Hating on Hallmark has become an annual right of passage for progressive journalists, and Amanda Marcotte’s Salon piece “Hallmark movies are fascist propaganda” absolutely does not disappoint. Instead of taking the usual tack of calling it basic and boring, Marcotte deems it discriminatorily heteronormative, and authoritarian.
She writes: “Hallmark movies, with their emphasis on returning home and the pleasures of the small, domestic life, also send a not-at-all subtle signal of disdain for cosmopolitanism and curiosity about the larger world, which is exactly the sort of attitude that helps breed the kind of defensive white nationalism that we see growing in strength in the Donald Trump era.”
I haven’t actually seen a Hallmark movie. But these are an odd handful of things to conflate. It’s not authoritarian to want to live in small towns. It’s not white nationalist to be happy to leave urban life. And it’s not Trumpian to plant roots in a locality and find a home there. He doesn’t seem to be about that at all, in fact.
Hallmark movies are for that wacky, wild subculture that everyone loves to hate, white heteronormative women. It’s super popular these days to hate women who want to fall in love and raise families, and if they’re white, we heap on the vitriolic icing even thicker.
“The qualities that people cite when they defend Hallmark movies — comforting, formulaic, soothing—are all a result of the aggressively conformist impulse that drives them,” Marcotte writes. “And that impulse and fealty to the dominant culture stands in direct contrast to the values of diversity Hallmark facetiously claims to hold.”
But Hallmark is a cable channel making saccharine movies for a niche audience. The only thing that the recent kerfuffle over a lesbian wedding shows is that Hallmark is anxious not to piss anyone off. First, they ran ads for online wedding registry Zola, which featured a lesbian wedding, then when they got blowback, they pulled them, and when that engendered hate, they tried to put them back. Does Hallmark Channel have integrity? Maybe, maybe not, but really they just want people to watch their cute little movies, have a good cry, and hope for a better tomorrow.
That’s the message I got, and as I said, I haven’t even watched the films. Marcotte takes issue with the typical Hallmark leading lady, a career woman in the big city who only realizes true values and happiness when she heads back to her small town and establishes meaningful relationships. But the thing is, and this is coming from a career woman in the big city, relationships are the most important thing in life. Love really matters, and pretty much nothing else does. Marcotte’s idea that finding compassion, companionship, and camaraderie in a familiar place, is authoritarian, is demeaning. In fact, it’s anathema to real-world experience.
Career and success are great and whatever, but finding understanding in another person is better, and creating a life into which you can bring a new human is probably the best thing of all. Yeah, I said that. I even think it’s true. Lots of people do, even if it never seems to turn out right or be what you expected. These movies are fantasies, after all, just the kind where learning from past mistakes is possible, and happiness is more than a fleeting, fickle emotion.
In hating on Hallmark, Marcotte takes aim at The Federalist (where I am a Senior Contributor). “If you don’t believe me,” she writes, “listen to authoritarians themselves. At The Federalist, which is ground zero website for generating frankly fascist ‘culture war’ arguments, Hans Fiene argues that, ‘culturally speaking, Hallmark Christmas movies are noticeably Christian.” But what is her argument if not a frankly fascist one? She’s saying that the lifestyle represented in these Hallmark movies, fantastical and unrealistic though it may well be, is authoritarian simply because she’s not into it, and finds it problematic with regard to her view of identity politics. She doesn’t like the predictable storyline. But not everyone’s up for complex meta drama all the time. We don’t need to watch Requiem for a Dream just to feel like we’re in touch with the dingy reality of things. And no, I didn’t watch that movie either.
It’s okay for people to live in different ways than Marcotte wishes them to. Her evidence of fascism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism, and she uses these terms interchangeably for purposes of degrading these films, is entirely symbolic. She claims that Hallmark movie harken back to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s work, that Goebbels would have approved of them because they emphasize a certain, dominant concept of normalcy. She doesn’t define fascism, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism outside of 20th century symbols of them, and one wonders if she knows what the words mean. What is totalitarian is the Chinese government’s burning books that don’t align with the communist party line, and the crackdown on theaters by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“Running down this year’s schedule of Christmas movie offerings is like a trip into an uncanny valley of shiny-teethed, blow-dried heteronormative whiteness, with only a few token movies with characters of color. It’s like watching ‘The Stepford Wives,’ but scarier, since the evil plot to replace normal people with robots is never actually revealed. None of this should be a surprise, because Hallmark movies, as cloying and saccharine as they are, constitute the platonic ideal of fascist propaganda,” write Marcotte.
But what Marcotte forgets is that the heternormative concept of normalcy is not dominant anymore. Most televised offerings have plenty of alt lifestyle living characters, these heteronormative pumpkin spice latte storylines are pigeonholed onto a little cable network that is super easy to avoid. Plus there are heteronormative white people out there, and we shouldn’t judge people harshly just because of their identifiers. Straight, white people with boring taste in movies don’t deserve hate for it, and they’re not fascist for accepting who they are. And if they’re watching Hallmark, they’re paying for cable—haven’t they been punished enough?
Flimsy, guilty pleasure movies, that have an easily digestible story where the leading lady always gets her man, are just that. Many women and men would trade everything they have for that kind of real life storyline. Hallmark movies make going home again look easy, and we know it’s not, we know it’s excruciating, complicated and messy. It’s okay to wish for true love outside the complex confines of independent films, and to want to watch a narrative that you can fall asleep to and still not miss anything. There’s nothing inherently bad about being a white woman who wants to fall in love and raise a family and live in the same small town where she grew up. No one has to want it, but we can all aspire to love if we want to.