My Hallmark Movie Obsession is at War with My Self-Image
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Anything you enjoy is worth enjoying fully. That being said, I totally believe in pleasures that are better off not shared. I’m not talking the creepy kind, but the kind where you know it will start a conversation that will inevitably lead to you defending your enjoyment of said pleasure while the other person stares dumbly at you, just not getting it. In those cases, it’s easier to not bring it up. Not out of shame, but out of saving time for all involved. I’m convinced that’s what half the Internet was created for — to share in the pleasures we don’t want to bother having to explain to others who aren’t into the same thing, like ’90s anime or ASMR.
For me, this is Hallmark movies. You either like them or you don’t. You either hate-watch them (in which case, you’re in the like category) or you hate them (…I mean, it’s obvious where you sit, isn’t it?).
In my mind, they’re the best kind of ridiculous. Without the constraints of normal social interactions, without any kind of rational timeline, without a drip of modern realism. Sometimes I hate-watch, but usually I sit down with a pint of Halo Top, some popcorn, a big cup of tea, kick my fuzzy-sock covered feet up and enjoy.
My obsession began slowly, at first, like obsessions usually do. It was around the holidays, Hallmark’s target market. I’m not joking. Their movies run 24/7, every two hours, starting around Thanksgiving and running straight through Valentine’s Day. After that, they show two movies a day, instead preferring old comedy programming and their daytime talk shows to fill the time. I feel like an addict who got duped into buying less substantial goods and now I’m just waiting for that holiday hit again.
It’s as I’m sitting there — watching the umpteenth Hallmark movie where the Big City Woman has to move back to her Hometown Roots for some asinine reason that makes sense at the time, and as she’s falling in love with the Pulls Off That Flannel Shirt Well Enough Hunk, as I’m caught up in the swell of the romantic music, the near-kisses, and the happy resolution — that I see all the ways in which a Hallmark movie isn’t what I want for my life.
And that’s the strangest part.
Hallmark movies are like fairy tales, but for adults. They’re ones in which the characters have lived a little life and are ready to settle down, all they need is that One Person. Their Person. And Hallmark is happy to provide it for you, in the formula that follows: (Main Character + Love Interest + Vaguely Understandable Reason They Can’t Be Together — The Vaguely Understandable Bit + Somehow It Was All A Misunderstanding) x Unreasonably Short Time Frame = True Love’s Kiss + Roll Credits
My problem isn’t with the love interest. It’s not even with the promise of eternal devotion after, usually, having met only a week ago. It’s with the main character, the woman that’s likely supposed to be a self-insert for all of us watching.
Here is where Hallmark becomes slightly more nuanced, but only just. According to my numerous hours of very serious research, a Hallmark Leading Woman can fall into one of three categories:
1) She’s the fast-talking city slicker on the course for a big promotion. She will inevitably fall in love with a man from a small town and, through this love, she will be shown all the reasons her goals and dreams never mattered — or, arguably worse, were wrong — in the first place.
2) She’s the small-town girl, living in a lonely world, where she either has to run her family business or manages a small but busy Christmas shop in an idyllic town. The big shot bossman will inevitably stumble across her, in which case she will blow his mind with her happy, caring, knows-everyone’s-name-and-their-preferred-morning-coffee-order personality and outlook on life.
3) Just kidding. They all fall into the first two.
Now, I don’t need every character in the world to be like me. Talk about boring programming. (As you can tell, because one of my favorite pastimes is curling up and watching Hallmark. So I rest my case.) I’m not even saying I need to see myself in every character. And while it’s important to relate, on some level, it’s not a requirement.
My problem is my obsession, or that I can only watch so many movies that tell me what I should want is so easily prescribed before I begin to internalize why I like them so much. I don’t want to live in a small town. I don’t want to quit a high-energy, fast-paced job. I don’t want a man to be the one to show me all of this.
And yet why do I fall in love, again and again, with these movies?
Is my obsession trying to tell me something I’m refusing to hear?
Am I tired of big-city living?
Do I actually want to live in a small town that’s Christmas all-year-round, where the real Santa Claus visits?
I kid, but the point mostly stands. This isn’t like porn, where some primal part of the brain overtakes otherwise rational thoughts and desires. I’m not clicking off the TV in disgust with myself. I’m sitting there, sighing at the dreamy music and love-at-first-kiss themes, deciding whether I should watch another. It’s no decision, really, I know I’m not going to change the channel.
Like food for our bodies, what we consume in the form of entertainment is important to our brain. Sometimes we want the sweet things, the bad things, the tasty-but-not-healthy, makes-me-smile things.
Hallmark is escapism TV at its finest, like candy for the mind. And not like the dark chocolate, heart healthy stuff. And not like those candy gummies that technically have 10% Vitamin C or something. I’m talking about the Smarties of the world. Just pure sugar. And, arguably, missing some taste, but also addicting. You don’t just have one Smarties, you know?
But that can’t be all we eat, and it can’t be all we watch, not without some form of consequence. Much like the way advertisements seep their way into our psyche, my overconsumption of Hallmark finagles its way into my everyday life. My actions are at constant odds with what Hallmark tells me I should do and be and want.
And if I am using Hallmark purely for escapism, the question again becomes: why is this what I want to escape to?
If you’re thinking this is ridiculous, or taking things too far, don’t look any further than Instagram. How many of us feel bad scrolling through our feed, seeing beautiful actress after beautiful fitness model after beautiful lifestyle blogger? (This is, admittedly, why I follow mostly puppies and other writers.) Or what about our sense of FOMO? Social media allows us to compare ourselves to the women who are seemingly able to work, hang out with friends, bake a million sweets, drink like a sailor, party at the best clubs, perfectly document the minutiae of their day, and still look like the very women I watch in my Hallmark movies. Like most things social media, a lot of it is curated, but there’s no discounting that what we consume affects us.
I’m also willing to concede that my problem is compounded by living in Texas, a Southern state with Southern values, which, along with the Midwest, likely makes up a large portion of Hallmark’s viewership. I have two younger brothers in relationships further along than anything on my horizon, and while this has no effect on me personally other than being excited for the additions to my family, the number of times I’m asked how I feel about it would lend you to believe that it should bother me.
Again, another assault in the form of being compared to an ideal that’s not my own.
But unlike the women who recognize their problem, unfollow the professional Instamodels, or take it a step further and delete their account and remove the app from their phone, I continue to consume all that Hallmark throws at me. And when that’s not enough, I watch, hate-watch, and re-re-re-watch Netflix’s now infamous A Christmas Prince. Give me that high any way I can get it, dammit.
What can I say? Clearly I don’t learn my lesson. As I sit here, writing this essay, I’m watching Stranded in Paradise, with four pieces of buttered toast and a beer (no Smarties, but not much better). And after it finishes, Sun, Sand, & Romance is on next.
Until the holiday season, this will have to suffice. Maybe by then I’ll understand my obsession. Or maybe I’ll fall in love with a flannel-wearing lumberjack and we’ll move to the North Pole to be closer to his parents. Who knows?