For Your Great and Important Day: Old Age, Humor and Online Birthday Cards

  • Zdenko Zeman Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, Zagreb
  • Marija Geiger Zeman Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, Zagreb


Although the category of age is extremely complex, age is usually reduced to chronological age, which is – as the number of years lived from the time of birth (number of birthdays) – the simplest marker of one’s age (or old age). Birthday cards are an important aspect of birthdays. They are multifunctional artifacts of popular culture, and their communicational function is the most important one. At the individual level, the sender uses a birthday card to send certain messages to the recipient, and at the socio-cultural level, a birthday card transmits socially-created meanings and subjects of age, old age and aging. In this sense, a birthday card is a “ceremonial token” (Ellis and Morrison 2005), which transmits (and reinforces) cultural ideas, meanings, attitudes and messages, i.e. “discourses that form the basis of the social construction of age” (Andrew 2012: 11), where humor plays an especially important role. Previous studies have shown that age-specific humor has positive, ambivalent and, most often, negative aspects. These negative aspects are related to aging stereotypes and distorted meanings that certain cultures attribute to aging and old age, including the gender component. The paper presents the results of an analysis of age-specific humor content present in online birthday cards, with special emphasis placed on: 1) themes and motifs that indicate the dominant and (globally) present narratives about old age and aging, socio-cultural ideas, understanding of and attitudes about aging, old age and older persons; 2) short-term effects and long-term consequences of this type of humorous content.

age humor, narratives on aging, online birthday cards, age, chronological age, content analysis