This is the first in a series of articles called An Absurd Guide to Getting Your Heart Broken. You can read the second here.
I hated The Notebook. Few times have I ever felt such a strong desire to walk out of a movie theater. Unfortunately, when I went to see it, I was with friends and the girls they (and I) were interested in. I was stuck. I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep. I laughed at all the wrong moments and received multiple dirty looks. It was traumatic. It was torture. It was like being stuck at the church your fundamentalist uncle belongs to.
I don’t mind romantic films as a genre. Some movies I’ve even enjoyed: Ten Things I Hate about You, Casablanca and Pride and Prejudice come to mind. I’m not a cold heartless bastard, but forced sentimentality has always felt like a personal affront. Call me a romantic doubter or an acolyte of Aphrodite, waging holy war on the heretics of love! I like my art to maintain the illusion of authenticity.
We commonly think of polytheism as a thing of the past, of the days when people believed in gods, who warred, tricked, rewarded, fooled around with and impregnated mortals, or of the exotic lands where gods have consorts, multiple arms, enjoy tobacco and hard liquor and the occasional ritualistic possession. Seldom does the modern Western subject consider his or her own polytheism. No, in the age of reason, the fewer gods one believes in the better. We’re intellectually superior to those primitive superstitions.
And yet, lesser gods still pervade our culture, shading the colors of our daily existence with their exuberance and charm. Their presence and cult worship is now so well hidden that one could mistakenly believe it native to the realm of rationality. The cleverest gods don’t go begging for us to come back to them. They simply change their name, prayers and associated iconography. There is no cultural shift a good rebranding can’t overcome.
Queen of all these lesser gods is Aphrodite: the Greek goddess of love. Thousands of years later and her appeal hasn’t faded. She is everywhere: on billboards, on magazine layouts, on runways, on the New York Times bestseller list, on the silver screen and on dimly-lit street corners. In her contemporary twin forms as the Aphrodite of True Love and the Aphrodite of Sexual Liberation, she is the object of devotion and adoration of millions of hormone-addled youths across the globe, her main temple of worship transplanted from her mythical birthplace at Paphos on the Cyprian coast to Hollywood Boulevard.
There are other gods, who have made their home in the hills of Los Angeles: Ares has his Die Hard’s and Rambo’s, Dionysius his Animal House and The Hangover’s and Athena her A Beautiful Mind, Pursuit of Happyness and Shawshenk Redemption. But in the pantheon of contemporary gods, no one else promises so much for so little. Aphrodite reigns above them all.
We’ve gone from consulting a priestess to consulting Cosmopolitan, self-help guides and Yahoo Answers!. When a Catholic prays to the Virgin Mary, they light a candle. When a Muslim prays to Allah, they face East. When a romantic is feeling inspired or lonely, they make popcorn and scan through stacks of DVDs or browse Netflix. Then they turn off the lights and piously watch as the divinity appears before them, imparting her wisdom, asserting her power and bathing them in her warm embrace. In a fit of passionate devotion, they may laugh, cry, jump for joy or even shout out, “I believe in you, oh goddess, my queen and one joy, my eternal, faithful and beautiful companion, True Love! Illuminate my path, oh goddess, for I am ready! Give me peace and strength and swiftly bring hither The One you’ve chosen for me.”
We know she is a fickle goddess, and nonetheless through theatrical ritualistic repetition we attempt to summon her to our aid. We watch the same movie or listen to the same song over and over again for weeks when we’re particularly desperate. For she only has to prove her existence once. Only once and then we’ll believe.
The modern man and woman are sensible creatures. Faith is limited to what we can see and touch ourselves. But what happens when you don’t see the things you want? You ask Hollywood to make them for you, of course! They’re not superstitions or religious creeds if your desire to believe is great enough and if mainstream society is willing to indulge these urges. Then it’s just human nature.
“I believe, oh goddess, I believe…”