It's a PR Ploy, Stupid

Yes, Valentine's Day, which has also been celebrated in Israel in the past few years, is the brainchild of public relations and marketing firms. And like many other PR campaigns, it has caught on.

Cellular telephone companies are promising reductions for love songs with a personal dedication and romantic rings - as if this is not an oxymoron. The Hallmark channel is broadcasting films under the title "Don't forget to fall in love," and even the New Israeli Opera is holding a midnight concert tonight for lovers, with the great arias and duets being sung by soloists.

So instead of wearing white and dancing in the vineyards, people go to the shopping mall on the festival of love to buy a sweet-smelling candle in the shape of a heart. But the truth is that Tu B'Av, the Biblical love festival, was never really celebrated here, perhaps because it falls during the summer school holidays. But according to what we see on television - and most of it comes from America - Valentine's Day is something beautiful with all the red hearts and chocolates. We also want some.

As for the evening at the opera, we have learned from the movie "Pretty Woman" that it is extremely moving to watch an opera when you are in love. And to get excited - as every reality program or advertisement continues to teach us - is the most important thing now, every day, and certainly on this festive day.

In her book, "Consuming the Romantic Utopia", the anthropologist Eva Illouz showed how the romantic moments of our lives - a sunset on the beach, an intimate dinner, bestowing a bunch of flowers - stem from a world of images that emanates from television or advertisements. The book was published in 1997 in the United States, only a few years after Channel 2 began broadcasting in Israel. In the decade since, the public has been exposed to advertisements and a raft of TV series imported from America. There have been Israeli soap operas, not to mention the ones from Argentina. As a result, courting habits have been altered.

The new codes of behavior that have been imported along with new technology create a situation in which, on the one hand, marriage proposals have become scenes of mass participation that include advertisements on highway billboards, such as "Will you marry me, Neta?" On the other hand, there are people who end a romance with a hastily typed SMS message.

Marriage proposals, meanwhile, are becoming more and more bombastic. A 30-year-old PR agent from Tel Aviv, for example, received a marriage offer. She refused - not the proposal but the way it was made. She wanted her boyfriend to do it "according to the book". So he got her parents' permission, then that of her brothers, and only then hers. When he knealed down in front of her in a beautiful garden, held out a diamond ring and asked her to marry him, the whole family jumped out of the bushes and began snapping pictures. This time she was satisfied. "I didn't want something bombastic," she said, "not a banner flying behind a plane or something like that." Just something small - with a large diamond.

And proposals via banners from planes are a routine matter, it seems. A few months ago, a man invited his girlfriend to fly on a light plane in the Shefayim area. He didn't join her. During her flight, he placed on the ground a giant banner with a message asking her to marry him. He invited several dozen friends and family members to wait for her at the landing strip, and she left the plane with tears in her eyes. He then knelt down and took out a box with a diamond ring to ask her to marry him. Everyone applauded and the digital cameras popped. Now that was bombastic.

An item in the gossip column of the nrg Web site, which - like Ynet's relations site - has many reports about ways proposals are made, serves up another case. During a performance by Rita, a man in the audience asked to be allowed to go on stage and propose to his girlfriend from there. During the intermission, he spoke with the singer, who was hooked up to a microphone. She spoke with him, and the audience, including his girlfriend, heard the plan. The plan was upset but the intention was understood.

Those who really want a romantic backdrop will go as far as Switzerland to write in the snow: "Yifat, I love you. Want to marry me?" Well, it is much prettier than the Ayalon Highway.

After the marriage proposals come the stag parties, which have become compulsory, and then the wedding. That too is moving far away from the closely packed chuppah of the traditional Jewish wedding. Nowadays, in many banquet halls and gardens, the wedding canopy is set up at a distance from the rows of seats arranged like at an English garden wedding. The entourage often includes bridesmaids in matching outfits. And the groom is often decked out in an embarrassing outfit.

These emotional gestures contradict this country's traditional lack of protocol; its brusqueness and directness.

In other words, what does a sabra Israeli, who a moment before kneeling down before his bride-to-be wiped away the hummus that had dripped from the pita onto his shirt, have to do with all this? The clash between these noble gestures and this country's informal customs - the country that was built on a lack of decorum - creates a scene of ultimate kitsch.

Sigal Avin, a leading writer of Israeli soap operas, told Yedioth Ahronoth last week that she has been drawn into this way of life so much that she has forgotten it is not the way people really behave. Children who see the soap operas on the children's channels don't have the chance to forget that this is not the way life really is; they grow up with this as a norm. It finds expression, for example, in that youngsters kiss each other on the cheek when they meet, hug each other much more than was accepted in the past, and of course send love messages to each other on Valentine's Day.

Together with the false romantic chivalry, which relies on a great deal of conservatism, there is the flourishing and seemingly daring trade in sex appliances. This too, it seems, results of the influence of TV - open conversations about the use of a recommended vibrator are becoming routine and sound as if they have come right out of "Sex and the City" (a series screened a decade ago but is still alive and kicking on Channel 2).

Every young woman released form the army is likely to get handcuffs with pink fur, edible panties, and a patchouli-flavored condom. One gets the sneaking suspicion that these toys are meant to serve as archaeological items that will teach future generations about an ancient and rich romantic world with men who kneel down and women who wear diamond rings.