Say You Care
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Is the ceremony of the greeting card wholly shallow?
Why do people buy cards? It's not because they want to say how they feel. People buy cards because they can't say what they feel or are afraid to. And we provide the service that lets them off the hook." So says Tom Hansen, the greeting card-hack in the movie 500 Days of Summer, as he tears apart the whole enterprise and quits his job.
Many people would agree that store-bought, mass-made greeting cards are sentimental, empty things, and electronic cards only compound the crime, by being free and involving even less effort.
They have their own little vocabulary, "You are special" and "what you mean to me", tend to feature glistening roses and sunsets or teddy bears and cutesy fonts. They are a safe, mostly childish world, far away from the knotty, singular feelings that mark real relationships . As Margaret Atwood wrote in her poem Variations on the Word Love: "This is a word we use to plug/ holes with. It's the right size for those warm/ blanks in speech, for those red heart-/shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing/ like real hearts. Add lace/and you can sell it..."
According to a Hallmark editor, greeting cards trade in "the universal specific", where everyone thinks "this was made for me". In fact, a company like Some E-Cards (someecards.com) has been super-successful by mocking its own conventions — the tagline is "when you care enough to hit send". They have snarky cards to undercut every occasion ("Jesus Christ, not Christmas again" "Just wanted to spread hope, peace, joy and other marketing buzzwords").
And yet, greeting cards seem to go on, maybe because they can simultaneously appear off-hand and well-meaning. The annual holiday card is a way to remain loosely linked to people you sort of like, but might not be able to sustain a long conversation with — extended family, useful acquaintances. (There's a lovely Carol Shields short story called Others about a couple who gets Christmas cards from another couple they fleetingly met while on holiday, and how, over the course of a 25-year marriage, the husband and wife begin to read deep hidden meanings in these short messages — investing them with their own fantasies and regrets.)
- Love and thereabouts
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