5 APRIL 1963, Page 20

Violets are Square


It is true that these things are still done, but they are no longer in style. Nowadays, people want to know what a fellow really thinks and they demand that he express himself in his own words. The archetypical nineteenth-century Yankee businessman, the sharp trader or mechanic who sat up nights devising means of cornering the egg-market or improving a steam valve while leaving the social graces to his wife or to educated foreigners hired for the occasion, is a vanishing American. These days a business- man dictating a letter will pause before closing it with a simple 'Sincerely yours' and search for a less trite expression; now the once mouse- grey business letter bears many a colourful tale, such as 'Cordially,' Enthusiastically,"With heartiest best wishes,' and sometimes even a splendidly anachronistic 'Your obedient servant.'

This change in the folkways has caused shock and sales-slippages in industries devoted to packaging and producing canned sentiments, from toastmasters' manuals to model funeral orations. Particularly hard hit was the greeting- card industry, which for decades had been coast- ing wealthily along on coy Mother's Day wishes, sweet Anniversary felicitations and tender Valentines of the `Roses are red, Violets are blue . . .' variety.

Then came salvation and a glorious upsurge. A new phenomenon arose: the 'studio' or 'insult' card. One or two small firms of card manufacturers led the way and the giants soon '1 just so happen to know they want me up at the grammar whether I pass the eleven-plus or not—see, Sthartyr THE SPECTATOR, APRIL 5, 1963 followed. The industry changed front and joined the cultural revolutionaries. Tender senti- ments were now mocked, distorted and satirised. The Public, particularly the ladies, began buying wildly. 'Insult cards' are now the rage. The new cards are gay, modern-arty and eccentrically shaped—long and thin, or triangu- lar, or folding out to an oversized broadsheet. They are often decorated with spangles, punched with holes, or garnished with pencils, diaper pins, bogus-money and other surprises. NoveitY and irreverence are the prerequisite of an 'insult card.' One best-selling card, for instance, is a total blank save for the declaration: 'This card serves NO useful purpose—except t° make money for the manufacturer and to assist me in communicating with you and sustaining• our relationship.' Birthday 'insults' are the most popular : 'Don't worry about another birthday—remember how it didn't help last year?' Try to behave on Your birthday—one day a year won't kill you.' 'A birthday by any other name would still be a birthday—Happy "Fire Drill!"' The new-style Valentines were outspokenlY flirtatious and brassy: 'Come over and collect these kisses any time. Sorry, no mail or phone orders! . . ."You were born to be bad—when are you going to start trying?' `Valentine, You have bedroom eyes—WHOSE BEDROOM?' And the latest in Graduation Day compliments reads: 'Caesar died because he was ambitious. You will live forever!'

All the other standard-occasion cards hav' been similarly swept by the new wind of change. For instance, Anniversaries: 'We know whY, your marriage is so happy! Wall-to-wall love! 'Once a king always a king, once a queen alWaYs a queen, once a knight—is enough! HaPPY Anniversary!' Births: 'Congratulations! And you thought you were just DOING THE TWIST!' Sorne people think it's fun holding new babies • . but they're all wet!' Bon Voyage: 'The au"' mobile mechanics of America join me in wishing you A HAPPY MOTOR TRIP.' Get Well: 'Your Doctor will have you walking in no time —you'll have to sell your car to pay his Wilt: In addition, a vast new spectrum of 'occasi0ns. has been devised especially for the 'insult card'• party invitations, congratulations on a n.et house, a new car, retirement (live it up, ellSti your hours of leisure and forget about business problems—just like you did at work!') and °their situations for which the traditional line of Carat° had no pat sentiments. This has boosted°le field beyond all expectations. Perhaps the singl! most important new sub-division is the so- u call?"; 'friendship card' which serves as a crutch for t_ lonely or flirtatious. Retailers and manufacturers report that the popularity of these 'friendsh!..P cards' is enormous, that they rank second volume only to birthday greetings and that are bought almost exclusively by women. Th,e,10 message is direct: 'Who needs you? Me: always thinking of you—that makes two of as,' 'I'd like to see you some evening! Leave Pro shade up!' isn't anything I wouldn't for you. Free catalogue on request.' I like P.,. their You drink! "Let's talk about the birds and bee' And then act like people!' And so on.

One can buy ready-made insults for fathers, mothers-in-law, ex-spouses and c_s workers-of-equal-rank in the office. There seett'do to be no market for insults to the boss. Nor,he there seem to be any specifically directed to clergy, the President or the death of a loved But the industry is young yet, and so is the eu' tural revolution. brother::