The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History


Every year, we hear too-cool cynics deride Valentine's Day as a holiday invented by greeting card companies that cynically exploit romantic love for profit.

But we say, so what? Society has been exploiting romantic love since the day it was invented. Particularly crass examples include ...

The Invention of the Diamond Ring as a Requirement for Marriage

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Imagine you're a woman, if you're not already one, and let's imagine you're out for dinner with your boyfriend at the hottest restaurant in town. Right after the meal, he steps away from the table and gets down on one knee. He pulls out a ring big enough to choke a ferret.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Hey, it's a standard jeweler's unit of measurement.

For millions of lady Americans, this is pretty close to the perfect proposal. Nothing symbolizes romantic love quite as well as the precious, everlasting diamond ring. You'd never guess that it originated from a diamond company's attempt to put a price on a woman's virginity.

Until the 1930s, there were actual laws on the books guaranteeing a woman's right to sue her fiance if he jilted her before the wedding day. The reason for these "Breach of Promise to Marry" laws was that even back in the day, most girls gave up their virginity during their engagements, and if they were dumped, their hoo-hahs were clearly damaged goods. The law sort of acted as a warning to cads considering seducing virgins and bailing before making honest women of them. And once those laws were abolished, women found themselves without financial protection from horny con men.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Is there any other kind?

Enter the diamond ring and diamond syndicate De Beers. Huge, expensive diamond rings offered women an expensive symbol that the man wasn't just proposing marriage to get his willy wet. The more expensive the ring, the more your gal's virginity was worth. Which worked out pretty well for De Beers, which went balls-out manipulating the shit out of public opinion:

"We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to ... strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring -- to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services ..."

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

We're not ad men, but we're pretty sure this translates to: "Nothing in your marriage has substance but these diamonds."

By the time De Beers was done, actresses were persuaded to wear rings in public, lecturers talked to high school girls about the importance of an expensive ring, and Japanese women abandoned ancient marriage ceremonies in favor of getting their diamond on. All of which was horrifying once we found out that a nice chunk of the labor force mining those diamonds were child slaves. And a larger chunk of diamond industry profit was supporting machete-wielding warlords.

So yeah, in conclusion, buy some sapphires. Or wedding guns. Nothing holds value like a nice gun.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Just try and fight off post-apocalyptic commie bike gangsters with some shiny stones.

But this is hardly the first time in human history that romantic love and warfare have been horribly, horribly linked. Just ask ...

Homosexual Soldiers Forced to Fight to Protect Their Lovers

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

It's a known fact that soldiers can't fight very well when they're running away in terror. A huge amount of military training and conditioning exists for the sole purpose of getting men to stand and fight when all they really want to do is run very fast in the opposite direction. That's why military leaders spend so much time worrying about esprit de corps -- "band of brothers" will fight a lot harder than a "band of guys who sort of know each other but don't really hang out that often outside of work."

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

"We tried having a poker night once, but it didn't really pan out."

Back around 380 B.C., Plato started to wonder if maybe there was an even stronger bond than brotherhood, one the generals of his day could use to create an ultimate warrior who wasn't a giant douchebag. Let's see if you can guess where Plato was going with this:

"And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves ... Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?"

A Theban general named Gorgidas thought Plato was onto something. He used the power of love to turn 150 gay couples into the deadliest orgy in all of human history. The Sacred Band of Thebes proved that people will fight like goddamn he-men to avoid sleeping alone at night.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

The Sacred Band once wiped the floor with an entire army of Spartans who had them outnumbered 3-to-1. And they did it again a second time at the battle of Leuctra, which pretty much ends the whole "Can gays fight?"debate. For 40 years, the Sacred Band of Thebes out-armied every army around, and it took no less than Alexander the Great to bring them down. All because somebody decided to exploit their love to turn them into killing machines.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Which is pretty much what happened with Alexander, too, if Oliver Stone can be trusted.

Strangers Required to Marry to Keep Up a Cover

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

How cool would it be to grow up with parents who were spies? Movies such as True Lies and Spy Kids imagine benefits galore to having secret-agent parents. You get cool gadgets, thrilling adventures, quality time with terrorist leaders, kickass nicknames -- everything a kid could want. It's enough to make your comfy suburban childhood look perilously lame.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

The only time we fought as a family was the night Dad tried PCP.

But it turns out real-life spy kids are less likely to get jet packs and more likely to end up deported with their parents. Or living the glamorous life of orphaned spy babies. Recently, 10 sleeper agents were arrested in the U.S. for being a part of a deep-cover program to spy on America. The operation was a multidecade, international insane-a-thon that assigned Russian spy couples to live in suburban America completely undercover. Sounds pretty badass, right? Sure, they were dirty commies, but you can't help but root for the plucky couple givin' democracy the old one-two.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Also, some of them were hot.

It sounds less awesome when you realize that these people weren't actually living with their secret spy soul mates. They were ordered into fake marriages by the Russian spy service. And to have hot, state-mandated spy-sex. Without the use of contraceptives.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

And quite possibly without the use of eye contact.

Which led to state-sponsored spy tykes. Mom and Dad got better cover, Mother Russia got better info and the kids ... didn't know jack shit about any of this until people started talking about throwing their parents out of the country for international secret-swapping. Hey, but it was all worth it to give their cover that extra layer of authenticity, right?

A Wife Gets Her Husband to Pay a Fake Ransom ... Over and Over

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But let's not imagine that grossly cynical exploitations of love come only from governments and giant corporations. We're just as quick to run this sort of scam on each other.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Who among you has never exchanged a blow job for a romantic comedy?

For instance, how's your relationship with your exes? Strained? Awesome? Thank your stars that you never married Josefa Vargas.

In 2001, the daughter of Josefa Sanchez Vargas was kidnapped by "strangers." Notice the quotes around that last word, and picture us making them in the air above our heads with our fingers. These strangers demanded 30,000 euros, a ransom Josefa's estranged husband Pedro paid gladly. The next year, he paid 48,000 euros just as gladly when his daughter was again abducted, because whaddya gonna do?


Not every father can throat-punch like Liam Neeson.

Still in love but no more the wiser, Pedro headed back home and trusted that his wife wouldn't up and get their daughter abducted a third time, because what the hell would be the odds of that? She didn't.

His son, Emilio, was next.

This 36,000-euro ransom was demanded by a clothing wholesaler Josefa owed money to, because apparently in Spain people are allowed to take 36,000 euros worth of attire from middlemen without paying first. Pedro coughed up the money, but it wasn't enough for Emilio to not get kidnapped a second time in 2004, after he allegedly lost a package of cocaine worth 54,000 euros. Rather than freak the hell out over yet another family kidnapping, or the fact that his son was transporting cocaine, Pedro paid the ransom and let sleeping dogs lie.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

"Psht. Fifty grand's worth? That's barely 'walking around' cocaine."

It took two more rapid-fire kidnappings for poor Pedro to wise up to the fact that normal families do not see this many kidnappings in one lifetime. After Josefa blamed an abduction of one of her children on a gypsy family, Pedro finally hired a private investigator, who confirmed what common sense would have told literally anyone but Pedro: His beloved wife was behind all of these "kidnappings" and ransom requests.

Josefa's last ransom came in September 2006. This time she persauded her son to call his dad and pretend to be under torture and threat of death, which he did. Dad paid, and minutes later Emilio was found, safe and untortured, having drinks with friends. Josefa was arrested and sentenced to 3 1/2 years for fraud, and Pedro renounced his right to reclaim back money -- because he "still had feelings" for his wife.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Now we don't feel so bad that our wives keep leaving as soon as they get naturalized.

A Woman's Reputation Ruined Because She Stood by Her Spy Boyfriend

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

James Bond movies are about cool gadgets, sexy accents, explosions and large-breasted women with ridiculous names. There's a new girl in every film, and most of them end the movie "debriefing" 007. And then ... they're gone. In the real world, the aftermath of a love affair would be pretty gut-wrenching, as evidenced by real-life Bond girl Dagmar Lahlum.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Her name translates to "Labianne Fantastic" in Bond-English.

During World War II, Dagmar Lahlum was a member of the Norwegian resistance movement, meaning she was an anti-Nazi in a Nazi-occupied country. Which was why it was weird when she hooked up with a guy she believed was an actual German Nazi, or at least a sympathizer. But he wasn't a Nazi at all -- he was British double agent Eddie Chapman, nicknamed Agent ZigZag.

Since the two lovers were on the same ideological side, you'd think they'd live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Dagmar's friends and countrymen thought her new boyfriend was a Nazi, which didn't go over too well with the whole "Nazi resistance collective." And she couldn't correct them because, you know, he was undercover. So Dagmar was universally branded a German whore and a traitor by her neighbors, and Chapman made her swear never to spill his true identity. She didn't, because she loved him too much.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

And who wouldn't love a face like ... like ... Jesus, is that a mustache, or did he spend a few hours every morning sucking on an exhaust pipe?

And then he left her.

She was tried for treason in 1947 while ZigZag was too busy making love to a string of beautiful women to come back to clear her name. Poor Dagmar lived the rest of her days as a disgraced outcast, a fate we wouldn't wish on more than, like, three Bond girls.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

A Woman Lives a Fake Marriage to Let Rock Hudson Pretend to be Straight

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

For millions of young girls raised on pop culture's abiding teat, it doesn't get much better than marrying a movie star. Who wouldn't want to be plucked from a dead-end job by someone with outlandish good looks and millions of dollars? That's pretty much the American dream, as described by Disney Channel Original Movies.

Minnesota farm girl Phyllis Gates certainly thought she had hit the dreamboat jackpot when she landed in Hollywood, got herself a secretarial job for agent Henry Willson and found herself hobnobbing with one of his clients, hunky Rock Hudson.


Those yellow letters followed him around everywhere.

In 1954, Hudson was the sexiest chunk of beefcake on the planet. He was the symbol of male sexuality for a generation of people who had literally fought Nazis. He was also a bachelor, which was pretty much enough to make any girl within earshot fall madly in love.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

He had literally every quality a man should have.

Encouraged by her boss/his agent, Hudson and Gates actually began to date. After a whirlwind, storybook romance, they married on Nov. 9, 1955. They had two children and lived happily ever after until they divorced three years later. Turns out Hudson was gayer than an Elton John/Freddie Mercury mashup, and the whole marriage had been concocted by Willson to satisfy demands from MGM that Rock end his suspiciously long bachelorhood.

And Hudson had good reason to fake-marry. This same studio had ruined the career of William Haines a few years earlier after his refusal to submit to a sham marriage (or "lavender marriage") to conceal his raging case of Gay. And that fella's name was placed in an actual Doom Book that blocked him out of work anywhere in the industry.

The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History


So Rock gained straight-man street cred and got a divorce under his belt, while Phyllis got two kids and (our office guess) less than seven orgasms. She never married again, and when she died, people speculated that she'd actually been a secret lesbian all along. That's how Hollywood works, kids. Come and get some.

Be sure to pick up our new book for your Valetine. Your reward will surely be hot monkey sex.

For more modern ideas that were here before us, check out 10 Divorce Stories Too Strange to Make Up. Or check out more experts of espionage in 5 Spies with Bigger Balls Than James Bond.

And stop by our friends at HuffPo to learn The 13 Cheesiest Lines From Romantic Comedies.

Need the tough questions about Valentine's day answered? Cracked's got your back.

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