Monday, August 15, 2011

Let Hallmark Express Your Innermost Thoughts

I never understood why so many people want to buy cards that have messages already written in them.

I know I'm in the small minority on this matter thanks to the miracle of revealed preference. Go to virtually any card section, and you'll find rows and rows of pre-written cards for all sorts of occasions. The section for blank cards tends to be small, and verging on nonexistent if you're in a cheap place. It's safe to assume that the newsagents and supermarkets know their customers pretty well, and that the distribution of cards on shelves roughly matches the distribution in demand.

I understand that, human nature being what it is, sometimes people really don't know exactly how to express their thoughts, and only 'get it' when they read what someone else has written.

By why are the messages in cards so chronically awful? Does anyone read the boilerplate tripe like "wishing you every happiness on your special day" and think "Yes, YES! That's what I've been trying to say all these years!". Look, If they were printing Valentine's day cards with Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 or condolence cards with Catullus 101, I could understand. Hell, I might even buy one. But no, it's always the most jejune, hackneyed prose, trite to the point of being sickening.

I have a few theories. The most charitable is that card writers know that the average person is deathly afraid of a blank page. The messages are rarely long enough to make up the whole card, so it's assumed that you have to write more. Maybe they're just meant to get your thoughts flowing. But if so, it leaves a page looking tacky and broken up.

Less charitably, I wonder whether people aren't really interested in the message in the card, and just want a low-cost symbolic way to 'show they care' (*retch*). The message in this case means they have to write less, although this would suggest you should get longer messages. Or we just live in age age where bogus sentimentality is the norm, and people don't much appreciate the difference between good and bad messages.

There was however one occasion in which I valued message cards. That was when my brother and I had the tradition of sending each other birthday cards with some other message inside (Happy Bat Mizvah! Congratulations on your Baby!), and the card itself being filled with ribald abuse.

If it turns out that this practice is more widespread than I thought, and sufficient to explain the demand for messages cards, I take back all my grousing on the subject.

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