Monday, December 7, 2015

Gifts from the DVR: A Series on Christmas TV (Episode 1- The Obligatory Introduction)

If you ask me, Shelley Long made her living
playing the same character over and over.
Image found here.
This is the first in a series of articles on the gifts that our TVs offer us for the Christmas season.  The idea for this series came to me last year when I was at my local Pathmark and looked in the DVD bin.  I found a movie called “A Different Kind of Christmas” starring Shelley Long and Barry Botswick from the early 90s.  I guess someone was clamoring for a Christmas movie with Diane from Cheers playing the romantic interest to Brad Majors from “Rocky Horror.”  There’s also a guy pretending to be Santa Claus and Barry Botswick playing Donkey Kong Country on an SNES.  It really doesn’t matter.  The point is that for every Charlie Brown Christmas, there are a multitude of movies with titles like “A Prince for Christmas,” “Dear Santa,” and “The Christmas Shoes.”  And eventually, they all end up in the discount bin at your local supermarket.

Here is ION's Holiday Movie List!
You're welcome.
The most egregious perpetrators of this crime against the eyes and minds of people are The Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and ION Television.  It seems like these movies are being churned out and distributed like Old Navy clothes coming from Indonesia: cheaply and without much thought to the consequences.  I don’t mean to single out these three channels as if they are the only ones feeding us this cotton candy cornucopia of schmaltz.  It just so happens they are the most prominent.  They exude in their ability to make these movies, in fact.  You might be binge watching a 12 hour marathon of SVU in early November (yeah, kicking the habit isn’t that easy), and you’ll easily catch seven or eight promos for their holiday spate of movies.  They just stick in your head like candy canes melting to the side of your hot cocoa mug.  

Christmas Movies for Women?Right here.

The disturbing thing is that, like porn or an episode of Jersey Shore, these movies all have similar tropes.  They have elements that can be switched out, reordered, and remixed.  You know that you’ll get a bar fight, a few dumb lines, and Snooki making a dumb comment on any episode of Jersey Shore.  The Walking Dead is another show that has a similar aesthetic (remember that episode when the humans did something so vile, we question whether they’re any better than the walkers?  Yeah, I went there).  In a modern Christmas movie, we’re told Big City People Don’t Celebrate Christmas like Small Town Folk do.  Someone is always engaged to the wrong person in the beginning of the movie, but by the end, the engagement is broken for the One True Love.  We get a life story in an exposition dump that takes place 10 seconds after the opening credits are over.  And all throughout, we get this white-washed, air-brushed, very bland form of Christianity that is subtle.  It’s not like a sledgehammer.  It’s more like a blackjack to the back of the head in delivering its message of family values and the reason for the season.

When you care enough to watch the very bland.
Hallmark Christmas Movies.

These are some of the issues I’ll be exploring in this series.  And while it’s fun to kick these types of movies like the cynical fiend that I am, I am not trying to be cynical nor fiendish.  I think the public gets the entertainment it asks for.  After all, TV programs and movies are as much a product of our capitalist system as Coke and McDonald’s.  I also think that writing, the basis for all these media, is a reflection of our innermost selves.  Christmas is a time of reflection.  It comes at the end of the year.  We’re reminded of Christmases past often, listening to the same songs, watching the same specials.  This time of year puts our ideal selves face to face with what we actually are, so our entertainment is probably some kind of reflection of that.  These movies are fun to laugh at, but we might learn from them as well. 
Let’s face it.  We’re all suckers at this time of year.  Laughing at these movies is like laughing at ourselves.  I think now more than ever, we need that kind of comedy in our lives.