Irony, Thy Name is Hallmark
One of the joys and struggles of l-l-o-o-n-n-g-g holiday weekends is that sooner or later you find yourself wondering if you might want to watch Hallmark Channel’s early Christmas offerings. This doesn’t happen immediately, of course. But, once the food and shows have both been binged and there are no more Anne Hathaway movies you haven’t seen already now that you’ve screened Becoming Jane, and The New York Times lets you know Shirley MacLaine and Kristin Davis and Eric McCormack are launching the season with A Heavenly Christmas and it doesn’t seem to poke fun, why sure enough, there you are, tuning in at 8 p.m. for the premiere.
It starts off well enough, with Glenn Close letting you know where you are and what you’re watching and how long it’s been going on. Pretty soon though you are left to recall Anne Hathaway portraying Jane Austen as she explains, “Irony is the bringing together of contradictory truths to make out of the contradiction a new truth with a laugh or a smile.” Poof! You’ve entered the ironic world of today’s post-election commercial television, filled to the gills with contradiction.
Hallmark has seemingly decided that “When you care enough…” is so firmly embedded in our shared psyche (you know you can finish the line) they simply no longer need to remind us, so they land firmly, emotionally and actually quite persuasively on the word “care.” People later revealed to be Hallmark employees, female and male, speak directly to the camera sharing what “care” means to them and its importance to the world. It is really quite charming and, even better, especially important just now to ‘knit up the raveled sleeve of care’ the way sleep once promised. One can imagine the Hallmark ad agency pitch: No matter how distraught and hard-fought the arguments around the Thanksgiving table, what we share is that we care. Then, the leap: Indeed, to care enough to care about others. Triangulating all the divergent passions into one shared hope. One fabulous truth. Care is a verb with tender meanings.
Then came the story: A contradiction of a different magnitude. The leitmotif of Hallmark stories seems to be that women who work hard to achieve their dreams are not having it all, but missing it all, as “past hope, past cure, past help” as a poor Juliet without a Romeo. Poor Kristin Davis, late of Sex in the City, seems now to be sad, a workaholic and, worse yet, a trite archetype. Works hard. Has her assistant buy bikes for her nephews. Grabs a cab, shares it with a musician cum stranger (Eric, how did you get here?), gives directions and gets caught in traffic. Horrible! Gives money to a street corner Santa, but absentmindedly drops it in his coffee cup, not the collection bucket. Heinous. Pretty soon, she’s dead, then she’s an angel being coached by Shirley MacLaine (how the mighty have fallen), and pretty quick, she’s falling in love (wait for it) with the musician. Then, whoosh! she’s really alive and all’s well. She’s giving up her prized client to another fellow, kissing under the mistletoe and blissfully saying ‘Thank you’ for a nasty green Christmas sweater.
The show immediately following this one tracks a similarly driven young woman whose hard-charging but failing LA fashion design business sends her reeling home to Midwestville where she falls in love with a fellow she doesn’t remember from high school, but who after a quasi-successful run as a lounge musician (yes, you read it right), is now teaching music at (you guessed it) her daughter’s school. Her daughter’s happy. She’s happy. The fellow is happy. Fashion design? Oh yeah: She has the Christmas Pageant costumes to keep her engaged, while serving as the happiest of happy waitresses in her aunt’s diner.
So here we have the dark side of care. Cares. As a noun. They are the women’s job, it turns out and it’s hard for them. The men seem to naturally get it. They are verb guys. They can care about their music and be emotionally available to beautiful women. They can care about kids. But these women! They only care about their careers. So: They have to forget those careers. And, thus, they must learn the lessons of care, caring, cares. Jane Austen had to fight her way out of those cares to become a writer. Now we have writers trying to pen us back in again. One beyond ironic movie at a time. I can smile, safe only in the knowledge that my daughter refused to watch Hallmark Channel with me that night. I am left on my own to wonder, “Hallmark, is this really your very best?”