25 October 2020


   While spending so much time indoors this year, I’ve been watching the Hallmark channels on television quite a bit. Hallmark, oh my! What’s happening to me?

   It wouldn’t be fair to say that if you’ve seen one Hallmark movie, you’ve seen them all. However, if you’ve seen five (out of the hundreds that are available), there’s a good chance you have seen them all. There are only a few basic plots, including a single parent (divorced, widowed, or never married) getting a second chance at love; a man and a woman who haven’t seen each other since they went their separate ways after high school (or college) finding long delayed love; a man or woman finding love in an unexpected situation (usually when they weren’t looking for it); and someone (usually an “average” American woman) falling for a handsome foreign prince. For variety, there are the fantasy ones, in which someone gets transported to the past (or future) for a glimpse of what they might have missed, or a glimpse of what could be in their future. (Santa Claus or a deceased relative are likely transporters.) Whatever the individual twists and turns of the plot, you can always be sure of one thing: about 15 minutes before the end of the movie, there will be some unexpected complication (I call it the Hallmark Misunderstanding), when it looks like everything is going to hell. But it doesn’t, because, after all, it’s Hallmark.

   I’m making this all sound pretty dumb but, actually (and usually depending on the qualities of the actors, rather than the plots), I think some of them are pretty darn good. And here’s what made me even think about writing this essay: in quite a few of them – at some tender moment, or some sad reversal – I find my eyes getting a little moist –  you know, like with teardrops. Hey, what’s that all about?

   I’m 80 years old. My early life had a few romantic ups and downs, but nothing too regretful. If I have anything I’d like to do over again, or anything I think I might have missed, it isn’t anything that is portrayed on Hallmark. I suspect that, through life, most people who know me have considered me pretty stoical. Yet, something is touching me. What?

   I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past few days, and I’m pretty sure I know the answer. Besides being 80 with the usual problems, anticipations and fears of ageing, my mind is beset daily with the greatest possibility in any of our lifetimes that we may be witness to the beginning of the end of Humankind (Climate Change). We’re in the midst of a pandemic that, if it doesn’t kill me or some of my loved ones outright, will be an overwhelming factor for me – and every human on the planet - for years to come. For more than a year, we’ve been preparing for an election that may or may not return some stability to our government, and some civility to our culture. We’re marching and protesting for basic human rights for a large share of our population – rights that should not be even a question in a truly civilized society. We are barraged with all of this every waking hour, and we probably don’t always escape in our dreams. It’s impossible to shut out, no matter how hard we try.

   So, enter Hallmark. These aren’t real life stories – I mean, they don’t portray life the way most of us have lived it. The problems are mostly one dimensional -  should he (who has a good career in Los Angeles) fall in love with a woman (who has a good career in New York)? Should she try love again, when it didn’t go so well the first time around? Should he stay in the big corporate office in Chicago (where a partnership is almost guaranteed), or move to the little country town where he feels “at home?” If one personal problem can be solved, then everything in life will be just fine – and, since it’s Hallmark, it is solved and life turns out great.

   No, they’re not real, because there’s no background noise – no climate crisis, no pandemic, no politics – just two people, facing the world, together. Their problems are ones they can handle – ones that they actually can control, not ones that they are caught in the middle of, captives with little or nothing they can do to affect the circumstances. It’s not reality, but it feels good. It’s not our lives, but it’s Life as most of us would like it – tears with laughter, hardships with recoveries, losses with gains, problems with solutions – not everything okay, but okay enough, that we can look forward to a better day tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

   I’m having trouble seeing that Better Tomorrow, but momentary escape into romantic fantasy seems to help.

   Thanks, Hallmark.




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