Artwork – Not Another Hallmark Movie Poster, Elish Kathleen, 2020.
Hallmark movies, especially their holiday movies, are a classic and easy watch. They fall under the category ‘good-bad movies’. The kind of films that you know are utterly terrible, but you still love to watch. While you probably wouldn’t watch a Hallmark movie if you were looking for something true to life, or relatable, shouldn’t they have some kind of moral duty to make it somewhat accessible to viewers? I almost only watch shit films, hence why I am subscribed to the Hallmark Channel (like Netflix but only Hallmark films). However, watching exclusively Hallmark movies for over a month now has made me question: why and how do they get away with being so misogynistic? And why the fuck am I still watching them?
Hallmark movies have one category: white woman, with a high-flying career (think lawyer, tech mogul, CEO, etc.) that she has worked her whole life for, by the way, visiting her hometown (usually a very small town) and falling in love with some local schmuck, choosing to stay in said hometown and giving everything up for a man. Hallmark tries to mask this one same movie plot, under different guises. Perhaps they change the reason why she must visit the small town across their films – they change the jobs of the characters, for example, or sometimes (but not always) they even change the lead actress! The rehash of the plot may go like this: a tragedy occurs, and the female protagonist must go home where she realises she never got over her high school boyfriend – and they rekindle their romance. Or, maybe this woman is stranded in a small town for work and is forced to work with a local, whom at first she does not like, but in the end, he is worth giving up her entire life and career for. But why are Hallmark so obsessed with this one plot? What purpose does it serve bar making women look less-than for having goals and career aspirations?
It’s also important to note that the male lead this woman falls for is often portrayed as the true ‘hero’ of the movie. The female lead may lead a more luxurious or interesting lifestyle, and even be more successful, due to her career and money, but of course the man is the epitome of TRUE success and heroism. For example, he may have stayed in his small town to look after his mom after his dad’s death, or, to take over the family business. Or maybe, it’s just because that is where generations of his family have lived: if it was good enough for them, why not him? He’d never dare to abandon his family and values – which are intertwined with his small town – like his romantic interest did. He’s just that kind of guy. And that is the true hero of the movie. A guy who wants nothing above an average life for himself, for the sake of his town and family – that is true sacrifice. This man often has other attributes that add to his heroic nature. For example, maybe he is a firefighter, or a high school teacher. Outside of his unwillingness to experience anything outside of his town and people he has known his whole life, he, of course, has a middle of the road, but nonetheless sacrificial job, that really drives home what a “good guy” he is. This narrative that we must not want anything out of the generational norm is further pushed down our throats with these classic, but damaging, storylines that Hallmark produces. Hallmark constantly paints a picture that men are honourable, and live by their simple and manly duties to their community. And that the women in these movies are miserable for choosing their careers over their families, or over creating a family and settling down. These women are lost – don’t know what they want – they thought success equalled career and money and big city living. But they were wrong. Happiness is actually, living small, being a ‘local’, and sacrifices are worth being made for this.
I recently watched a hallmark movie where they tried to sell being a contractor as a heroic job. The lead actress, Cameron Candace Bure (remember her from Full House? She is in almost every hallmark movie now) delivered the line:
“Wow. That sounds like a lot of hard work, you must really care about people huh?”
The male contractor replied, with a blushing smile:
“Well yeah, there is nothing better than giving people – families, the homes of their dreams, and somewhere safe to live.”
Like, what? I know the intention of this character development was to reiterate how much of a good guy he was and to make us perhaps even compare it to the female lead’s ‘meaningless’ corporate job – to show us, the viewers, of the two worlds we are dealing with here. One being fruitful, happy, wholesome and important and the other being lonely, boring, exploitative, and meaningless. However, to have the cheek to do it with a contractor, in this instance, when contractors are notoriously known for being arseholes, adds more insult to injury because of how ridiculous it is. Hallmark constantly reminds viewers that perfect bliss can be achieved only by forsaking an urban environment for a rural one. If you’re a woman, you should also value marriage over your career. And, as zero of the 40 Hallmark movies released in 2019 feature an LGBTQ romance as the leading storyline, it goes without saying that marriage should be a heterosexual one.
The Hallmark Channel, that produces all of its tv shows and movies, was founded in 2001. So perhaps back then, this is the kind of story we wanted to see. Maybe we even believed it back in the early 2000’s and had aspirations for a similar love story. But in 2020, is that really what we want to watch? Is this a modern representation of men and women? No. Although we know to take Hallmark movies with a pinch of salt, since they are not merited for being completely realistic or even good, they still base their whole brand and lifeline on bringing us wholesome movies – but the underlying messages they are sending are far from wholesome.
Here is where I would suggest Hallmark update their proforma – but they have.
A more recent development of the hallmark movie plot is that the small-town painfully average man the successful woman falls for is also a single father. It’s worrying to think that Single Fathers are the most modern concept of family that Hallmark can come up with – but I guess they are more common now than they were years ago, when the Hallmark Channel began. So it is not entirely out of reach to update their plot lines with this development, but the message that goes with this is. In Hallmark movie world, this romantic connection with a single father is the same as winning the lottery. The “updated” version of Hallmark movies sends the message that not only are we wrong for wanting a career, leaving where we’re from, but also for not having children, but luckily enough, some men will already have had them for us! Thank God.
In an ending scene from one Hallmark movies with such a plot, once the couple in question have confirmed their relationship, the lead actress confesses:
“My Mom [who is dead] would be so glad I finally have my perfect family, I wish she was here to see this. It’s what I wanted all along, but I guess my job and fast paced lifestyle in New York just kept me too busy to realise it. Thank you Dan, for giving me the life I always wanted”
You truly have to laugh. Not only does this imply women should feel shame for not having a child, or having the desire to have them, but it also suggests you need a man to help you come to this realisation. This could not be further from a true reflection of women in 2020. A study published in the Regional Studies of London School of Economics wrote that, “the healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.” So why must they frame this as something we SHOULD want? And suggest that, even if you do not want this lifestyle, one day – when you meet the right guy – you will?
Although I mentioned before that we do not watch these movies because they are realistic, we still do watch them. Buzzfeed reported that the Hallmark Channel is one of the top five cable channels watched by 18-49 year old women. Surely, there must be some kind of plot they can think of that doesn’t degrade the modern woman, who watches these films, so brazenly?
Hallmark’s inability to portray women as successful, happy and with the ability of knowing their own minds without the assistance of man is patriarchal and boring! But perhaps that is the reason we, myself included, still watch them – because they are so out of reach with our reality that they provide escapism. However, having done the research, they are becoming less of an escape from reality, and more of a reminder of how the media in our modern culture is still trying to claw us back into reliving our housewife days.
It’s 2020, Hallmark: if we wanted to give up everything we’ve worked for and be small town housewives, the only man we’d do it for is Andy Cohen!!!