Saturday, November 19, 2022

Jangled Bells

It's the most annoying time of the year...

Yep, my inner Grinch is back because y'all insist on pushing Christmas on me earlier each year. This year, I swear some Southern radio station was playing Christmas music before Election Day and that isn't even the worst of it. I've been seeing Black Friday deals since September, so yes, it is already way too much too soon. 

Give folks time to eat the rest of the Halloween candy, damn!

Regular readers of this blog already know to expect a lot of bah humbugging from me right around this time of year, so no new ground to cover by writing yet another piece about how much I hate Christmas. So let's go in a different direction by addressing one of the many reasons why I find all of this so ridiculous: Christmas movies.

Specifically, the Hallmark kind that always end with a happy couple kissing in a faux snow-covered gazebo. Or the kind that features a magical appearance by Santa or his wife or an elf or an angel or an abandoned baby or a ghost. I think that covers the gamut of plot possibilities because no one has come up with a new Christmas story so y'all just do a remix of the various themes already out in the universe. And while there are a few Christmas movies that I do enjoy and could watch over and over, those tend to break the formulaic mode because they are comedies or about family dysfunction. If there is an all-day marathon of A Christmas Story (1983), Elf (2003), or The Family Stone (2005) playing somewhere, I am there--just not until after my birthday.

Every year, Hallmark, Lifetime, and now TVOne roll out a new batch of Christmas movies which makes avoiding that aspect of the holiday just as challenging as escaping Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that other TV networks have taken note and have been working on their own holiday programming, so now might be a good time for me to finally pay for a streaming service. What are the kids binge-watching on Hulu these days?

Having said all of that, the real reason I've brought you here today is to take note of a little article I recently read that explains why one of Hallmark's biggest movie stars, Candace Cameron Bure, suddenly defected to Great American Family network. Now, when this was initially announced back in April, I took a moment and thought, hmm, I guess that means more work for Holly Robinson Peete. And then I realized, yeah it must be nice that Candace can take her toys to her own room so that she won't have to share.

If you can read between the lines, it seems rather convenient that Bure would claim to want to promote more family-friendly holiday fare now that Hallmark has opted to expand the definition of its family offerings to be more inclusive. Not just in terms of racial diversity, but in presenting representations of family that depart from the "traditional" nuclear model. And while that is certainly her right, nothing screams I'M A SANCTIMONIOUS KAREN louder (except maybe writing it in all caps like I just did).

Color me not at all surprised because this script is just as predictable as one of those holiday movies. The former child star had built quite the brand for herself as the face of Hallmark made-for-TV movies. She got to work for about three to four intense months, and then spent the rest of the year teaching Sunday School and baking bread. It was the perfect gig, but then we had to ruin it for her by asking why come she and her other sitcom sorority sisters were the only ones getting cast in those kinds of movies. And then suddenly it was inconsistent with her brand to be seen in the company of the very people she moved to the exurbs to avoid in the grocery store.

I had taken note some time ago that the offerings on Hallmark were very pumpkin spice latte, so I rarely watched anything on that channel other than The Golden Girls or Fraiser reruns. Since I always fall asleep with the TV on, I often woke up to I Love Lucy, which as many of you know is definitely an all-time Busy Black Woman favorite. Like many niche channels, Hallmark fills the spaces between shows with a lot of promos for its own programming. And I began to detect a theme...

I wanted to keep an open mind about what or who I rarely saw. But it was kind of obvious, and despite the appearance of an occasional Black or Asian best friend, some things are exactly what we see as clear as day. Perhaps it could be written off as unintentional that Hallmark had become a refuge for former sitcom actresses, all of whom happened to be white...or maybe it was a choice. Because I could think of several nonwhite sitcom actresses who certainly could use some work but don't ever seem to get any.

The lack of diversity became undeniable to me the Christmas the Hub and I stayed with his sister. I remember that holiday in vivid detail because she LOVES those movies, they were airing 24/7, and I was pregnant. For three days (talk about biblical allusions), I don't know how many of those movies I sat through and actually watched, but if you can believe it, one stood out from the milquetoast fare. It starred Lacey Chabert, whom I knew as the kiss-ass friend from Mean Girls (2004), as a woman who gets wooed by a Prince in A Royal Christmas (2014). I don't remember anything distinct about the love interest, such as how they met or fell in love, but I do remember that his mother was Doctor Quinn Jane Seymour herself. And I thought out loud, well is there a white actress who hasn't been cast in one of these movies yet? When will there be movie starring the daughter from Mr. Belvedere?

No response to my pregnant rantings, so I just sat quietly in my corner. I could either brave the Staten Island Mall two days before Christmas, read one of my SIL's cookbooks, or give in to see if there was anything compelling or redeeming about any of these movies. I choose option C, and while not entirely terrible, it was a lot like spending a sick day at home with my grandmother. In other words, I knew to expect a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup, some saltine crackers, and an intense stare-down with Victor Newman...

The fact that my Nuyorican SIL was unfazed by the predictability of the plots or the homogeneity of the casts, in addition to knowing many sistahs who enjoyed those same movies, it made me wonder why none of the upstart Black cable networks hadn't produced any of their own holiday fare. It wouldn't have meant sacrificing much time on their already packed programming schedule to preempt a few hours of Martin reruns or not to air The Color Purple (1986) one weekend. Who would notice if instead of Danica McKellar, we got Tempest Bledsoe some work for a change? 

Like every other good idea that I was too busy to put into action, someone at TVOne realized that this ain't rocket science. Since practically every Black sitcom had a very special Christmas episode in the vaults that had been inspired by It's a Wonderful Life (1946) or Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, how hard could it be to come up with something, anything other than the sugar cookie cut-outs on the Hallmark channel? I don't know if Merry Wishmas (2018) was the first of their original movie offerings, but they've been pumping out new holiday movies every year which must have caught the attention of the Hallmark suits. Because now they've responded with their own Mahogany line of Christmas movies, along with a VIDA lineup, and methinks that it was only a matter of time before someone pitched the idea of two elderly lesbians kissing under a gazebo covered in faux-snow. And that was just too much for the most wholesome and ever self-righteous Candace Cameron Bure.

That, and having to cede some of her realm to Holly Robinson Peete.

I'm not calling Bure any names, just pointing out that it is really convenient to allude to "traditional family values" as a euphemism for realizing that she was no longer the Queen of the Hallmark Movie Empire. I wouldn't go so far as to call her a bigot; instead, I would argue that this was a rather shrewd move to make in the midst of a white-hot culture war raging in the real world. In a year when there has been legislation introduced in several states that target trans-youth and claims that children are being indoctrinated into the "gay lifestyle" by a storybook about two penguins, yeah Candy Girl you definitely chose a side. And again, that is your right, because there is an audience that prefers to only see stories that reflect what makes them comfortable in their own biases, so go forth and be mediocre!

But please do me a favor and stop using your narrow definition of Christianity as justification for your intolerance. I'm a Christian too Boo, and my Jesus, the one whose birth your crap ass movies are supposed to celebrate, doesn't seem like the kind of person who would have been concerned about tarnishing your brand. He wasn't all that worried about being seen with the wrong kind of people because there was no such thing in His eyes. You don't have to take my word for it because He said so, and I urge you to look it up in one of those $65 bibles you are hawking.

I will come right out and say it: the Hallmark channel got too ghetto for Bure, so she clutched her purse and hurried across the street. By switching to the Great American Family channel, she can lure her fans to the new mall where there is a traditional Santa and no David Sedaris-ian elves. At her new mall, Bure can get her overpriced coffee served in a disposable cup that has CHRISTMAS emblazoned all over it, brewed by an un-unionized underpaid barista working overtime. Her brother's crappy Christmas movie can play in the multiplex and her tee shirts can be purchased in stores where the retail workers are required to wish you a "Merry Christmas" instead of Happy Holidays (because Hanukkah and Diwali aren't for real Americans). The new mall is everything the old mall used to be before everyone got woke...

Because isn't that the reason for the season--for folks to keep buying the illusion that the Cameron siblings have been selling all these years? They want top shelf placement for their stuff, not to be comingled in what they perceive to be the bargain bin with ours. God forbid that someone just might prefer The Drifter's 1954 version of White Christmas to the movie version from White Christmas the film, also released in 1954. And why not add a little José Feliciano in the mix because Feliz Navidad is a jam! The notion that there is only one right way to celebrate Christmas, or that this is about constraining Christianity when it is all about Capitalism is absolutely on-brand for both Candace and Kirk and their ilk--former child stars whose careers were built on nostalgia for realities that only ever applied to them.

I want to end this on a more festive note because Bure did a lot of people a big favor by making such a dramatic exit. As she stated, this gives her an opportunity to help launch a new venture from the ground floor, so that is both admirable and risky. And by leaving an already established network franchise, she has cleared the stage for other actresses to get some of that Hallmark holiday shimmer and shine. Let the Mowry sisters build themselves an empire! My issue was never about the fact that she left (because even though I did write an entire piece on the matter as if I care, I don't); it is with the manner in which her departure was framed, as if she had to run for her life in order to save her virtue.

Although I'm sure her movies won't get any better on a different network, at least she is safe from secularism and the gay agenda. Her values and her fortune secured, Candace Cameron Bure will be just fine. All of you avid Christmas rom-com movie fans now have an additional channel with a new slate of movies, so now I know what to avoid while channel surfing. 

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