Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Love means never having to say it with a card

With the exception of chocolatiers, restauranteurs, and greetings card sellers, does anyone actually enjoy Valentine's Day? People in committed relationships bitch about being told when they can show their affection for their significant other, and singles find themselves resenting the smug self-satisfaction of their partnered friends. For a day that's supposed to be all about spreading love and happiness, I see an awful lot of bitterness.

Ironically, given that it's considered to be the ultimate 'Hallmark' holiday, it's the Valentine's cards themselves that seem to cause the greatest amount of discontent. Take a look around your local card shop and you'll see a nauseating pink vortex, designed to showcase affectionate statements written with all the sincerity of Russell and Katy's red carpet show of solidarity.

Successful relationships are based on understanding, empathy and tolerance, not passionate declarations like "I wish you were dead so that I could fling myself onto your funeral pyre." This is real life, not a perfume ad, and it's just a shame that card designers don't seem to have the slightest grasp on how regular people interact with their loved ones. 

Even well-intentioned companies, like San Diego-based 'A Little To The Left' seem to miss the point. Founded by "Sandi Timberlake, the proud mother of a gay son", ALTTL is a socially conscious greeting card company that "offers tasteful and elegant greeting cards for the friends and family of the gay community."

The cards are certainly tasteful, although many designs seem to have sprung from the mind of a hardcore foot-fetishist. This is because Sandi wanted to create a range that was "so lovely, so simple, and so subtle that you pick them up because they are beautiful and notice later that it is a card with two women on the front or two men." In fact, it's only the occasional hair on a couple of the toes that gives anything anyway.

I can't criticise Sandi for wanting to do something positive for her family and friends, but the cards depict a kind of neutered gay life that suggests wearing matching socks is a sign of intimacy. One card tries to be cheeky, saying "It's Valentine's Day... want to spend the day with me?" alongside a picture of discarded clothes and an unmade bed. But it's unclear as to whether the sender wants to fuck or catch up on their laundry. Many hands make light work, after all.  

There's also something slightly creepy about the fact that none of the people depicted on the cards ever show their faces - as though the models were fearful of being identified. Which makes the whole endeavour seem more than a little contradictory; cards that celebrate invisible visibility. 

Maybe the moral of the story is that human emotion is too complex, too varied and too real to be summed up in a greeting card. If you love someone, it takes more than a line of verse and an image from a stock image library to express it. The good news, is that you've got all year to do it. 

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