You will recall, of course, from our last thrilling episode that postcard publishers were always ready to supply ammunition to those people who wanted to motivate their friends and family, passing along wisdom about how to conduct one’s life and how to feel about it while they were doing it. Work hard, mind your own business, and smile all the while were the main messages: virtue and hard work were their own reward, and you should be grateful just to be on the team.
But postcard artists and postcard publishers knew there was a flip side. People whose motto was “Make Sure You’re Right, Then Go Ahead” tended to be people who were always sure they were right. And enough adults had seen their friends smile their way into disaster over and over. So an equal and opposite set of non-motivational postcards was also available.
Take, for example, that oft-used slogan “Do It Now”, to discourage hesitation and procrastination. Postcard artists didn’t even bother to change the motto to give it a satiric edge.
All you needed was the proper picture to give a fine old aphorism a new home
However bitter that home might be.
Famous cartoonist R.F. Outcault, having brought America The Yellow Kid (the first sarcastic cartoon character to directly address the audience) and Buster Brown (who found too often—standing in a corner—that good intentions were not enough to guarantee acclaim) knew something about great old words of wisdom. He took a literal turn on “It’s never too late to mend” and brought out its unpleasant side.
Another encouraging phrase, now lost but once very popular due to a song which advised this, was that every tiny bit of progress at least put you farther ahead, or, as in the siong “Every Little Bit Added To What You’ve Got Makes Just a Little Bit More”. The reminder that progress sometimes comes in small installments was repeated over and over, until you had the inevitable backlash, as in this card. (The caption, in dark green, is almost impossible to read without magnification, but the man is commenting on the woman’s figure: “Every Little Bit Padded to What You’ve Got Makes Just a Little Bit More.”
Sometimes it was just a matter of giving a twist to a cliché. The sentiment that “Man wants but little here below” could be pursued to its logical extension.
But sometimes the humor was a touch grim, as in this observation of what rewards hard work and perseverance bring.
Other artists took up the matter not of the advice itself but the advisor. Restraint in indulging oneself is probably a good notion, but it sounds funny coming from the wrong person.
And, in the end, the artists and publishers were willing to reflect on what your life would be like if you DID follow every piece of improving advice you were given.