“There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.” -G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered
“Monday is a day on the calendar. Christmas is . . . Christmas.” -Holly Jensen, “One Starry Christmas” (a part of Hallmark Channel’s approximately two-month-long “Countdown to Christmas”)
* * *
There’s a special kind of optimism to people who love bad movies. There’s another kind of optimism to people who hate them. When it comes to Hallmark Christmas movies, I believe I enjoy both.
The first kind of optimism is of the “so bad it’s good” sentiment. Like any aesthetic judgment, it is a matter of personal taste—really, of personal perception and attitude. It is both beneficent and haughty because it forgives from a place of temporary safety. It laughs at and not with. If you are anything like me, watching such a movie makes you feel like a master of all realism, and a better director of yourself in general. You witness, as if from your own wishing, a delightful magic far rougher than Prospero’s playing upon the screen, creating for you a brave new world of innocuous failure. What fools these attempted “people” are, and what fun that you are not them (right now)! You may never stay in such a world for long, but you’re glad to have slipped in to see the spell of substandard filmmaking work otherwise functioning human beings into awkward aspects speaking clunky speeches.
The second kind of optimism is far more complicated and, therefore, more often misunderstood. It comes, I think, from a highly idealistic place in the human being—perhaps there’s even a certain part of the brain that, when seeing a bad movie, becomes especially enflamed in certain folks. It’s the kind of optimism that lies deep inside the heart of every sincere criticism. It’s the vision of the truth so absent in the falsehood. Whenever a person with this particular optimism decries a bad movie, they are mourning the missing goodness. The goodness that might have been. Such movies can provoke a near-prophetic outrage in such cases: everything could have been different, and this visionary viewer sees it all too well. These people could have avoided disaster. They could have told the truth.
Now, if it’s a particularly vacuous “bad” movie, and a heavy-handedly “Christmassy” one at that, you better believe such a viewer will be turning Jeremiads from the couch. But what if such a “bad” movie somehow found itself “in the family way,” growing fruitful and multiplying to such aggressively promiscuous extents that it waxed mighty on two whole channels? What if a profound holiday, once understood as a compound of “holy” and “day,” became watered down into a shallow widespread genre? What if that genre became the water people swam in? Well, then you might just feel yourself the only righteous and blameless one on the flooded earth, finding plenty to complain about with more than a month to go till Thanksgiving.
* * *
As many Americans (and, I presume, Canadians) know, it has apparently been the Christmas season for over a month now—the yuletide having started a few days before Halloween. As many Americans (and, again, Canadians) know, this is thanks to the Hallmark Channel(s). As many Americans may not know, they have been celebrating Christmas in Canada for much of this time, and this is thanks to Crown Media. This, and so, so much more.
Over the past “Christmas” season, I have come to a strange “appreciation” for Hallmark Christmas movies. Thanks to their extensive output over the past sixteen years or so, I have just this year already seen more holiday “films” than I can count white faces in a manger. Indeed, this body of, um, “work” is so large it’s literally in the hundreds—they could populate a small, insufferable town with their Christmas catalogue alone.
I need not tell you about the two general “types” of Hallmark Christmas movies—the good folks at Gold Crown will be happy to inform you just about every commercial break, just in case you’re worried you’re getting too much mild, non-threatening drama and not enough bland, unconvincing romance, or vice versa. Needless to say, these people have by now made enough of both to fill nearly every hour of the day with their special recipe for snow that never melts and never makes a mess of immaculate hair and clean landscape architecture.
Because of this frosted superfluity, I have had the chance to see enough of these “holiday” movies to find some common elements, maybe even essentials. I’ve gotten my hands on the infernal snow-white formula.
Much like a peppermint syrup, it’s a sickly-sweet concoction, and if you drink it in small doses, and mixed with richer substances, you can get nice and sprightly, for a time. But have too much of it and it alone, and for too long, and it’s as good as poison—a weak, slow-working poison, but poison nonetheless.
* * *
There is much to appreciate in a Hallmark Christmas movie. Much to laugh at, much to loathe—much to love to loathe—and much to wonder bemusedly about. The phrase “once you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all” somewhat pertains here. There are indeed certain elements that almost invariably make up the Gold Crown chemistry of bubbly Christmas cheer. But these works are not without their variations, and much of the actual fun I’ve had in watching them has been in spotting the old types with new traits.
For example: in this new movie there may be yet another stubborn grinchly character, yes, but this one flouts the easy earlier stereotype of being a male from the city, for it’s a male from the city originally from the country. Like nearly every handsome Hallmark humbug, he’s somewhere on the right side of forty and of the clean-cut caste of humanity—the kind of man who is seemingly incapable of growing an errant hair below his eyebrows; nevertheless, this is a different Scrooge with a different haircut and different coloring and probably different modeling agency. He still wears the familiar blue—usually in sweater form—which signifies his not-yet-ness (which is practically Jewish); but coupled with his tepid but incessant interest in the spunky and festive female lead, this character’s blue presence represents a prevenient conversion experience to the “true meaning of Christmas” to come in about forty-five minutes.
[Hint: the true meaning usually entails romance and/or career success.]
In the interest of expediency, here is a list of some of the apparently required ingredients for making a Hallmark Christmas movie—a veritable recipe for the so-called “spirit of the season.” If you truly believe, you will consider it a Decalogue for Christmas purity. Just follow the stars below:
*All leads, and most supporting cast, will be ostensibly good-looking.
(Image courtesy of E! News Online.)
Everyone will have presentable, inoffensive facial features and perfect, ostentatious teeth—indeed, with the sound off, the picture should play like a teeth-whitening commercial that’s had dreams of stardom. Moreover, no actual, genuine emotion should mar the players’ faces. Men, for instance, will be made a little lower than the angels, and little better than mannequins. A solitary tear may stream down the leading lady’s cheek, but only if said tear has a twinkle to it. Such cases qualify as make-up.
*Older actors will not be too old in behavior or appearance.
Generally, they will fall into two categories: the funny and the wise. Goofiness may turn into wisdom, but the reverse is just dementia.
*Clothes will be perfect as a clothing catalogue is perfect.
Indeed, visually, the movie should come across as the cinematic equivalent of an L.L. Bean ad.
(This scarf now on sale for $39.95.)
*Conversely, all scenery will be likewise perfect.
No purportedly “old” or “abandoned” property will be too unsightly—i.e., truly derelict or run-down.
Any weathered materials, whether they be barns or houses or brittle-looking sleighs, should be of the most patterned, manufactured authenticity, and should make “Fixer-Upper” look like “Survivor” for reclaimed wood.
And there will always be just enough winter to fluff up the scene. This can’t be stressed enough.
*All star-power will be faded—i.e., the biggest names will be distant ones.
Any has-beens over forty will be mostly relegated to the dignified supporting cast. William Shatner, for instance, is and must be impervious to all holiday crises, lest the audience lose interest, or become abashed; and no one wants to see Wallace Shawn doling out Christmas magic for long—including Wallace Shawn. These movies are the media’s greener pastures, after all, where the shepherd of Tinsel Town hath put out his old and lame sheep.
*All star-power will be white—i.e., actors of color will hold positions of honorable periphery.
While all protagonists and main characters will at least read as white, actors of visible difference will play characters of utmost dignity whose tangential presence alongside and/or service to the central cast, the fictional community at large, and the plot in general will form a kind of bland tokenism. Such characters will perform accessible functions in the world, and their respectable prowess over their respective professions will render them friendly, non-threatening, non-dramatic—and therefore subservient, impersonal, unrealistic—representations of their race/ethnicity. Indeed, these easy, ever-smiling characters, with their knowing looks and sing-song ways of affirming the main characters of their fictional importance, while seeming to have lives of their own, will have even less personal life and history than the main characters themselves—which is to say, hardly any existence at all. Should this subtle racism prove still too covert, think Uncle Remus in a double-breasted baker’s jacket.
Acceptable vocations for these characters: baker (see above); coffee shop server; short-order cook—really anything in the food service industry; the occasional modestly soulful minister or flatly benign teacher.
*The city will be a fun place to visit, and an evil place to live.
New York, Chicago, and most other major US cities will look surprisingly clean and Canadian from up-close. Indeed, “the City” should be by-and-large the same generic nowhere metropolis—charming, whimsical, surprisingly clean, and ultimately empty. Think cold, blank modernism, aggressively flat and linear, a sterile backdrop of concrete, glass, and metal. This is a place where Steve Jobs might have designed his sarcophagus.
Moreover, should “poor”-type people be shown living in “the City”—being strictly main characters who will eventually not be poor—their apartment/unspecified dwelling place should be impossibly large and unaffordable by contemporary American standards, as well as free of the inevitable mice and cockroaches and full of a cutesiness to rival, well, a Hallmark store. (Indeed, every angle of the place should read like a display window.) Needless to say, these characters’ clothes should appear clean, well-sized, and up with the latest fashions—as if they each had a personal shopper at the Gap. These plucky characters may be struggling, but through some invisible benefactor they have never had to look less than middle class. For these reasons—their essentially immaterial financial straits and their apparent occupation of the increasingly mythic middle class—such characters are perhaps the most fantastical of all in the Hallmark Canon, and therefore the hardest to pull off. Window dress your urban scenes with caution.
*Small town and countrified living are closest to godliness.
In fact, rural, so-called “middle” America in Canada is practically down the street from the pearly gates (atop of which, one presumes, there sits a Gold Crown, and dangling from that perhaps a Snoopy Keepsake ornament). Certainly they share the same county as the Heavenly Neighborhood. Indeed, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of setting in Hallmark Christmas movies. It is arguably the most ubiquitous trope in the oeuvre. And while it would be an insult to quality to call the setting “a character in its own right,” this essential recurring place-type does bear certain “characteristics” and does help to harbor a certain overall “personality” in the otherwise worldly world.
Like a genuine keepsake, these towns purportedly never change. The many faces and names that make it up will never leave—and if they do, they will surely return to it void from their mistakes of choosing career over family or love or sincerely baked goods, ready to be filled by those faithful, ambitionless stand-bys. Moreover, if they ever do leave, they will surely do so in their early twenty-thirties, and will return before they have had the chance to forget their past or to age beyond their attractiveness.
These humble, down-to-earth communities may be goofy or slow or even backwards, but they will surely thwart the outsider. They will make him to rage with a cheerful quirk. They will shatter his power-posing with sprinkles. They will cast burning cocoa upon his head.
*Quaintness is most of “what Christmas is all about.”
Though there will be two higher meanings than this (see the final star below), they will not be all that much higher after all. You see, the common “spirit” that glows to a glare through every Hallmark Christmas movie will be one of quaintness—that is, quaintness of a kind. It will not be quaintness in the original, now-obsolete sense, as in “expert” or “skilled.” It will be quite close to the more current usage, as in “pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar,” except that the “old-fashioned” will be modernized, and the “unfamiliar” will be assimilated into an embattled hegemony. It will be quaintness co-opted.
On a superficial level, this normative quaintness will be the true source of the thoroughgoing presentability and cutesiness I’ve discussed above. It will also come out in gags and jokes that offend no one and delight just as many. It will create novelty professions—jobs like woodworking, interior design, and jack-of-all-trades for the family ski lodge; the dual appointment to local innkeeper and mayor of the entire town; owner and proprietor of a whole slew of possible shops and restaurants; and, my personal favorite, the position of department store Santa for plucky single mothers—and it will churn out a fair number of glorified hobbies—like ice sculpting, candy making, or gingerbread baking and architecture—all of which will serve to give the customary base an original seeming and easy to remember flavor.
“Which Hallmark movie do you want to watch?”
“Oh, how about the one with the firefighter who falls in love with the volunteer veterinarian who’s also a non-traditional student? You know, the one about the cat-lovers? You know, the one about the couple who connect in the grocery story while talking about paint shades?”
If all else fails, insert a Christmas tree farm.
However, on a deeper level, this quaintness will carry a greater moral import. It will be the image and likeness of plain goodness, giving all “wholesomeness” an absolute appearance. Through quaintness, the viewer will be able to locate the spiritual in the literal, and stop at the outward sign. There will be pre-selected schemes—of colors, of clothes, and, beneath it all, of inbred nationality and culture—that “the spirit of Christmas” must choose to dwell within, and they will be of the most standard and bland forms of the “pleasingly old-fashioned.”
Quaintness will take part in a light and frothy Manichean battle between good and evil—or good versus badness, anyway. After all, the recurring narrative in practically every Hallmark Christmas movie will pit the small town against the metropolis, the rural against the citified, the traditional against the modern. Like all genuine manifestations of quaintness, the good and pleasant people and places and things will stand apart from the big, bustling, bullying world. They will go on truly living and loving, forgotten by or simply risible to the hyper-professional, money-hungry, grudge-hugging, sorrow-loving masses, until “just the right moment” when their humble truth should appear like a CGI sparkle-swipe across the screen. But unlike truly quaint things, these small Hallmark towns will actually hold a broader populace beyond their modest cast of extras. Over these sleepy little villages will loom a large minority that often calls itself “majority.” For in these cozy zones you will find a dimension of forgotten values inhabited by 110 million viewers.
*The movie will have no other gods but family and comfort.
These will be those twin highest meanings in every movie. They will be the source, power, and end to make these holiday cards live and move and have their blandest being.
First, “the family.” Christmas will almost invariably be about “being with the people you love”—i.e., the people you already accept, or the people you have come to fall in love with. All roads will lead to the family room. All paths will lead to where you come from, not to where you are going. Where you are needed is where there is no need. All Christmas dreams will come true—being about that togetherness of especially similar people. Indeed, the power of family and certain close friends will be a very special revelation. For in truth you need your family and friends more than the future and its potential strangers need you, and vice versa. For your family is proof that you are already saved, though you may not know it. Though the world may distract you, and though you may forget, the family (often under its tetragrammaton of “home”) will surely remind you. It will redeem you from the loveless world, and shut its door between you and it. The world should be so blessed to have a family like yours.
And yet, beyond this heaven of the family looms the ever-present eminence of comfort. For even the exalted family (and some friends) of the story will function as so much furniture for the site of comfort to arrive. Words like “home” and “family” and “love”—and, of course, the overarching label of Christmas itself—are really just symbols for the state of oblivious safety that is viewership. And beneath this obliviousness is that blessedness of the couch.
Thus, through the plenary power of all the sentimental moments and greeting card platitudes, these movies will make to viewers a bold, if covert, claim that not even the Bible dared—a claim that the Israelites were too busy with exile to pay any mind to, and that Jesus was too much of a careerist to admit: that TV ownership is, in some sense, ultimate.
Do You See What I See?
“To an open house in the evening / Home shall men come, / To an older place than Eden / And a taller town than Rome. / To the end of the way of the wandering star, / To the things that cannot be and that are, / To the place where God was homeless / And all men are at home.” -G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas”
“We own Christmas and we are going to do it in a bigger way and a better way and really speak to the spirit of the season that I don’t think any of our competitors do.” – Michelle Vicary, Vice President of Programming, Hallmark Channel
* * *
I hope that I have made clear enough why I occasionally enjoy and highly distrust Hallmark Christmas movies. Taken individually, they can be pretty good bad movies. Taken corporately, they are very terrible tradition. They may be occasionally acceptable as larks, but they would be totally unacceptable as liturgy. This may seem like a painfully obvious thing to say, but consider, again, the plainly Babel-sized public that frequents these channels, and in so doing has helped to build up Crown Media to the towering giant it is today. If “celebration” means to frequent or honor with time, these movies are well on their way to becoming new practice.
Now, I can imagine some people arguing that these superficially clean and family-oriented movies are “refreshing” and “a nice change” from the usual fare on television. I can attest that a soda sometimes is refreshing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Hallmark Christmas movie industry is very much like McDonald’s. For like McDonald’s, this industry provides easy, immediate pleasures with predictability and consistency. But just as it can play “comfort food” to our tired, hectic workaday selves, it can also bloat our sense of safety into a heavy, spiritless languor. In other words, in Hallmark Christmas movies I see a kind of situational consumerism, a craving for comfortable places and moments, which taken without moderation could one day contribute to a crisis in our inward health.
When I see a truly “good” movie, I see a new person or situation represented to me. I am “in a new place,” I am “transported,” as the platitudes go. When I leave a good movie, I take the new pattern of that represented person or situation with me, and so am a little newer myself. I come out of the theater changed in my thinking about what it means to be human, at least in some selective sense. I get up from the couch already stretched. Movies, in such cases, can give me safe opportunities for crisis, for challenge, even for intervention.
In the drama of a typical Hallmark Christmas story, one gets the feeling that nothing ever really was at stake, the endings being merely tidier versions of their beginnings. All loosening ends are simply tidied. The characters, as I’ve stated, make no real claim on our understanding of how life is lived, or might be. There are no real strangers in the Hallmark universe, and therefore no one is truly recognizable. There is no shock of likeness. There is only the nearly abstracted home and family, the alpha and the omega. Hallmark is in this airy heaven, and all is right with the world, because nothing was every really wrong with it. In effect, such movies call the viewer to stay on the couch.
Still, the biggest objection I can make against these movies is a necessarily particular one. It comes from my own personal understanding of tradition, which is maybe the most public form of privacy. When I speak from this perspective, I attempt to speak with others who seem to have seen the same Person from similar angles. This is all to say that my most effective criticism may not affect many besides the most likeminded.
But to me the story of Christmas is still too big not to try to tell. The Person of Christmas is someone I believe we can be, and the Place of Christmas is something I believe we can find and maybe even reserve. To call these two things “Spirit” is to ransom a stolen word, and to recall a reality beyond our elision.
But I do not find anything resembling the Person nor the Place of Christmas in Hallmark Christmas movies—unless it be through their absence. Indeed, if these movies can be said to have any sort of “spirit,” it is the same that suffuses every Thomas Kinkade painting. Everything is covered with that cottony kind of snow that seems to promise warmth, and everything glows with an empty light. The whole town is a shining surface, lacking depth, and nothing really lives behind those snugly shut doors. At its worst, it is the illegitimate spirit that is born when a specious moral purity weds itself to an inveterate soulless prosperity. Hovering over every scene is a snow-white paraclete without any fire. When I am at my most prophet-like (or simply my sourest), I see these movies as playing Colgate to our enamel souls.
(The House of Christmas according to Thomas Kinkade. The electricity bill is astronomical.)
If I can speak of “we” with any good faith, I believe that we of the confessing sort have grown gradually silent—or muted, as it were. We have forgotten that we were called not to be comfortable, but to be comforted and to comfort. For the gift of Christmas is not a passive reception of ease or the confirmation of complacent safety. Nor is it a conceited privilege of irony. To say, “The gift of Christmas is the active stance of giving” sounds like an intellectualization of a cliché, so thoroughly have we turned the language of gift to selfish ends. To say, “The gift of Christmas gives us to further giving” sounds dangerously close to “the gift that keeps on giving”—or I am an abject cynic. Like all clichés, these statements are much too light, because they are too abstract—they do not tell us enough of how to give. They do not point so directly, like the Spirit of Christmas Present, and say, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.” It doesn’t say as plainly as Tiny Tim that to look at the crippled is “to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” But no matter how refractory we have grown to the words, this is the how of the “holiday celebration,” the holy day we are meant to frequent.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest crime (in my mind anyway) that these movies are ultimately guilty of is the claim they almost all of them overtly make: that the “this” they present “is what Christmas is all about.” And, indeed, this sense of ownership over Christmas (see the second epigraph to this section) seems to run deep within the operations of Crown Media. It surely cannot be the attitude of that Vice President of Programming alone. They claim to have the key to the House of Christmas. In fact, they have even at times claimed to be its “Heart.”
And perhaps the greatest threat these movies pose is their success with a viewing, voting, and voluntarily praying public—stated otherwise, to American Christians. Now, this is a topic for another blog, and a blog for an entire book, but I will say here that over the past year or so, and in the form of many different quarrels and events, the so-called “Church” in this country has been faced with the crisis of its multiple allegiances. Some would say “dual,” but in truth the ties we have are much more legion—for within what it means to be an American (or a “Christian” for that matter) in the twenty-first century is actually less of a duplicitous service to two masters and—at least on our worst days—more of a subtle infection spreading over living hosts. Needless to say, we are casual celebrants of an empty church, the Church of Comfort. Such a congregation is too tasteful to approach the world’s mangers; such a sanctuary is too inoffensive to take up any kind of cross.
(This is not to say that every Christmas movie should necessarily feature a nativity scene, or even have one somewhere in the background. It is my belief that many if not most of these nominal visuals present an empty manger. Still, I appreciate—or I want to be able to appreciate—that these sites of churchly kitsch at least tell the lesser literal truth of the manger, no matter how caricatured their Incarnation might be.)
I believe—which is to say that I have felt and thought, have experienced and considered, and finally have come to trust—that we find ourselves in a wonderfully difficult position. It is in fact that good old impossible position, which the church fathers and mothers knew long before Christmas ever stumbled merrily onto the scene. We bear the good news of knowing we must try to do justice to Justice itself when we ourselves are so unjust. We have the great joy of wanting, needing, to convey the Truth when we can sound so false to each other.
Perhaps that is why a self-acknowledging cartoon can say it so well—why, from the mouth of humbly two-dimensional boy with a blanket, standing alone in an awkward silence, the words of “what Christmas is all about” can still sound so convincing.
But then even this can fall under the Golden Crown.
* * *
Now, obviously Christmas has long been the victim of rampant commercialism—long before the earnest notice of that most humble cultural critic and schoolyard theologian, Charlie Brown. And it is in fact ancient hat to swap Christmas back for a popular, watered-down paganism. Some of this, I truly believe, stems from a quite sincere and wholly practical purpose in the long, dark winter months. Christmas is like fire to our created goodness when it has grown cold. Thanks to the medievals, the feast found in an old, heady paganism the older mirth of being creaturely. But Christmas warms more than the earthly body: it feeds deep into those roots we set in time called memory. And it was, after all, the most ultimate form of memory of this time-bound life that created “God-with-us,” just as it was the most devoted form of memory of the Word that dwelled in flesh “among us” that handed down to us the Christmas story.
Thus, to disallow any or all of the particular (and more than merely material) traditions and trappings we humans have built up in celebration around this central meaning would be to cut ourselves off from the light that powers our growth, which in turn connects us to others. We cannot feed if we are starving. We are not called to be iconoclasts to nature so long as we call it creation. After all, as the most original Christmas story goes, it was in the body in all of its desperate fragility and capacity for comfort that the Creator visited creation.
But there is a further conclusion to the Christmas story. Its conclusion is much like its beginning. It explodes our little star of understanding, and ranges a whole universe from it. It states that there is a bigger body than “my own,” a broader family than “my own,” a greater love than “my own.” There is a further comfort, and a deeper home, which may seem farthest from all human reaching, which nonetheless encounters us in very flesh. The true meaning of Christmas doesn’t destroy our understanding of good things—which, according to the story, the divine appreciated before we ever did—but rather stretches and expands far beyond our limitations. It realizes our likeness with the Original.
This is what I meant when I talked about that second, deeper optimism. To see a world of exquisite disappointment, of consummate incompleteness and consistent falsehood, is, I hope, to see more than what it isn’t. Perhaps this is why Christmas movies are so especially scandalous to me, for the Nativity seems to me a story of a surprise certain women and men never expected but always hoped for.
This is why the only mild thing about Christmas is called “mercy.” It is that good old traditional mildness that means warmth and gentleness, and paired with mercy it is the greatest surprise the earth has ever seen. For the mercy we have so long sung our ears numb to was once and still can be the most utterly needed, utterly unexpected thing. It flouts all cold logic of inevitable disappointment, and flies in the face of fallen seeming. “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” To those who have the luxury of viewership in this existence, it covers the dead gray world with sudden brightness—indeed, not unlike the morning after snow; but this thief-like mercy would steal into even more of what we choose to view. For it seeks as family those whom we would leave unseen. It makes a home where no one ever would.
(The House of Christmas according to Rembrandt. While the baby Jesus shines quite strikingly, notice also how the humble lamplight serves to illuminate the rough surrounding of the stable even as it warms the soft faces of the people.)
We all know the beautiful phrase “good tidings of great joy” so well that it hangs in our air like a festive decoration. It has been a long time since many of us have had to hold a hope beyond optimism. It takes a true story to wake us up to the truth that is Ourselves beyond our current faulty copies and shameful mockeries, to that Humanity accomplished which we might attempt. May we soon find ourselves in the midst of such a story, all of us.
 This is what some have referred to as that often fun, sometimes snotty “ironic viewing stance” that younger people in particular love to take behind unisex glasses. The kind of “best worst movie” that inspires such a stance belongs to what some entertainment critics have called “paracinema.” For a brief discussion of these two topics (and how they relate to what many would deem the very best worst movie of all time), click here.
 And more where that came from: http://christmas-specials.wikia.com/wiki/Countdown_to_Christmas
 At least, all pre-the-year-of-reckoning-that-has-been-2017 star-power will be white. Perusing the latest line-up of Hallmark Christmas Movies, I have counted a record three movies featuring minorities in leading roles. The rest featured the usual exemplars of toothy, omni-manicured whiteness.
 This last and most peculiar vocation from my own particular favorite of the HCMs, “Christmas at Carwright’s.” It is, quite simply, the best of the “so bad it’s good” variety. There’s the wonderfully unbelievable premise—a buffoonish holiday As You Like It with bewilderment instead of wit working behind the gender-bending guise. There’s the novelty of seeing Wallace Shawn play an angel who talks to God on an outmoded cell phone. There’s the added appeal of seeing Shawn love his role as much as an aging man who’s been woken up mid-afternoon after working graveyard. There’s the joy of seeing a grown woman look constantly flabbergast behind a false beard, her eyes, caught between it and an over-furring wig, resembling those of a terrified Shih Tzu. There’s a lot here to fill a shamefully joyful season.
 Quoted in the E! News exclusive, “‘We Own Christmas’: How the Hallmark Channel Found Massive Success with the Holiday Spirit.”
 At least in terms of snow and landscape architecture, this comparison holds some water, I think. In a fair number of the Hallmark Christmas movies I’ve seen, there is a rather generous use of what might be called fow (as in fake snow, and pronounced just like faux), which gives off the remarkable impression of being an empty solid, like foam, and together with the shining, recently hosed-off pavements (which never freeze, despite the purported wintry air) looks like a live-action version of a Kincaid painting.
 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, from The Christmas Books, vol. 1, p. 108.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 These being the truer meanings of the words.
 Genesis 1:31.
 This is the world-weary, and therefore seemingly dogged, but actually childlike faith that Reinhold Niebuhr termed the “pessimistic optimism” of Christianity. See “Optimism, Pessimism, and Religious Faith” in The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr, Yale University Press, pp. 3-17.
 Luke 2:30-1.
 That is, that ontological spectatorship, having the time, the material wealth, and that peace of mind misnamed “comfortability”—in other words, all of those givens common in our “Christian” nation.