Media: Analysis & Criticism of Unrealistic Portrayals & Their Influence."

Galician refers to herself as Dr. FUN! and bases the course on 12 harmful myths she says the media portray in film, television, magazines and songs. She has developed remedies for each myth and also a true/false quiz - Dr. FUN!'s Mass Media Love Quiz - so you can gauge your beliefs according to each myth.

For example, question No. 1 on the quiz - "Your perfect partner is cosmically pre-destined for you and nothing/nobody can ultimately separate you?" is based on Myth No. 1, which is the same as the question.

Merskin gave her students the quiz on the first day of class in January.

"I felt really traumatized by that," said Theresa Lin, a senior from Taiwan in Merskin's class, who answered "true" to more than half the 12 questions on the quiz. The answers to all 12 are false, including "There's such a thing as love at first sight," which Lin believed was true.

"I would like to believe that," said Lin, who's been dating someone for about three months, although she knew him before as a friend and said it is not love at first sight. …

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