There’s an image in my mind: Somewhere in America in 1957, on Valentines Day, a man in a grey striped “sack suit” and wearing a black fedora, walks into a drugstore, spins a card rack and chooses one. Something fun, not too corny. She’s a swell gal, he thinks. Not the kind of wife impressed with traditional sentimentality.
On the way home he stops by the corner magazine kiosk ran by a guy named Gus, who tends to stock flowers on special days, grabs a bouquet wrapped in shiny wax paper and, racing for the street car as it rings its last bell, steps aboard it just as it begins to pull away. What a swell guy, in a swell world, on a swell day.
Stepping off the streetcar just a mere block from his home, he walks the rest of the way with the kind of slow and easy contentedness that only a man with everything under control in his life can project. As if sensing his arrival, his dutiful wife, beaming in a pink and black polka dot cotton dress and without a single hair on her head out of place, steps out onto the sunlit porch just as he hits the first stair and, handing her the bouquet, she plants a bright-red lipstick kiss firmly on his chiseled cheek. Smiling enchantingly, she opens the card…
I’m not sure how these cards were received back in The 1950s, but since there were so many of them made that projected violence, sex and just general creepiness throughout the decade and into the next, my guess is everyone found this sort sick humor perfectly acceptable.
A quick peruse of the internet turns up images of “un-Valentinish” styles that managed to incorporate various themes and subject matter that todays consumer wouldn’t necessarily associate with love and matters of the heart. Corny sexual double-entendres of the variety your dirty Uncle Johnny might conjure up, one-liners about “cocks” (roosters), firearms, phallic-looking hot dogs, allusions to rape and suicide are just a few of the most common themes found on 1950s and early 1960s adult Valentine cards.
Even His Lord and Master of Darkness, Satan and his creepy buddies, make an appearance on this day set forth to celebrate love, closeness and matrimonial harmony, as well as none too subtle hints at oral sex, bestiality and other “hot topics” we don’t associate with greeting card culture any longer.
To my surprise The 50s weren’t as puritanical as I’ve always thought they were. In fact, they were in many aspects downright sleazy and insatiable in a manner that is almost pervy. Good golly, Miss Molly…whole lotta shakin’ going on.
But as much as most of these images make me wince at their obvious lack of decorum, they harken back to a time when America was a whole hell of a lot simpler and devoid of the constant public scrutiny and criticism we have today that in many ways has kill-joyed the art of self expression. Maybe within these examples of unbridled double-entendres, shameless admissions of lust and amusing glances at marital unrest rides a horse we need to saddle up again before it’s too late…humor.
After all, if you can’t laugh about life, you can’t love life, either.
Happy Valentine’s Day