I’m constantly amazed by our innovation of a society. Whether we are making taco shells out of Doritos or testing out ways to use terrorist-killing drones to deliver box sets of Seinfeld to our front door, we our constantly tinkering with our world, finding ways to make it slightly better.
So why can’t someone come along and fix the greeting card industry?
Seriously, it is in desperate need of innovation.
The all-powerful greeting card lobby has done a good job convincing all of us that we need to rush out and purchase cheap paper greeting cards for a variety of holidays throughout the year. Obviously Christmas is one of the big ones, though the bread and butter of the greeting card industry has to be their birthday cards.
I recently found myself in a grocery store looking to pick up a birthday card for my father (happy birthday, dad!), who has the unfortunate luck of having a birthday so perilously close Christmas, which means that people are always going to have trouble mustering up the energy to do a big, elaborate birthday celebration with gifts one week before the big show. I spent a half hour in front of the card aisle trying to find something suitable. It was slim pickings.
Perhaps you don’t have this problem. Maybe you just phone it in and grab the first card you see. But I can’t do that. I want it to be special. I want to find a card that speaks to me. I want some facet of my personality to shine through on this little scrap of paper so that even if I forgot to sign it the person would unmistakably know it was from me. After all, isn’t that the point?
After 30 minutes of thumbing through underwhelming cards, I sighed and went with one that had a collection of cartoon pigs in vice grips on the front and a caption inside the card that said, “If you’re happy and you know it, clamp your hams.”
Not your best work, Hallmark, but I suppose that’ll do, pig. That’ll do. My dad, like so many dads, is a fan of corny jokes. So I felt going with a cheap pun at least felt true to him and to our relationship. But I’m still not entirely sold on it.
Why is this so difficult? Why aren’t these cards better?
I just feel like the options are so limited.
You have the overly sappy serious cards (you know they are serious because they are written in cursive) that have multiple paragraphs about what the receiver of the card means to the person giving it. But like a newspaper horoscope column, those cards have to be vague enough to apply to everyone, so they always end up just spouting of cliches about fathers or wives or whoever that don’t really mean anything. And let’s be honest, when any of us get one of those cards, we end up zoning out halfway through reading it, but then have to pretend like it was so moving so as not to hurt the giver’s feelings.
Then, with birthday cards in particular, you have the series of “God, you are so fucking old” cards. That’s always the joke. “Man, you are old.” “You’ll be dead soon.” “This adorable cat can’t believe how old you are, oldie.” “You should get some Depends … you know, because you are old.” The person feels old. Once you become a proper adult and your years of bouncy castles and ice cream cakes are a thing of the past, your birthday just becomes a reminder that your body is falling apart and that you aren’t as vibrant as you used to be. So why rub that in with a card, you dick? Just let the person hate him/herself in peace. After all, it’s their day.
There are also a collection of officially licensed cards that either feature a recognizable cartoon character (like the Peanuts gang or Garfield), or more recently, a musical card that plays some recognizable snippet of music, that feel like just having this familiar piece of pop culture is enough. They just stick Homer Simpsons’ likeness on the front of the card and think that is a substitute for actually writing a worthwhile card. Presumably these people then wash out of the greeting card writing business and end up writing for The Family Guy.
The final group of cards you end up seeing are the bizarrely crass ones. I applaud the writers of these cards for wanting to get a little edgy, which is refreshing, but inevitably it just ends up being some half-cocked fart joke or a sexy lady in a bikini as the punch line. Who is actually sending these cards to anyone? And why?
You really need to step it up, greeting card writers. There is room for innovation here. Come up with jokes that are actually funny. There is more to mine about birthdays than simply the fact that the person having one is old. Dig a little deeper. Work a little harder.
If you do, I promise to send you a Congratulations card. I’ll pick one with Garfield on it so that you know its special.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.