My plan is this: A small glass of dry sherry while I listen to my old Andy Williams and Perry Como albums. I might even indulge in some toe-tapping when Perry Como sings Papa Loves Mambo. “He goes to, she goes fro/He goes fast, she goes slow.” It’s a keeper, a swinging tune.
That’s my plan for the holidays and the sparse few days free of toil that await me. I’m looking forward to it already. Now you, you can do whatever you want. But I know that some of you will be sitting around watching a bunch of holiday-themed movies that amount to improbable love stories and feature mistletoe and eggnog as plot points. Possibly there will be orphans involved.
My message here, and it is coming soon because I have to dig out my vinyl albums by Andy and Perry, is that there’s an awful lot of conformity around the entertainment for Christmas, or whatever you want to call the holiday period. It is a time, I would suggest, when many of you have little interest in challenging TV content. You want a break from being informed the world is a bleak place, and there are sociopathic monsters lurking in every corner of business and politics. Besides, maybe you were reminded of that narrative at the office holiday party and you’ve taken all you can take.
Hallmark, which has cable channels in the United States and sells much of its content to Canadian channels, will offer 37 holiday-themed movies this year. (They made 33 last year and 65 million American viewers watched them.) The first aired in the United States in October, before Halloween. They’re all the same really. It’s escapism, but it’s the conformity people want. And it isn’t a U.S.-only phenomenon. The Canadian outlet Super Channel now devotes one of its platforms to Heart & Home TV. “Feel-good entertainment featuring heart-warming series and movies for everyone in your home. TV you can trust, with shows you’ll love.” Hallmark stuff, or Hallmark-inclined.
The channel W also offers a ton of these movies and specials, too. Three air consecutively on Monday, starting with Once Upon a Holiday. "A royal princess runs off from her obligations for a few days to see how the other half lives around Christmas. She winds up falling for a good Samaritan who is unaware of her real identity.”
Thematically they are all about finding love, two singles becoming a couple and thus creating a family of some sort. There’s nothing unique about the theme. Most Steven Spielberg movies are about uniting or reuniting a family.
Where some see danger in the conformity is in the emphasis on white bourgeois life. Also, the emphasis on wealth. A lot of male billionaires or millionaires turn up, and their cold hearts are melted by the love and holiday spirit of a good woman. While many might see these movies as apolitical, others see them as toxic. They work to underline that the society depicted is traditional, white, middle-class and stable. There is no room for the “other”, whether that means immigrants or non-heterosexual persons.
The first new Hallmark holiday movie, the one that aired in October, Christmas at Pemberley Manor, is a love story involving an event planner and a millionaire. “As Christmas approaches, Elizabeth Bennett (Jessica Lowndes), a New York event planner, is sent to a quaint small town to organize its holiday festival. When she arrives, she finds William Darcy (Michael Rady), a high-profile billionaire lacking in holiday spirit, in the process of selling the charming estate she hoped to use as a venue.” Time passes and “the unlikely pair begins falling for each other.”
The movie It’s Christmas, Eve, coming later in December, is this: "As interim school superintendent, Eve (LeAnn Rimes) trims budgets, and now she’s in her hometown where it’s personal. Her handsome neighbour Liam (Tyler Hynes) is a music teacher, and Eve feels his program must be cut.” Time passes, and you know what happens.
Me, I’m of two minds about the alleged toxicity of this kind of content. For a start, they usually feature a character who is obliged to change their ways. Change is possible. Also, it seems callous to deride people’s escape into dreams of finding true love. Further, it seems patronizing to assert that the audience cannot tell the difference between escapist fantasy and reality.
Who among us doesn’t have a silly escapist fantasy they enjoy during the holidays? Enjoy what you want. I’m good with Andy Williams and Perry Como. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you.