by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Is love the last social taboo?
Looking at our popular television shows, you would think our society revels in failure. People are always being voted off the island or thrown out of the group house or rejected by an Italian price or insulted by a celebrity chef or fashion designer. Then there are the people who feed on human misery, like sob-sister deluxe Oprah Winfrey and her evil spawn, Dr. Phil.
And we have multiple magazines and tabloids doing nothing but
chronicling the mistakes and excesses of our celebrities
When I wonder why so many people enjoy watching other people fall on their faces, I think that maybe, just maybe, it's because it fills some kind of vacuum left by our taboo on love and happiness.
By love I don't mean movie -star love, which is often a toxic cross of lust and the need for publicity. I mean regular, every day, old-fashioned heterosexual and homosexual marriage and family love.
Why would there a general prohibition on talking about love? Maybe love and happiness are considered boring - no tension, no drama, we know how it's going to come out. Lightweight, empty-headed, chick-lit compared to Russian tragedy. After all, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," is how Tolstoy opened "Anna Karenina."
Maybe we don't want to look shallow. We don't want to look smug. And we certainly don't want to incite envy and resentment.
Film director Peter Bogdanovich tells about the time in 1971 when he was in love with his leading lady, the young and gorgeous Cybill Shepherd. He went around telling everyone - including the newspapers - how happy he was.
Then he got a phone call from his friend, Cary Grant. "Don't tell people that you're happy and in love," Grant warned him. "Because they're not."
Grant may have had a point, but my favorite page in my local Saturday paper is the one carrying wedding announcements. The pictures of the younger folks getting married with stars in their eyes are fine, but I enjoy best the pictures of couples celebrating 50 or 60 years of marriage.
I want to interview them all. I want to sit down and ask personal questions about how they pulled it off - 50 years with the same person! How did they meet? What were the bad times like? Why did they stick it out? How do they deal with the terrifying fear of losing their partner? What can they teach us? What can we learn?
Maybe it's superstition that keeps us from talking about our own personal happiness. My parents believed in a custom brought over by my grandparents from the old country. It's called kine hora, and it warns that when you describe something as good - "Oh, what a pretty baby!" - you can attract the evil eye.
Maybe we think love and happiness can't exist on a personal level when the world is going to hell?
How can we talk about love when Americans and Iraqis are exposed to violence and death every day? When genocide is an on-going reality in Darfur? When our country is torturing people? When people are hungry and living out on the street?
Or how can we be anything but cynical about love when our culture makes it appear to be about a glittering diamond necklace or an expensive car with a fancy red bow on the top?
Or how can we talk about love and happiness without seeming insensitive when so many people are old, alone, lonely and afraid?
Or how can we talk about love when our government's values are so misguided that our president, vice president and Congress think only of money, macho and military might while they protect even the child molesters among them?
Or how can we talk about love when so many are being persecuted for their gender or religion?
The truth is, the world is always going to hell. It's never going to be without hatred, wars, greed and lust. So why wait to openly celebrate love?
In his 2003 film "Love, Actually" - which has become the "It's a Wonderful Life" for our century - writer and director Richard Curtis put it this way:
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
Our government may be trapped in a pale cage of crazy, and the world may be filled with anger, pain, despair and rage.
But as we head into the holiday season, most of the people I know are into love, actually.
There's a special holiday sale on Joyce Marcel's new collection of columns, "A Thousand Words or Less." Buy one and get one at half price to give as a gift. The book is available through joycemarcel.com.