Gift Wrap Nihilism

I got an interesting comment from a reader today that I'd like to share and address. Patrick writes:

so it's monday, and i think you mentioned last week that you're trying to do a weekly theme. i'm wondering if you'd care to address a condition i'm going to dub, "Gift Wrap Nihilism." what is the meaning of doing a fantastic, beautiful gift wrap if it's just going to be torn open by the recipient and thrown away? i am a dude, and i am a horrible gift wrapper, but i don't know why i would want to spend the time learning to become a great gift wrapper.

This actually poses a good point. If you look at my first post on this blog, you'll see that I touched on the idea that despite this somewhat wasteful and pointless tradition of temporarily disguising our gifts, we tend to do it anyway. WHY? Well, in practical terms, wrap helps extend the element of surprise for as long as possible. I think that's a no brainer. There are more philosophical answers though, to why we gift wrap.

1) It is the difference between purchasing something (that has probably been mass produced and thus, millions of them exists), and making it a little bit personal between you and the recipient. I agree that simply going out and buying gift wrap doesn't necessarily fulfill this task , but that's why it's smart to spend a little money on a really nice looking wrapping paper that you didn't just pick up last minute at a drug store, OR to do something more creative like using textiles that aren't normally meant for wrapping.

2) We live in an aesthetic world, and gift wrap is purely a manifestation of that. It's not analogous, but very similar to the reasons we paint our houses and cars, or why we wear interesting clothes or makeup. All that stuff ultimately gets destroyed or taken off. But we like to marvel at pretty, shiny things, so we play along and make things appealing to look at. I especially think that if you're giving a gift that's super practical but sort of dull, like a toaster for instance, gift wrap helps lift utilitarian items to a more festive mood for the occasion.

3) If you're crafty or enjoy art, it's another form of expression.

4) But most importantly, when else are you encouraged to destroy something beautiful and tediously made? Tearing wrapping paper to bits is crazily satisfying and I am a huge advocate for it. It's like spraying caviar all over a Picasso. Besides, you can always take a picture.

To answer your question, Pat, I think the "meaning" of gift wrap is to be celebratory and sometimes artful, but that's about it. Not everything worth doing has to have a big, loud point. Part of being human is being able to appreciate small details for their own sakes, and recognize that they won't last forever. WOAH. Too deep. I must stop before I start thinking and reasoning.

By the way though, I suck at gift wrapping too--so I don't think being a dude is a very good excuse. If you don't want to become a great gift wrapper, that's fine. It doesn't really matter to me, but it's still nice to wrap a gift for your girlfriend or grandpa, to show that you care. That's why I encourage the non-artsies to do something ironic like wrap with tin foil. It doesn't take much skill and it prevents you from ever having to purchase a single role of paper, but you'll still make mom happy.

Thanks for the great question! If anyone enjoyed Pat's inquisitive and controversial questioning of gift wrap, you'll like his take on music. Go to his blog, please.

1 comment: