Published on February 14, 2017.
Last week the largest fast-food chain in the country “broke the internet”—as people have learned to say these days, with enthusiastic and forgivable exaggeration. Jollibee released three television commercials with compelling storylines, all variations-with-a-twist on a theme of love, and Filipinos had a collective sob. I liked the ads; I think they have the potential to teach us something we often forget about love’s true and varied nature. They also make me, a political journalist, realize that Jollibee has the unusual opportunity to remind us about yet another kind of love—but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Make that “stories.”
The three commercials are part of a continuing series of narratives each “inspired by a true story.”
“Crush” is set in school, some time in the late 1970s, and follows a boy’s attempt to court the girl of his dreams by posting (anachronistic Post-It) notes on her favorite Jollibee snack. He is rebuffed by circumstance. Fast forward to the present, and the boy and girl, now grandparents, are at a school homecoming. And Grandpa is still writing Post-Its.
“Date” plays on the idea of romance: a date for two, an exclusive room, the date’s favorite food, crushed petals on the floor. The boy sees to every detail. The twist is introduced through the deus ex machina of the iPad: His father from his hospital bed has recorded a video giving detailed instructions on what to do, before he passed away; the date is with the boy’s mother.
These are well-made commercials; I can quibble about certain aspects of the storytelling, but there is no question that they made a powerful impression. They were, of course, timed for the Valentine mini-season.
“Vow” caused the most commotion online and on social media, because the twist is the one most people can relate to, especially those still in school or newly entered in the work force. The boy and girl who meet cute do not end up together; at the wedding, the boy is best man, not groom. Cue: collective swooning.
But I think “Vow” is an excellent illustration of one kind of love: friendship, what the Greeks called philia. C.S. Lewis, in “The Four Loves,” wrote: “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of
life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” It has been almost 60 years since that passage was written; is friendship still something we ignore?
And “Date,” that parable of the good son, illustrates what Lewis calls “the humblest and most diffused of loves,” affection. Lewis writes: “The Greeks called this love storge (two syllables and the g is ‘hard’). I shall here call it simply
Affection. My Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring;’ but also of offspring to parents.”
That leaves “Crush” as in fact the only one centered on the notion of romance, the erotic kind of love. “By Eros I mean of course that state which we call ‘being in love’; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are ‘in’.
Incidentally, Lewis is nothing if not sensible about the increasingly hyperbolic language of conversation: “Nearly all speakers, however pedantic or however pious, talk every day about ‘loving’ a food, a game, or a pursuit. And in fact there is a continuity between our elementary likings for things and our loves for people. Since ‘the highest does not stand without the lowest’ we had better begin at the bottom, with mere likings; and since to ‘like’ anything means to take some sort of pleasure in it, we must begin with pleasure.”
But what of the fourth love? Lewis gives us the name: charity or agape. Love of something greater than we are. We don’t have to draw our example from religion. Wouldn’t it be neat if Jollibee aired an ad celebrating love of country? That would be something to look forward to.