It’s the Holiday Season. You’re a man who has come home from work, and you greet your significant other as you lay down your briefcase and – if it applies – perhaps loosen your tie. You ask, perhaps, about your kids or what s/he wants for dinner. But … you hear nothing. You round the corner to find your beloved under a blanket and staring glowingly at the TV, but with a look of guilty pleasure. What is happening, you ask? Well, my friend, you’ve entered . . . THE HALLMARK ZONE.
Yep. At holiday points throughout the year – most notably around the winter holidays, from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah / Christmas / New Year’s Eve, and on to Valentine’s Day – a once proud greeting card company many years ago decided to buy a cable TV channel. With its powerful signal, this modest media monster cast an impressive, non-stop barrage of female-appealing programming that has developed a psychological and emotional hold on a great deal of American women, and not just a few men. Yes, friends, I’m of course talking about the heart string-pulling, “sap-tacular” cliché manufacturing plant known as the Hallmark Channel.
The W.H.A.S.P. celebrating narratives portrayed on this network (the “H” is for Hetero) – where every town is small (comfortably [read: “safely”] just outside “the City”), in a snowy climate, and is filled with more orphans and widows/widowers than national statistics could possibly explain. The network has become a staple for many women that I know, including my Jewish wife, who LOVES nothing more than escaping to the myriad Christmas wonderlands of THE HALLMARK ZONE.
If one just sticks to Christmas, one will discover that THE HALLMARK ZONE’s movies are a wonderful formula where we can count on a menu of plot lines and characters that not only include the geographic and demographic points above, but also, among other staples:
- A town with a secret
- A town resident who, in plain clothes, looks an AWFULLY LOT like Santa Claus
- A parent who is trying to do the thinking for, or “set up for love,” their lonely child who has suffered heartbreak
- A little bit of “unexplainable magic”
- A convenient inability for a visiting stranger to get out of town (due to, e.g. weather), until they find love
- A guy who was in the “Friend Zone” who THE HALLMARK ZONE has tagged for Looooove!!!
- Hearty men who work with their hands, not with their laptops
And let’s face it, America. As my wife watches, so too do I occasionally come to be transfixed by a romantic tale or two (I’m a guy who “loves love.” What can I say — sue me!!). So what is it?
I think, in the end, THE HALLMARK ZONE represents a mix of a friendlier and far more benign version of “red state nostalgia” with more acceptable, universal themes of loneliness turning into connection and community overcoming individualism. And who doesn’t want to feel, or reconnect with, memories of a holiday love of the past or the promise of one to come? In the end, there are more harmful, “reality television” sins than the overly simple, un-diverse promise of THE HALLMARK ZONE. So I say, despite all of its flaws and shortcomings … Uh … Enjoy?
I can’t say I’ve fallen into the Hallmark Zone. I know others who have — including my 81 year old mother and my high school English teacher who happens to be a neighbor. The channel really makes me ill and I can’t stand to be in the same room if it is on. The simplicity, fakeness and easy resolutions reinforce the disconnection with reality in which a large swath of our country seems to live. Perhaps I’m projecting my red-state anger onto the Hallmark channel. So be it.