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Newstalk’s Ciara Kelly: This card I got in the post might be “sinister”

An interesting, even fun, conundrum for us all to ponder while we spend our days in Coronavirus induced isolation – is this card received by Newstalk’s Dr. Ciara Kelly yesterday creepy and sinister, or well-intentioned and nice? Is she over-reacting absurdly, or is she right to be a bit perturbed?

Let’s consider the evidence.

1. The design of the card itself.

On the outside, it seems perfectly innocent. Smiley, happy, yellow, faces. They’re clearly modelled on the universally-known “smiley face” emoticon that we all use in text messages to mean we’re happy (Imagine going back in time to 1990 and trying to explain that one to your grandmother).

If you got this card, you’d probably assume the person wished you well, not harm. So points against “creepy and sinister there”.

But, on the other hand, there aren’t a whole lot of “I wish you bad luck and pestilence” cards out there on the market, so someone who wanted to send a mean card doesn’t really have many options. And the smiley face, while generally used to express happiness, repeatedly comes up in dystopian fiction as the calling card of bad people. For example, in the acclaimed TV show, “Mr. Mercedes”, the serial killer uses the smiley face as his calling card. So, points in favour of “creepy and sinister”.

VERDICT: Impossible to say.

2. The handwriting

The only thing that we can be sure of here is that whoever sent the card is older than, at least, 50. Because nobody younger than that was taught how to do joined up writing properly, or uses it on a day to day basis. The other evidence for the sender’s age is the very fact that a card was sent at all: They had to buy it, write it, buy a stamp, and post it. People under thirty probably don’t even know how to buy stamps, these days, and in any case they’re far more likely to send an email.

But can the relative certainty that this was an older person tell us anything about the intentions of the sender? Not really, except on a probability basis. Kelly is probably the wokest, most right-on, in-your-face liberal presenter on Irish radio. Older people are – relatively – more conservative than the rest of us. While thinking Kelly is a pain in the backside might not be unique to the old, it’s reasonable to assume that she annoys more older people than young.

On the other hand, there’s also a kind of enthusiastically liberal granny out there who’s been waiting her whole life to hear a fellow woman talking like Kelly. So you can’t be certain, but the likelihood, on balance, from the handwriting, was that it wasn’t from a fan.

VERDICT: Slight lean to creepy

3. The message itself

“Dearest Ciara. Do good with your life”.

The first thing that jumps out at me here is the word “dearest” – it’s a superlative. It seems to imply genuine affection. It can, of course, be used sarcastically, think of someone saying “mother, dearest”, but in general, if the “dearest” comes first, it’s usually meant genuinely.

Then there’s the “do good with your life” part. That’s more complicated. Is the sender saying that Kelly is not doing good with her life right now, and needs to improve? Or is it a strange way of saying “I wish you well”?

To me, this one leans towards “well intentioned and nice”, on the basis that if you were going to go to the trouble of buying a card, writing it, and posting it, for the purpose of being mean to somebody, you’d probably have more to say than “do good with your life”. You’d probably include, for example, a list of things the person had done wrong. It would be a very strange person who’d go to all that trouble to send a mean message to somebody who they didn’t like, for the purpose of making clear that they didn’t like them, and just said “dearest Ciara, do good with your life”.

But then, maybe the fact that they’re so rare is what makes it creepy and sinister. Still.

VERDICT: Lean towards “well intentioned and nice”

4. The lack of a signature

This, you gotta say, is probably the clincher. She’ll be embarrassed at my mentioning it, but at the height of his impeachment scandal, my mother, a fanatical Bill Clinton supporter because he came to Ireland, wrote to the embattled US President to tell him how great he was. She got a letter back from Billy, and it made her whole year. The point is this: If you’re a fan of someone, you usually tell them.

Sure, there are some nice things we can do anonymously. Sending a charitable donation, for example. Or being a whistleblower if something is going wrong. But fan mail? That’s rarely anonymous. People who don’t sign things usually, for whatever reason, don’t want to be traced.

So that one, for me, is clear:

VERDICT: Strongly creepy and sinister.

So, if you read the headline and thought “Oh, Gript is going to bash Kelly here”, it’s a pity that we have to disappoint you. At minimum, she was right to be a bit perturbed.

Still, there’s a chance that the person sending it genuinely meant it in a nice way, and is really quite upset that they’ve been taken the wrong way.

People are strange.

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