They can be addictive, can’t they? Especially this time of year.
I know a few people who don’t have cable, so they are immune to the silly but strangely satisfying pleasure of downing a Hallmark flick with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Or rather, like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I think of this made-for-TV fare as having the nutritional value of pre-packaged junk food.
They aren’t thought-provoking or life-changing—but let she who has never eaten an Oreo or some Frito Lay cast the first stone.
Can I get an amen?
I just compared Hallmark movies to the type of food that is laced with preservatives, but there are, in fact, some positive things about Hallmark films. And there are some things we should be mindful of as we approach the holidays when they run those suckers 24/7.
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The Positive Aspects of Hallmark Films:
They Are Clean and Wholesome
It’s not easy to find family-friendly programming on television these days, but a Hallmark film fits the bill.
You don’t have to worry about crass language, sexually explicit scenes, or inappropriate relationships when watching one of these flicks. Couples don’t live together before they are married, parents aren’t alcoholics, kids aren’t on drugs, and families are central to the plot.
Some might say that is a low bar for entertainment, but it is a low bar that most television shows don’t scale while Hallmark consistently does. And these films value quality time with loved ones, giving, simple living, and community—all big plusses for television viewing with the fam.
And they steer clear of prickly political topics where many Christian values and views are routinely ridiculed by other networks. Thank you, Hallmark!
When looking for family-friendly entertainment, that is no small thing.
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They Are Educational
Bear with me on this one.
The plots are predictable, clichés abound, products are placed at just the right angle, and exposition is as subtle as a flashing neon sign—but even that can be educational if you put your mind to it. “Predict the Next Plot Point,” “Catch the Cliché,” “Spot the Product Placement,” and “Out the Exposition” are popular games in my house. And suddenly, what is rather mindless entertainment can become educational in a “what not to do when you write a story” kind of way.
My kids even gave a presentation on “Hallmark Movie Clichés” in our homeschool co-op once. My fellow moms laughed themselves silly. It was a hit!
Don’t let what can be a mindless activity be mindless. Rather, be mindful in the media you consume—as well as creative.
They Give Us a Break from Reality
We loved fairy tales as kids, didn’t we? We enjoy a good story where love wins the day, even if it is a love between a couple of exceptionally attractive yet oddly single adults in their late thirties who met six and a half days ago.
But how long did Sleeping Beauty know Prince Charming?
I rest my case.
Hallmark films carry that fairy tale tradition into adulthood. We all want a happy ending where the guy gets the girl, or vice-versa, and true love prevails. Of course, the credits roll before the tough stuff happens, but that is what we love about them.
There is enough tough stuff in real life. Sometimes Hallmark gives us a much-needed break from reality.
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They Tap into Our Deepest Longings
Life is filled with heartache and hardships. Church prayer chains are filled with people enduring life’s most difficult trials. Newspapers are filled with turmoil, and the evening news is filled with tragedy.
Modern technology lays the world’s calamities at our feet with our morning coffee, and the human heart feels the weight of all. It is a heavy load to bear.
In truth, we want more than a break from reality. We want a different kind of reality—one without disorders, diseases, and disasters. We want a world without racism, classism, and sexism. We want a world without difficult diagnoses and death.
Hallmark gives us that world.
It taps into our deep philosophical yearning for an ideal existence, not unlike Plato’s theory of ideal forms which postulates a perfect existence in an alternate reality. (Add that teaching topic to your lesson plan with the kids!)
For a hundred and twenty minutes, we can live in a blissfully predictable, perfect place where none of these horrific realities exist. The Hallmark world isn’t real, but the realities we want to escape are. And the desire to escape them is natural, although perhaps misplaced, with Hallmark.
Things to Be Mindful of in a Hallmark Film:
They Can Lead to Dissatisfaction in Life
Life is simple in a Hallmark film. That’s why we watch them. But a longing for people and life situations to be like they are on the shallow small screen can take hold and make us dissatisfied in real life.
I actually saw a Hallmark film about that once. A girl woke up in the perfect Christmas village on her mantle. She liked it for a while, but the novelty wore off and more than anything, she wanted to go home.
So, longing for the perfect Hallmark life doesn’t work—even in a Hallmark film.
Let that be a lesson.
That new website you just created won’t go viral and save your business overnight. The promise of a promotion to partner may not materialize in your time frame. There are no baking competitions nearby with the kind of cash prize that can pay off your home mortgage. And that guy you just started dating isn’t the prince of a small European country you’ve never heard of where everybody speaks with fake British accents.
If you absorb too much of life in a snow globe, you won’t be satisfied in real life. And I learned that from a Hallmark film.
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They Give Some Terrible Advice
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard “follow your heart” in a Hallmark film… I’d have a lot of dimes. Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 22:7, Isaiah 44:20, Hebrews 3:10). Following your heart is terrible advice if your heart isn’t fully submitted to God.
I heard this gem of guidance the other day from one of these made-for TV offerings:
“It’s always ok to do the things that make you happy.”
No, it isn’t. If we followed this mantra in our home, my kids would contribute to the obesity epidemic by subsisting on Pop Tarts and Cap’n Crunch.
Whenever we encounter this kind of faulty instruction in a book or film, we quote a verse or a Scriptural principle to refute it. We never let ideas like this go unchallenged. Recognizing this subtle but dangerous secular ideology with your kids will help them to recognize it without you.
We Use Them to Escape
A cheesy romance flick can be a medicine to escape what we need to face on our knees.
Recently, after a terrible situation in our community turned tragic—the kind of tragic that left me bawling my eyes out in a fetal position for days—I screamed, “I want to live in a Hallmark film!” Then I wrote a blog fueled by that frustration.
I think we all feel this way at some point. We want to live in a world where that kind of evil doesn’t exist. Not ever.
We want to live in a world where heinous things don’t happen to women and children, where there isn’t religious persecution and genocide, where there isn’t a slew of “isms” that marginalize and malign races and genders.
We want to live in a world where everything bad that happens happened a long time ago, and we’ve moved passed it, and we don’t have to think about it anymore.
We want to live in a world where everyone is as happy as they will ever be in 115 minutes, five minutes before the credits roll, and they stay that happy forever.
But we don’t live there.
And downing a dozen Hallmarks like a junkie looking for a fix won’t make that life a reality.
In truth, that isn’t what we really want because that isn’t what we need. We need obstacles and trials. We need to build perseverance. We need to overcome. We need to trust that God can make good come from evil situations and even death (Romans 8:28).
Ultimately, what we really want is to live with Jesus, and one day we will.
But you won’t learn that in a Hallmark film.
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They Get the Purpose of Christmas Wrong - Every Time
This one is obvious, but it needs to be stated anyways.
The holidays are about experiencing Christmas magic and spreading Christmas cheer. They are about finding that perfect gift for your kids and spending time with the ones you love.
Spending time with your family is a beautiful part of the holidays, finding that perfect gift is sublime, and getting in the holiday mood with the smell of cookies baking and fresh pine are wonderful—but Christmas is about Christ.
Unfortunately, Hallmark films aren’t.
So, while these films aren’t necessarily about the wrong things, they aren’t about the right things either.
Which brings us to the most concerning thing about Hallmark films.
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There Is No God in a Hallmark Film
While Hallmark films offer us stories with moral characters who live respectable lives, these films rarely mention God, much less have Him as a central character.
If God being central to a film were a perquisite for media consumption, there would be precious little a Christian could watch. We would be divorced from our culture altogether if a Christian worldview were necessary criteria for engaging with the silver screen or the tube.
But it is sad that the largest and most wholesome Christmas destination on television manages to leaves the Christ out of Christmas. Every time. You might see a church or even a church service, but God is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
This perspective is indicative of our culture, which pushes God to the periphery if they mention Him at all.
God must not be on the outskirts. He must be central to our lives. He must be the center.
This doesn't mean that we should separate ourselves from all secular entertainment, becoming like Dana Carvey as “The Church Lady,” who looks down her nose critically at everyone and everything.
But it does mean that we should be aware of the subtle dangers in what we watch, and we should be aware of the critical omissions. As Christians, we should engage in our media consumption strategically and responsibly.
Here Are Some Helpful Tips for Your Media Consumption:
1. Do a media fast several times a year. Cleanse the psyche and the system for a few days, or even better, a few weeks.
2. As with anything, don’t become addicted.
3. Make sure that your time in the Word and communicating with God comes first.
4. Make sure you aren’t following bad advice and growing dissatisfied with reality.
5. Make sure you aren’t medicating pain with a visual distraction.
6. Be aware of secular ideology and misplaced priorities.
The final question is: is it healthy to watch Hallmark films?
I wouldn’t put them on par with a documentary on the Protestant Reformation, but if watched with some thought, they don’t have to be harmful. They might even come in handy as a teaching tool or bonding topic. Or, if nothing else, a good laugh.
After all, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
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Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, blogger, and motherhood apologist. She is matron of the Mere Mother website, which delves into critical cultural issues that affect families and marginalize mothers. This homeschooling mama of five is dedicated to helping mothers see their worth in a season when they often feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.