Chances are, you might have stumbled across one of the made-for-TV Christmas movies from Hallmark one day. You might have watched it, thought it overly sweet and terribly acted, and moved on. You forget about it after awhile, blending into the background of terrible TV’s past. But for those who genuinely watch the dozens of Hallmark Christmas movies, a specialized worldview begins to emerge, something far more sinister than the schmaltz promised by each cheery title: a personification of the culture clash in society today that feeds into our divisiveness.
The plots of the normal Hallmark TV Christmas movies are generally the same: a man or woman disillusioned by a career far from home is called back to their small hometown or sent to investigate a small town where they discover a struggling community that nevertheless is filled with holiday joy. Their spirit is mended by the kindness of the community where a love interest and special child is introduced. They confront the corrupting influence of big business and choose to live in the small town.
Inherent in this structure is a bias against the city and liberalism. Cities are portrayed as corrupt and unfeeling, an extension of zero-sum business devoid of humanity. The small town is a place of love and kindness, where everyone thinks alike, acts alike and devalues individual thought. The Christmas spirit is an act of conformity against outsiders, the townspeople thinking alike, looking alike. They don’t think through their actions as much as go with their natural instincts with ideas such as love, family and community spirit boiled down to simplistic, greeting card-esque superficialities (as one would expect from a card company).
In many respects, the charm of the small towns in Hallmark movies is a reaction against the advancement in technology, represented by cell phones, airplanes and skyscrapers, the “forgotten worker” of steel mill towns and coal mountain villages. When this is represented as the “good” and the city world as the “bad”, it naturally pits two types of lifestyles against each other, consciously or unconsciously building into the culture wars of today, a red America of inner good, conformity and spirit against a blue America of unfeeling, diverseness and lack of values.
This demeaning of advancement and rampant exclusivity deepens the lines separating us today. As more and more of us view people of different locations and backgrounds as the “other”, the more resentment and lack of trust grows.
The small town of Hallmark films is also white. Few if any people of color are present, giving a view of America that is unrepresentative of different cultures. Women are often in the house cooking. Some have jobs, but most are mothers or if not, unfeeling career women who change towards motherhood at the end. Any relationships in town that have failed are due to death, not divorce. The perfect individual is white, attractive, full of cheer for the community at large and childbearing. They don’t get into trouble but stand up to the city that is trying to encroach on their lifestyle. It’s in fact a terrifying portrait.
The town cheer is also a haven that fosters community mindedness over individual thought. Careerism is deemed unfeeling and dangerous. Only blind acceptance of the town’s morals brings happiness, a parallel to Christian orthodoxy that references leadership at the top dictating human action. Religion is rarely mentioned in these movies, but its dogma is omnipresent in the actions of the movie mentors and themes of the storylines.
And at the heart of the idea of the small town is nostalgia, one of the most potent tools of commercialism. By harkening back to the way things used to be, Hallmark movies are portraying innovation as wrong. The good ol’ days of small town Hallmark movies are just another way to say Make America Great Again. Or to go a leg further, Make America White Again.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. These are films made by greeting card companies. Minimal thought was put into them, and no one should take them seriously. They are produced for a quick buck. True, but one need only look at the onslaught of media each of us sees everyday to notice that the same idea repeatedly hammered at us influences our opinions. Just as following certain Facebook feeds that only align with our political views drives a wedge between us and those with other ideals, a continuous viewing of the same ideals of subliminal “rightness” over “wrongness” pushes us towards an extreme view of the world. And it has been proven time and again that some people are easily malleable to ludicrous ideas and highly perceptible to subtle views of the world. And when one considers that Hallmark has a polticial super pac that donates overwhelmingly to Republican candidates, a pattern emerges.
Hallmark probably doesn’t realize what it is they are doing. Their goal is to make a product, generate a profit and keep the money train running. Only by recognizing this internal bias and others like it can we confront the realization that we are all more similar than we are different, that we are all immigrants who have different thoughts and ideas that make us stronger and that the outsider is often the one who is right rather than the one we should be afraid of.