A Weed of Snark in a Field of Flowers

This is a celebration of a line of greeting cards called “Bald Guy” cards. You can see the whole collection here and make up your own mind about them. I think they are nearly all clever. Some are ironic, some pretend to be naive, some are just snarky. I’m a fan.

Let me introduce them by giving you a little history of the company. I got this account or the beginnings of this company from their website (see above) under a tab called “History.” When you go to the tab called History, you get to choose whether you want the real history or the fake history. I clicked “Real History,” which is how I learned this:

OCTOBER 10TH, 2005 – THE WRITING OF THE CARDS

Ian completed the writing of the cards. He had 50 cards that he loved and was ready to test them out in the world. And by the world, he meant his friends at his old job and the Chinese guy that works next door.

OCTOBER 15TH, 2005 – THE SWEET 16

After a month of deliberation, 16 cards surfaced as the favorites.  Although the words on a blank page were brilliant enough, Ian quickly realized these cards  needed a design element. Ian knew exactly where to turn. Unfortunately, Ian’s first choice  was not available, but he knew exactly where to turn second. He turned to his long time friend  and artist, Sean Farrell. And the partnership was formed. The rest is history. Well, not history.  What’s the word I’m looking for? Wait, history was the right word, never mind.

That’s probably mostly true. Now to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the pictures Sean Farrell contributes, but I’m more a words person than a pictures person. It’s Ian Kalman’s words that get to me and that is what this essay is about.

Now…everybody knows that the thing that’s funny about humor is the experience of it, not the explanation of it. So I’m not thinking of writing a funny essay; just an essay about funny cards. The most fundamental question is probably something like, “OK, why is this funny?” [1] It think it’s funny if it gets you going one direction and then at the last moment, it switches. It switches to meaninglessness in some kinds of humor and to a new and unexpected kind of sense in another.IMG_0577.jpg

In the Bald Guy cards, it is most often a change of mood or a play on social conventions. See what you think. Here’s one I bought for Bette as a valentine. I didn’t give it to her because I lost it, so I took her over to the store to see it. I know that sounds cheap.

So here’s the picture that Sean Farrell contributed. I’d imagine that Ian Kalman, the bald guy, came up with the inside message and sent it to Sean to fit some image to it. I think a lot of images would have done the trick if they were dark and ominous lookintg because this is, after all, a Valentines Day card and we wouldn’t want anything with hearts and flowers. This image does that, so it does what it is supposed to do.

On the inside, it says:

“I know the bottom of my heart sounds like the crappy part, but that’s actually where all of my most thoughtful arteries are.”

And, of course, that’s why I got it for Bette. The part of the sign on the card is true, if you accept the conventions about what hearts do (in the romantic, not the circulatory sense) and how the bottom is different from the top. Kalman goes right at the notion of “bottom of the heart.” He almost asks out loud, “Why on earth do we use a metaphor like that?”

And then he kind of rescues it, or at least give you the feeling that he is about to try to rescue it, with “but that’s actually…” Ah, we say, he is going to head for the hearts and flowers after all.

But no. He goes to the arteries. Now the arteries actually are “the crappy part” in the world of hearts and flowers. You would think that “bottom of my heart” and “crappy part” and “arteries” are all in the same line of meaning. There is no reason for “but” to be there at all.

And then he rescues (tries to rescue) the reference to arteries by saying that is where the most thoughtful ones are. The most thoughtful arteries. Right.

It’s wrong in so many different ways that you don’t know, at first, whether to laugh or cry. I chose to laugh and so did Bette. [2]

I don’t have any more pictures to show you, but I did copy down a few more of the inside verses. One says:

“Here’s to a birthday you probably won’t remember.”

The inside story twists the most likely meaning of the saying, particularly when the picture features a lot of booze. It says,

Not because of drinking. Old people just forget things.

So the drinking is offered as the reason why you won’t remember, then it is snatched away. And in its place, the prominent deficits of old age. A hairpin turn.

And here is one that says something like:

“You bring me nothing but the greatest happiness.”

The cover picture is pretty sappy for a Bald Guy card. That ought to raise your suspicions right there. The inside says:

I’ll be honest though, cheese makes me pretty happy, too. I’m a simple person.

So the opening is unremarkable. You make me happy. And then, “Well, lots of things make me happy.” So if you thought that it was the “You” in “You make me happy,” which is what you are supposed to think, you just went for the bait. It isn’t just you. Cheese. Mushrooms. Rainy days. Whatever. And finally, it isn’t really about you at all; it’s about me. I’m just a simple person. Maybe two hairpin turns in that one.

And finally, one that just makes me happy to look at it. There are no syntactical booby traps for once. It’s just a straight out inappropriate thing to say. I love it.

May your first marriage bring you nothing but happiness.

[1] That’s really the best way to ask the question. There is an enormous academic literature on just what makes something funny. My favorite is Max Eastman’s in The Enjoyment of Laughter. He says “…it is the unpleasant…which, when taken playfully, is enjoyed as funny.
[2] I do understand what a gift it is to have a wife who truly enjoys an ironic Valentines Day card.

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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