Not everyone turns to Die Hard as their favorite Christmas movie. Some enjoy the offerings from Hallmark, soothing, comforting and fascist propaganda, according to Amanda Marcotte at Salon.
None of this should be a surprise, because Hallmark movies, as cloying and saccharine as they are, constitute the platonic ideal of fascist propaganda.
They are certainly cloying. Definitely saccharine. But fascist propaganda, putting aside the question of whether Plato had an ideal about the issue?
There’s plenty of reason that empty-headed kitsch fits neatly in the authoritarian worldview. It’s storytelling that imitates the gestures of emotion without actually engaging with real feeling. The Hallmark movie steers clear of the real passion or deeper emotion that tends to be the engine driving more artful fiction.
Nobody has called Hallmark movies deeply artful, but that’s true of most of the tripe that’s produced. And, it’s worth noting, that the same movies with more marginalized characters in the leads would be no deeper. So what makes them “fascistic”?
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. And that impulse and fealty to the dominant culture stands in direct contrast to the values of diversity Hallmark facetiously claims to hold.
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.
Buried in there is a snippet worthy of note: dominant culture. Most people live in a world of relative normalcy. They love their homes and families. They go to work. They come home and give their spouse a kiss, ask the kids what happened in school that day, then enjoy dinner with their family. Does this make them fascists?
Still, it’s critical to be mindful of the role that Hallmark movies are actually playing in our society. The very fact that they’re presented as harmless fluff makes it all the more insidious, the way they work to enforce very narrow, white, heteronormative, sexist, provincial ideas of what constitutes “normal.”
It’s easy to spot fascist propaganda when it’s goose-stepping Pepe-the-frog memes. It’s a lot harder to notice how it’s working when it’s tied up in Christmas cheer and suggesting grinchhood of anyone who questions the rigidity of its worldview.
The problem, dear Amanda, is that it is “normal,” although you may have stuck in a few peccadilloes that say more about you than about the movies. Black people love their families. So do gay people. So do stay-at-home dads and high earning moms. But that this is what the vast majority of Americans consider “normal,” or the horrifying “comforting, formulaic, soothing” sort of mindless television schmaltz that people choose to watch, is because it’s the dominant culture.
It’s not the culture you want to see on the tube? Fair enough. There had long been a shortage of movies reflecting other perspectives, although there was Sex in the City doing the cosmo girl’s perspective and movies about racial inequality and the life of poor people in other countries are all the rage. And by “other countries,” I didn’t mean Wakanda. It seems that television commercials are now disproportionately led by minority actors, which may be fair as they’ve been excluded forever, even if it feels forced now.
Ultimately, there is probably no way to square the claim to believe in “diversity” with fascistic impulse that guides the current crop of Hallmark movies, which center always around these frankly MAGA-style ideas about what constitutes “real” America. As the Jewish movies show, the best that Hallmark can do is some token “diversity” that wipes out most of what makes people actually diverse. Their money comes from selling a vision of America that increasingly authoritarian conservatives wish to believe once existed and can be restored again — an America that excludes most of an increasingly urban, racially diverse, cosmopolitan nation. That won’t change no matter how many inclusive Zola ads the network airs.
Like Marcotte, I’m not really a fan of Hallmark movies. They hold little interest for me, and I don’t share whatever need for comfort brings in the eyeballs. Nor am I bothered in the least by two women kissing at a wedding, whether it’s a Hallmark or a Subaru commercial.
But just as movies about subjects and people that were formerly ignored are seeing the light of day, so too can movies showing the dominant culture. There are white people in America as well as black and brown people. There are heteronormative people just as there are gay and transgender people. There are people who claim themselves to be sophisticates, like Marcotte, and more common folk who don’t, and don’t want to.
None of this, of course, means that everyone who watches Hallmark Christmas movies is some kind of fledgling fascist. These movies are not for me, but I believe people when they say they find it relaxing to watch these predictable movies that have low stakes because none of the characters feel like real people. I’ve got my own flavors of trashy entertainment I fully enjoy without mistaking it for high art.
The problem isn’t that Marcotte gets off on Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian, which, it should be noted, is there for her to enjoy in the privacy of her own home if that’s her thing. The problem is that Marcotte needs to denigrate Hallmark movies as fascist propaganda because it reflects a world that she despises for its normalcy.
Live and let live, Amanda. It’s a wonderful life.