It’s a Stepford Family Christmas. Someone Bring the Cheese

There are some hallways I will never enter. Strange doors I will never step through, and belief systems I cannot embrace. I’m not talking about scientology. It’s the appeal of the Hallmark channel with its 24/7 Christmas movies that I cannot understand.

I know full well their popularity.  I have close friends and family members who wait all year for Christmas and the magic of Hallmark. These movies are a monetary success story, not just for the card company but for actors, writers and many who work in the business. Yet there’s something almost subversive about them. The characters don’t stare blankly like the women in the Stepford Wives movie, but still. I find their steady cheerfulness and unusual prosperity just a little creepy. There are other unexplained phenomena. Like the constant baking and the drinking of multiple cups of hot chocolate, yet no one is overweight.

As I write this, I’m eyeballing a movie called ‘Christmas in Evergreen: The Tiding.’ Perhaps they’ve done many shows in the fine town of Evergreen, and this is the latest rendition. I have no idea, because the only time I watch them is when I land on the channel accidentally. Still, I have to confess. There’s something mesmerizing about the way they capture their audience.

The first thing I notice is the clothes. Everyone is so well dressed, like they’re ready to attend their own wedding. Even the children look fresh from the hair salon. Toques (that’s Canadian winter head gear) are accompanied by matching scarves. Boots gleam, and fun mittens adorn every pair of hands. All this fashion finery is backed by elaborate decorations that make Rockefeller Center look small time. Lights everywhere, wreaths on all the doors and even the smallest store is wrapped up like an extravagant gift. Nobody ever frowns in Christmas movie land. Well, nobody except for a child whose mother, (let’s call her Amanda) is just too busy.

Amanda has an immaculate, amazingly decorated house, works full time and is always home for supper. And yet, little Jenny feels neglected. She needs a Christmas miracle–one that will have her mother come to her senses and get her priorities straight. Amanda loves to shop. That could be the problem, except everyone in town is constantly shopping and strolling around toting beautifully wrapped presents. By the end of the movie, Amanda has found both love and more time for her daughter.

Then there’s little Jimmy, who needs a new mother. His handsome father  is too heart broken to date the boy’s gorgeous teacher, though she’s funny (Hallmark funny, not Tina Fey funny) and smart and perfect in every way. Jimmy’s father looks off into the distance as he speaks about his wife. He was too busy working when she was alive, and now he is filled with regret. Jimmy can’t act as well as his father, but we’re supposed to root for them both.

The men of Christmas are as well groomed as the women. They look like Ken dolls, with hair that stays put no matter what winter sport they’re playing. Usually it’s something light, like skating. Or shopping. Even if their car broke down on the highway and they had to spend the night in a village resembling Santa’s workshop, they still look like mannequins. Their fastidious appearance leads me to believe that these men are all gay. Except I don’t think they have any LGBTQ people in Hallmark movies. Not any who are out of the closet, anyway. Please let me know if I’m wrong.

There are no drunk uncles in a Hallmark Christmas movie. No one ever confesses to cheating on their spouse. If they have a child and they’re a single parent, they’re never divorced, they’re a widow. Or widower.

I hate to diss the company, because I’ve been known to wander through Hallmark stores, reading cards while sitting in the aisle and weeping. After a good half hour of this behavior, I’m usually approached by a clerk with a strained look on her face. “May I help you?”
“No thanks. I just like to read the cards. This is the one,” I say, holding it up with the solemnity of a woman buying herself a $10,000 ring. I’ll spend $8 because this clever writer deserves the pay.

If these movies were cheesy novels, (which, maybe they were, once) there’d be a bare chested cowboy leaning over a beautiful girl while doffing his Stetson. But TV Christmas movies require clothing. Well fitted, stylish, fake casual. Young couples strolling down snow covered streets, flakes drifting softly past their faces, a church spire or an old brick bank that needs saving, in the background. Maybe a dog. I haven’t seen one yet. There must be a Hallmark dog movie out there somewhere. Dogs are emotionally available, and therefore popular.

No one in a Hallmark movie is Charlize Theron beautiful, just very good looking for regular town life. Even the old people look fit and attractive. There’s a lot of botox and filler, but its subtle. I can’t help thinking, oh, please. Give me one heroin addict dying in an alley while people wander by, unseeing. An old person neglected in a neighborhood of uncaring young people. Any touch of reality that acknowledges the messiness of real life. Our houses may look nice for half a day, but who can keep it up longer than that unless they have domestic help?  Especially if there are kids around. I want to see a Hallmark character step on a Lego piece and yell, ‘Fuck me!’ It will never happen.

I’d love to see a guy say, ‘Want to hook up, just for the night? Nancy next door has been talking about a three way. You up for it?” Wouldn’t that shake up the audience. As their Christmas movie coma fell away, the viewers would blink their eyes and shake their heads. “I have to get a life,” they’d say, getting up from the sofa for the first time in eight hours.

And yet. The people I know who watch and love Hallmark movies are busy with their own jobs and kids and full lives. At the end of a hard day, they long for the comfort and dazzle of a well decorated town. A simple story line where love waits for the pretty, and kids have small, easily solved problems. No one’s parents have dementia, no one’s dad is trying to kick his drug habit. Small problems, magical fixes. Yet watching these movies makes me want to try heroin, or lie down in a back alley with a bottle of 90 proof home brew.

I guess what I really want is to burst people’s bubble. Apparently this is the reason I can’t stand the movies. I’m a bubble burster. A Christian scrooge. Bah, humbug. Christmas for me is about Jesus, but I can’t stand the church people in these movies, either. Anyway.

Wait a minute. They just kissed. Why is she leaving? Is she driving away? I thought they were going to get married! What the…?? Dammit. Now I have to watch to the end. Sigh. At least I’m dressed badly. My old flannel bottoms and torn sweatshirt represents the realities of regular people’s lives. Because someone has to keep a firm grasp on… Wait…she’s back! She’s getting out of the car with a string of lights in her hand! Oh, for the love of God! Stop decorating, already.

Published by Judith Pettersen

Judith Pettersen is an author living in Canada. She blogs about her life in the north and the ups and downs of being a writer.

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