Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cupid, exposed

What most people do not know about Cupid is that he used to have a great P.R. guy. This of course was back in the Greek golden age, when the gods had a lot more resources to spend on things like public relations. Gods, like musicians, tend to change their names to create new personas, and at the time, Cupid was going by Eros. Aristophales, (that was Cupid’s P.R. guy), did a fantastic job with the persona of Eros. Eros was a sex symbol, more beautiful than Adonis and with more infatuated fangirls than Johnny Depp. Even the very word ‘erotic’ can find its roots in this rock star of ancient Greece. He did not cause a lot of problems, his mother, the vengeful Venus, was more into the whole ‘tormenting the mortals’ schtick. The worst thing that could happen with Eros is that he would spirit away some beautiful princess about to be sacrificed to a sea monster and treat her to a non-stop love-fest in his magnificent castle.

Unfortunately, his ‘Eros’ persona was relatively short lived, and soon the Cupid we know began to take root in the minds of mortals: A fat, cherubic little baby, floating about on wings, shooting love darts left and right, usually around Valentine’s Day. This was a common practice amongst the gods of modernity, with many of them selling out to corporations. Mercury became a flower delivery spokesperson, Apollo opened a concert hall in New York City, Mars got into the candy bar business, and even King Midas got a deal fixing mufflers and brakes. Cupid, however, became the biggest sell-out of all, becoming the corporate tool of Hallmark, selling cards to remind people that they love each other on an arbitrary day in February. 

Still, the version of Cupid we know from Hallmark, while not as flattering a portrait as the Eros of antiquity, is still a much more benign image than the real Cupid. The real Cupid resembles the winged fat baby only in passing. A closer look shows that he is indeed rather short, overweight, and bald, but not adorable by any stretch of the word. His wings are vestiges of a time in his youth when his frame was undoubtedly slimmer. He is eternally cranky. Were I a casting director, I would probably recruit Danny DeVito for the role.

 The diaper is in actuality a whitish pair of briefs, sometimes accompanied by a men’s sleeveless undershirt, (colloquially known as a ‘wife-beater’). He does indeed have a bow and arrow, but rather than the cute little plunger-like darts one sees on cartoons, his arrows are jagged, designed to inflict damage when removed. These serrated arrows are then dipped in a love-inducing venom and fired with precision towards his victims. 

This is another instance where Hallmark does a passable job cleaning up Cupid’s image. Falling in love is portrayed as some sort of pre-destined event, a fated union of two soul-mates. In reality, the Fates and Destiny herself both refuse to have anything to do with Cupid, ostensibly because of his drunken groping of Nona the spinner at a New Year’s party. Cupid himself is something of a Darwinist, which is admittedly an odd philosophy for a deity, but goes to show that religion and science can sometimes get along rather well.

One of the constraints Cupid works under is one familiar to many fans of first person video games: He only has so much ammunition. Arrows aren’t free, and so Cupid rarely fires two at the same time. Economic concerns aside, Cupid does seem to relish unrequited love. Like a frustrated housewife watching soap operas, he enjoys watching the drama of complete devotion answered with utter indifference. Still, because humans must reproduce in order to perpetuate the species, which in turn, is good for Hallmark’s bottom line, Cupid must occasionally strike two people at once with his arrows. The resulting infatuation breeds a new generation of mindless customers. This is where his Darwinism comes into play, targeting attractive people who will in turn have beautiful children and keep the species interesting for Cupid and the other gods to look at. Moral character, wisdom, intelligence, kindness, or any number of other factors are irrelevant in Cupid’s decisions. The tiny tyrant has decreed that happily ever after is only allowed to a genetically fortunate few.

Fortunately, the human race is nothing if not adaptable. In the absence of that rare form of love that includes an equality of adoration from both parties, many will settle for what they can get. Women will convince themselves that their attractive, but abusive and neglectful boyfriends are in fact simply good men encased in mystery: Mr. Darcys and Edward Cullenses just waiting to be discovered beneath the cold exterior. Men will blindly devote themselves to beautiful goddesses who would not deign a second glance to them if their money ran out. Aspirations of love erode slowly, replaced by resignation and acceptance. Miserable marriages soon follow, laced with secret resentment and a sense of disappointment that their lives did not end up the way Hallmark and Hollywood promised. 

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