Often when some horrendous thing happens, when someone is killed in an auto accident or yet another mass shooting occurs, people are moved to bring flowers and candles and teddy bears and letters to a makeshift memorial. Such heartfelt displays of sympathy and remembrance are among the most natural of human impulses. But these spontaneous on-site memorials rarely, if ever, become permanent.
Often they have sprung up on busy thoroughfares. Permanent memorials, like cemeteries and monuments, are always well planned and tastefully done out of respect to those being remembered and to everyone else.
Love locks, which are padlocks locked to bridge handrails, are intended as an expression or a commemoration of love. But what do padlocks on bridges have to do with love?
And should these locks en masse be granted the status of a long-term memorial? Or should tagging a bridge with a padlock be accorded any more gravitas than a person painting or carving “Dick loves Jane” on the trunk of some hapless tree? While the love in the heart of such a person might be just as sincere, that person’s carving or painting, that person’s defacing of that tree, is normally considered to be a form of vandalism or graffiti. Without the “love” connection, rusting padlocks cluttering the rails of any bridge would certainly be considered an eyesore and even litter. Cities would never allow slews of padlocks to deface their bridges.
While some claim that love locks are a tradition dating back centuries, the truth is that the modern love lock phenomenon began in the year 2006, when Italian author and film script writer Federico Moccia published a romance novel entitled “Ho Voglia di Te” (I Want You). The fictional lovers in this novel tag an ancient bridge in Rome with their padlock, then toss the key into the Tiber. This storybook gesture has apparently struck a chord with many people, because ever since, they have tagged bridges around the world with millions of real padlocks.
The bridges singled out for love locks are typically nice old bridges in picturesque locations. Things start with a few people locking their padlocks on the rails of such a bridge, then other people do likewise, and before long the number of locks has grown to close to a thousand, as is the current case with the Hague footbridge. If the locks are allowed to continue to accumulate, their number can grow to many, many thousands, or as many locks as the bridge can hold, as is the case with some bridges in Paris — where that city is now striving to remove the locks. Other cities around the world are taking similar actions.
The sum of love locks is clearly more than its parts. While each lock may be someone’s heartfelt token of affection, the aggregate of those locks is a mindlessly trashed bridge. Just as all forms of expression — be they artistic expression or just emotional outbursts — are not equal, all forms of expression do not deserve the same respect, and arguably those that deserve the least respect are those that do not respect their own surroundings nor their audience. Love has been celebrated throughout human history in art and song and literature, and it has also been debased throughout by pornographic art and lewd songs and indecent literature.
While the intent of the love locksters may not be negative, the practice of tagging bridges with their padlocks certainly cannot be claimed to be the best, or even the least obnoxious, expression of love. Even though tagging bridges with padlocks is apparently a popular pastime for many people, the rest of us turning a blind eye to the visual blight by giving the love lock fad a free pass because of its “love” connection is a matter of succumbing to emotional blackmail.