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Bring Back Vinegar Valentines

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It’s a strange thing with Valentine’s day. It used to be a saint’s feast like no other, then it became the day of love, for sending valentines to your sweetheart. Then as our civilisation became more cynical, it caught some of the worst of the deconstruction, before being ironically revived on the internet, such as for example my favourite genre of Valentine cards – Hitler Valentines. And now finally, we’re seeing it being reconstructed, whilst we’re simultaneously conscious of the mockery the holiday caught in the 90s and early 2000s. In these trying times, I guess people like to have a moment of pure, innocent romance. Yes, I understand that the celebration may be a cynical ploy to sell chocolates and greeting cards, but still, why not celebrate love, adoration or even infatuation? We must remember that we are men and women of flesh and blood and not marble statues carved by one Arno Breker. 

But beyond such innocent fun, I’d like to draw your attention to one Valentine’s Day tradition which has sadly been lost, namely the sending of so-called vinegar valentines, or messages and cards wishing ill, insulting or otherwise deriding the recipient. The practice began in the early 19th century in the English-speaking world and continued into the middle of the 20th century when sadly, our civilisation became too easily offended to carry on this grand tradition of simply insulting people you don’t like. A lot of the vinegar valentines would spotlight a moral failing of the recipient, such as alcoholism, promiscuity, vanity, rudeness or greed. Others still mock someone for a physical shortcoming. For example, I will be sending the one below to notorious bald-headed baldy Elon Musk whose baldness should be more widely known.

Vinegar valentines were a product of a different time, a time, I’d say where people were less afraid of speaking candidly to each other. They’re also the product of a time which valued artistry with words and images – they come in rhyme and are wonderfully illustrated. In our modern time, we tend to insult each other with simplistic and crude barbs, but the Victorians new how to absolutely devastate each other without using four-letter words. What I believe has changed is society’s attitude. We no longer believe that causing offence or hurting someone’s feelings can be beneficial, even to them, but we avoid this at all costs. At the same time, as our societies have become less intelligent and cultured, we use fouler language, to the point where words like “fuck”, “shit” or even “watermelon seller” lose their sting. 

There used to be a time when men and even women would speak candidly and forthrightly. Truthful speech was valued, not only for its beneficial societal effects, but also for its own sake. When I watch the Sopranos, some of the best parts are when the guys are “breaking balls”, i. e. Insulting one another as a method of male bonding. The old Norse used to have something very similar to rap battles, called flyting, where two warriors would seek to insult another in rhyme whilst not crossing a line that’d result in a duel nor losing their cool. It was a show of masculine mastery over self and language to be able to take the opponent’s barbs without getting angry and even throwing barbs back. This, of course, all took place before our society become neurotic, easily offended and quick to anger. 

So, this Valentine, I invite you to go out and give people a piece of your mind, because frankly, people need to be set right. We’ve become arrogant, complacent or in a word, we’ve stuck our heads so far up our own asses that we can’t see ourselves as anything as God’s gift to humanity. All of us, this author included, need to be taken down a peg and understand that we’re not perfect. Vinegar Valentines are a great way to do it. Yes, I’ll agree, it allows bona-fide assholes an opportunity to indulge in their petty sadism, but hey, that’s the price of having an honest society where directness gives way to bourgeois concerns over “propriety”. We’ve been wallowing in self-congratulatory, saccharine bullshit for so long and at such a scale, we need to bring a little vinegar in our lives. 

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