I’m not terribly sure whether Salon writer Amanda Marcotte or an editor at the liberal thought-hovel came up with the subheadline to her piece, published on Christmas Day, in which she slammed Hallmark Channel movies as “fascist propaganda.”
You may look at that thesis and think it’s a bit of hyperbole. For all I know, it was really meant as such. However, it’s difficult to take it that way when this subheadline is smacking you right in the face the moment you open it: “Forget ‘Triumph of the Will’ — the most insidious authoritarian propaganda comes in the form of schmaltz.”
For the uninitiated, “Triumph of the Will” was Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous piece of fascist propaganda that depicts, in frighteningly operatic detail, the 1934 Nazi Party Congress. This film, considered by many to have established the public image of Adolf Hitler’s Germany as a powerful, larger-than-life state apparatus, is apparently being compared to films like “Hats Off to Christmas!”
The description of “Hats Off to Christmas!” on Hallmark’s website: “Mia, the loyal and hard-working manager of her small town’s Christmas hat shop, is blindsided when her boss of over 10 years asks her to train his son, Nick, for a vacant upper-management position that Mia had been coveting. Although Nick is a handsome, successful New York City business consultant, Mia finds training him frustrating until Nick takes an interest in Mia’s son Scotty (Sean Michael Kyer), helping Scotty with a pumpkin carving contest.”
I’ve yet to see “Hats Off to Christmas!” but my assumption is that there’s plenty of anonymous Christmasy-sounding music. “Triumph of the Will” features a score that includes Wagner and the “Horst Wessel-Lied.”
You may perhaps be able to tell the two apart, and not just because “Triumph of the Will” is in black-and-white.
And that’s precisely the problem to Amanda Marcotte, who wants us all to know that the real fascist propaganda is actually cloying, sentimental movies.
While digesting Christmas dinner, enjoy my piece about why Hallmark holiday movies are basically fascist propaganda. https://t.co/BpiVHSM5jX
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) December 25, 2019
The hook for Marcotte, of course, is the fact that the Hallmark Channel recently pulled a commercial featuring a lesbian couple getting married and kissing, then un-pulled it days later. In short, the network caved to two separate pitchfork-wielding outrage groups and ended up issuing a lot of boilerplate statements like how it has been “a progressive pioneer on television for decades” and is “committed to diversity and inclusion.”
“Which is, of course, laughable to anyone who has even glancing knowledge of the channel’s offerings,” Marcotte wrote. “Running down this year’s schedule of Christmas movie offerings is like a trip into an uncanny valley of shiny-teethed, blow-dried heteronormative whiteness, with only a few token movies with characters of color. It’s like watching ‘The Stepford Wives,’ but scarier, since the evil plot to replace normal people with robots is never actually revealed.
“None of this should be a surprise, because Hallmark movies, as cloying and saccharine as they are, constitute the platonic ideal of fascist propaganda.”
Come again? Well, Marcotte backs up this rhetorical bomb by noting most of the films in Nazi Germany were different than you might think. I’m going to put some the text in bold in the next paragraph; see if you can notice why this is sort of important:
“That is probably a startling statement to some. When most of us think about fascistically propagandistic movies, we think of the grotesque grandeur of Leni Riefenstahl’s films celebrating the Third Reich — grand, but cold sweeping shots of soldiers goose-stepping and flags waving, all meant to inspire awe and terror. But the reality is, even in Nazi Germany, the majority of movies approved by the Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, were escapist and feather-light, with a Hallmark movie-style emphasis on the importance of ‘normality.'”
Now, say what you will about the Hallmark Channel, which is a corner of the cable landscape where films starring Haylie Duff as a manager at a Santa hat factory merits airing, but none of what’s being shown there was ever approved by the propaganda minister of the most evil government to have ever benighted the planet.
Throwing in a comparison with the Nazis based on that less-than-tenuous link isn’t just bad writing or a weak attempt to defend an inflated headline, it’s an immoral insult to those who produce and watch these movies.
Furthermore, this “link” could be made with almost any society’s tradition of popular entertainment. Marcotte writes as if everyone in other times and cultures has been consuming their equivalents of “Citizen Kane” and “Do the Right Thing.” Most popular entertainment doesn’t push cultural boundaries, either in terms of plot or diversity of cast. For there to be a legitimate reason for this article to exist, there would have to be a far more specific link between the Hallmark Channel and the Third Reich.
It’s not provided in that paragraph, where the evidence for Marcotte’s thesis is both the Nazis and Hallmark Channel viewers like escapist entertainment. (“So you own a dog? You know who else owned dogs? Hitler!”)
It doesn’t get provided in the rest of the piece, where Marcotte posits that the link between Hallmark Channel and fascism is that the channel’s movies don’t have enough minority characters in them, the channel’s vision of being “family-friendly” is little more than an excuse for heteronormativity and the inclusion of Jewish characters in the channel’s holiday drama is capital-P Problematic.
She quotes Britni de la Cretaz from a piece in The Washington Post where the feminist writer said that the Hallmark movies “rely on some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes in the book.”
“The drama hinges on Jewish characters being compelled to observe Christmas, and the tension resolves only when these outsiders learn how to participate in or appreciate the dominant religious tradition,” de la Cretaz wrote.
That slightly interesting thread doesn’t get explored in too much depth, however, because we eventually get to what this is really all about: Hallmark’s movies aren’t “cosmopolitan” enough and reflect small-town sensibilities that resonate with supporters of you-know-who.
“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,” Marcotte wrote.
“If you don’t believe me, listen to authoritarians themselves. At the Federalist, which is ground zero website for generating frankly fascist ‘culture war’ arguments, Hans Fiene argues that, ‘culturally speaking, Hallmark Christmas movies are noticeably Christian.'”
Ah yes, there’s the nut of it: We’re defining things down so that The Federalist, “the Donald Trump era” and “the pleasures of the small, domestic life” are fascist and examples of “defensive white nationalism.”
“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,” she said in conclusion, noting that the Hallmark Channel’s “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.”
But no offense, Hallmark Channel viewers!
“None of this, of course, means that everyone who watches Hallmark Christmas movies is some kind of fledgling fascist,” Marcotte says. (Of course not!) “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.'”
The thing is, I’m sure people who watch Hallmark movies are well aware there are plenty of people like Marcotte who don’t think they’re “normal.” These are people who’ve been lecturing about it for weeks.
After making it clear for a multitude of paragraphs these movies are basically fascist propaganda, Marcotte throws in the caveat that not everyone who likes this stuff “is some kind of fledgling fascist.”
So which ones are, one wonders? The ones who are “provincial” enough to prefer small-town life? The ones who might long for the pleasures of returning home? The ones who might prefer fluff when they tune into a movie?
This is what Hallmark Channel fans have had to endure: being told they’re not “normal” because the movies they like, according to pundits like Marcotte, support “normalcy.”
Most of those pundits don’t go all the way and try to make a connection to fascism, but none of them seems to get the irony of telling people who are being roundly ostracized for their choices in media consumption that they’re simultaneously reinforcing insidious normative values by consuming said media.
This is an unserious look at a weighty subject, certainly not the kind of exploration the bombastic hypothesis deserves; Marcotte draws a direct connection between the movies of the Hallmark Channel and the entertainment of the Third Reich and then fails to provide any substantive evidence of this.
It’s worth noting the last time the Nazis even get mentioned is in the fifth paragraph. After that, Marcotte does a quick turn and “fascists” are defined as Trump supporters, conservative websites and “authoritarian religious right groups” — which are all quite a bit different from, you know, Joseph Goebbels or actual fascism.
What it comes down to is that Hallmark Channel movies represent a melange of stuff Marcotte and Salon readers don’t like. Fair enough. I can certainly see that these movies cater to a certain type of person, and (if for different reasons) that type of person is neither a) Amanda Marcotte nor b) me.
That said, this isn’t being ordered by some sort of state apparatus to dictate what’s “normal.” It has nothing to do with a state apparatus at all, something that’s necessarily a precondition for fascism. They’re simply movies that find an audience Marcotte has little but for contempt for.
She writes for several paragraphs as if the channel’s films are being produced out of some culturally malignant Department of Pro-Small-Town Propaganda, but the only reasonable argument she comes up with — which she doesn’t bother to explore for long enough to make any impact, as is typical in the scattershot nature of the piece — is that perhaps Hallmark’s movies could do better at representing Judaism.
So, is this a piece of overblown clickbait with a series of threadbare arguments that fail to justify the headline? Does Marcotte mistake things she vehemently disagrees with as being legitimately fascistic? Will Haylie Duff’s character in “Hats Off to Christmas!” fall in love with the new “handsome, successful New York City business consultant” who helped her son win a pumpkin-carving contest?
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone when I say that the answers to all three questions are the same.
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