Oh, it's a dark time of the year for television-watchers -- cable series that debuted in the summer or fall are winding down, network series are taking a post-sweeps nap and, most insufferable of all, 'tis the season for holiday movies.
A few years ago, my husband and I decided it'd be amusing to riff on the twelve days of Christmas with twelve different holiday-themed movies culled from the Lifetime and Hallmark channels. These movies are generally structured along a really simple plot arc: Through a series of circumstances beyond their control, self-centered people have a Magical Holiday Experience that shows them the true (albeit focus-group-derived secular) meaning of Christmas, the sleigh bells ring out, the credits roll.
Two movies in, I thought I noticed some invidious little jabs at a certain stereotype of woman. Six movies in, definite themes were beginning to emerge. By movie number nine, I had to admit defeat. Made-for-TV Christmas movies drained me of all Christmas spirit.
Why? Because in these movies, women with careers are morally blinkered and need a lesson about what really matters in life (Hint: All accomplishments are invalid unless they're framed within the context of serving as daughter, wife or mother. Individual achievement is for monsters!). These women are punished with ghostly visitations, or weddings gone awry, or caricatured depictions as shallow hussies. (Yeah, I said hussies. These are the kind of movies that turn the word into an epithet.)
In these Christmas movies, women who enjoy sex end up killed in freak accidents and put on divine probation until they can demonstrate sufficient maternal selflessness. In these Christmas movies, women are not allowed to have reasoned stands against the orgiastic material excesses or emotional blackmail that comes along with the season -- any character who rolls their eyes at someone's wheedling "You can't do this! It's Christmas!" guilt trip is not a woman practicing healthy emotional boundaries, but a heartless shrew who doesn't care enough about putting aside her preferences and making other people happy.
In these Christmas movies, women who gripe about the hassles of holiday shopping, decorating, cooking and child-corraling are the ones who have their priorities out of whack. There's a bizarre ethos that the best holiday is the one where a woman gives everyone the gift of walking all over her. Then -- and only then -- has she earned the right to have a merry Christmas. At long last, she loves Big Santa.
There are aspects of Christmas that are already pretty bizarre and obviously engineered to inspire nostalgia for something that never existed. What is both fascinating and infuriating is that this commercialized emotional manipulation thrives on cable networks who are allegedly serving the audience they're bludgeoning with messages about reverting to the type of Christmas Daughter/Wife/Mom nobody ever was in the first place.