I suppose the expected thing for me to say about Valentine's Day, given my often publicly-expressed attitude towards Christmas, is that it is a massive scam invented solely for the benefit of the perhaps singularly exploitative and cheapening greeting cards industry, the frustrations of the over-inflated expectations it relies upon for its success illustrative of the way the hollowed-out moral existence of capitalism breeds wants it cannot and indeed must not satisfy. It's the perfect chocolate laxative, really. And of course that should be said, because it's true. But it doesn't have to only be that way. For all that the personal is political, it's also personal, and has to be, for the political to be worth anything at all. It has a kind of autonomy, an ability to partly transcend, to subvert, the circumstances it finds itself in, the limits of that power then marking out the significance of the political. For all, then, that Valentine's Day is part and parcel of late capitalist modernity, even in its debased form it reminds, half-askew I suppose, of the value of that particular kind of intimacy.
Appropriately enough, then, I saw two very Valentine's Day-ish films this week, Once and Juno, both of which are really very good. Neither are particularly substantial, but that's the joy of them: light-hearted, knowing that the heavy hand of history isn't necessarily what you want in films, respectively, about a busker sorting his life out and making a record, and a teenager in contemporary suburban America getting pregnant and deciding to give the baby up for adoption. Juno is mainstream American indie done perfectly: a too-articulate-to-be-real, vaguely alienated teenager learns some appropriate life lessons through never-too-traumatic misfortune, and is consequently reconciled with the world, which carries on much as it did before, but witty and endearing, even cheering, with it. The same plot could have given you a quite different film: even if all the major plots events remained the same, the confrontations with authority, the compromises that that requires, the way they end up shaping a life, could have been used to make it really quite political, even didactic. But it's not like that, and it has something worth having that would have been lost if it had been like that.
Once is much the same. Again, there's scope for the politicisation of what is basically a will-they-won't-they love story: half of the couple in question is a Czech immigrant to Ireland, cheap, globalised labour, and there appear to be unarticulated sacrifices she has made in order to grasp the opportunities EU expansion has given her. Although its tenderness isn't in the gradual softening of an over-confident front in the way that Juno's is, but rather in an already-learnt sense of what can and cannot be said - perhaps the best moment in the film is when she, I think, says 'I love you' in Czech, knowing he can't understand - similarly, making the story about politics would have, I think, destroyed that tenderness: it would have been bitter-sweet for all the wrong reasons. Of course, that itself is a kind of political lesson. Politics is not the only arena in which difficult choices have to be made, and politics needs to understand that. Living a life is in a certain sense about making accommodations with the world as it is, with other people's choices. Not only is the personal political, but the political is personal.