Zachary Jason, Slate, December 15, 2017
At a rally in November 2015, Donald Trump heralded, “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again, that I can tell you.” Of all his empty guarantees, the president has perhaps fulfilled none better than a counterstrike in the War on Christmas, and no battalion has fired more rooty-toot artillery for him than the Hallmark Channel. In 2017, the network is premiering 21 original Christmas movies (up from 20 last year) — 42 hours of sugary, sexist, preposterously plotted, plot hole–festooned, belligerently traditional, ecstatically Caucasian cheer. To observe the first holiday season under the Trump administration, I’m bearing witness to them all.
Hallmark Channel, owned by the Kansas City, Missouri–based greeting-card giant, has boomed since Trump began campaigning. In 2016, Hallmark was the only top-15 entertainment channel with double-digit ratings growth, and viewership has jumped another 16 percent this year. Meanwhile, Hallmark’s Christmas programming, which this year began before Halloween, generates more than 30 percent of its annual ad revenue and has helped Hallmark become the season’s highest-rated cable network among women aged 25–54. More than 70 million Americans watched Hallmark Channel Christmas movies last year.
The network has already approached that number in 2017, with three weeks and five premieres remaining. And the network’s strongholds map to Trump’s Electoral College victories.
Hallmark Channel has boomed since Trump began campaigning, and the network’s strongholds map to his Electoral College victories.
After watching a few of Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas films, the network’s burgeoning red-state appeal comes into focus. As much as these movies offer giddy, predictable escapes from Trumpian chaos, they all depict a fantasy world in which America has been Made Great Again. Real and fictional heartland small towns with names such as Evergreen and Cookie Jar are as thriving as their own small businesses, and even a high school art teacher (played by Trump supporter and the face of Hallmark, Candace Cameron Bure) can afford a lavishly renovated Colonial home. They brim with white heterosexuals who exclusively, emphatically, and endlessly bellow “Merry Christmas” to every lumberjack and labradoodle they pass. They’re centered on beauty-pageant heroines and strong-jawed heroes with white-nationalist haircuts. There are occasional sightings of Christmas sweater–wearing black people, but they exist only to cheer on the dreams of the white leads, and everyone on Trump’s naughty list — Muslims, gay people, feminists — has never crossed the snowcapped green-screen mountains to taint these quaint Christmas villages. “Santa Just Is White” seems to be etched into every Hallmark movie’s town seal.
Since launching in 2001, Hallmark Channel has remained the most unapologetically formulaic network on TV. Of 136 Christmas movies Crown Media (which operates Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries) has produced to date, nearly all feature white leads. Regarding diversity, their executive vice president of programming, Michelle Vicary, told Bloomberg Businessweek last year, “Um … we are taking a look at that.” Of this year’s 21 films, only Enchanted Christmas stars minority love interests, Latinos Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. (Even interethnicity relationships, it seems, are too taboo in 2017.) This winter, Holly Robinson Peete (from the original 21 Jump Street) will star in both The Midnight Show Murders (based on Al Roker’s novel) and a reality show alongside her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete. But Hallmark hasn’t announced any plans to diversify December next year.
But it’s the absurd plots, in which white woman must fall in love with white man and save Christmas, her career (often as a decorator, baker, or party planner), and her family within a week of meeting white man, that make Countdown to Christmas most charming and most problematic.