Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Goddamned Hallmark Moment

My friend Jason sent me a link to this article and I found myself surprisingly exercised over it: Woman Claims Hallmark Card Promotes Teen Sex.

Essentially, a woman in Portsmouth named Ms. Desrosiers walked into a Hallmark store and saw a card, described as follows: The front cover of the card features two glasses of wine held by two hands and reads, "Pardon me..." On the inside is printed, "Care for some liquid clothes remover?"

The woman, who works for a substance abuse prevention program, and who has a teenage daughter, was so scandalized that she demanded that the card be removed from the store, because it sends the wrong message to teens about promiscuous sex. She won; the cards are gone. She then appealed to Hallmark. If I know my history, she won there too. So a perfectly good card is gone because one ignorant bat couldn't get a fascismectomy. "That card offends me," she thought, "So no one should be allowed to have it."

Because of my own fundy background, I guess this pushes my buttons more than other people. But what frosts me is not just that she demanded a card be pulled; it's that she did it with no idea of what she was talking about. She says in the article, "The target audience, in my opinion, is young adults."

Jesus, lady. If you did a moment's research you'd discover that the target audience--the people that make up 80% of the card-buying market--are women aged 40-60. That's why you were in the store and your daughter had to be informed about the card secondhand. In fact, teenagers hate Hallmark stores so much (and the feeling is mutual) that if I'm ever being pursued by a group of teenage hoodlums, I'm going to duck into the first Hallmark store I see; they'll think I've turned invisible.

Hallmark isn't for teenagers. You know what should have tipped you off? The fucking wine glasses. If the card showed two kids bumming a six-pack of Pabst from an unscrupulous stranger outside a convenience store, you might have a point. If the two wineglasses were plastic, and the background was clearly the back seat of a shitty first car, and there was a paper bag around a bottle of Boone's Farm, you've got the target market. But since when do teenagers out to get drunk and screw bother to be within miles of a tablecloth? In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the card sends a wonderful message to kids: Go someplace nice first. It dilutes the shame.

And the other sad thing is that of course her complaint worked. Hallmark folded like a mixer set on "fold." That's Hallmark's tendency when anyone complains about anything, because they're more concerned with good PR than any company I know. During my tenure there, we had a card with the caption "Still Life With Butt Crack." (You can imagine the picture.) It sold really well. One jackass complained, and not only did the card vanish, but we got a new rule: you can show a butt crack, or you can say the word "butt crack," but not both. That would be too intense. I once wrote a card that said on the outside, "You should be a princess!"--showing a fairy princess on a throne, smiling and wearing a crown. On the inside it said, "You'd kick ass." Don't bother looking for it. One person whinged, and it's dead now.

Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to complain about. The fact that the wineglass card is inappropriate is the joke. When you see two wineglasses on the outside, you don't expect the inside to say, in essence, "Let's get drunk and screw." The shock of the move from elegant night out to sexual proposition is why it's funny, and the fact that the point is made obliquely makes it even smarter: this is how Niles Crane would hit on someone if he were tipsy enough to be scurrilous and louche. If you don't see that, you don't deserve to have jokes.

Hallmark will almost certainly not stand up for itself, so I just wanted to say, on behalf of the people who actually write the cards, many of whom also care about the craft of a decent joke, that this whole story is bullshit. So let me lay out your sins, Ms. Desrosiers: you got angry at a satire (which proves you didn't get it), you complained about a card that wasn't even related to why you were in the damn store, you completely misunderstood the card industry, you can't read subtext--and you have just won an idiotic moral battle of your own creation, which must make you even more intolerable to be with at the moment. Enjoy your lap around the track.

But if there were any justice in this world, you'd be banned from buying cards altogether until you get a license showing that you understand irony. And in the future, I hope that before you write an angry letter in high dudgeon to some perfectly harmless corporation, you first pause, count to ten, get an enema, and read the Constitution. And as someone who used to be a child and survived all kinds of "bad messages," here's one from me: You're Not Helping.



Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

"the card sends a wonderful message to kids: Go someplace nice first. It dilutes the shame."

Bwah ha ha ha!

Also, thanks for the shout out in the first line...

4/18/2008 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I got annoyed just reading about this. How she made the leap from two hands holding wineglasses to the card being targeted to teenagers is beyond me -- loved your (very funny) analysis.
By the way, I think I've given your "princess kicks ass" card to one of my friends! I have a computer program that prints Hallmark cards, and you'll be happy to know it's still on there.

4/18/2008 4:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Man, you were on fire. I wish there was some way you could send this missive to Ms. Desrosiers.

4/18/2008 8:02 PM  
Blogger Courtney said...

About 12 years ago my husband (then boyfriend)and I were looking for a birthday card for his sister. We were in a Kroger grocery store and it was around 2am. We were tired and giggly. One of us picked up "Still life with butt crack". We laughed hysterically for several minutes. It was a simple bowl of fruit with a butt crack peeking in on the side. We still talk about that card today as "the best card ever" and his sister still has it. I found your site because I was searching "still life with butt crack" just because I wanted a great memory to put a smile on my husbands face.

6/10/2008 7:45 PM  

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