Made-for-TV Christmas Movies are the Worst, and I Love Them

 

Ah, ‘tis the season for a slew of new, cheaply, and quickly produced Christmas movies that celebrate the holiday spirit as long as that includes finding the man (or woman) of your dreams.

Let’s begin with why these movies are just the fucking worst. 90% of them perpetuate the ugly stereotype that in order to feel complete, a woman needs a man. There are those few where the double standard opens up on the other side of the street and we’re treated to a man that needs a woman (or a man) to feel complete, but, mostly, it’s lonely single ladies. Oh wait, that’s right…that’s the “feminist” twist: These ladies are not lonely spinsters sitting at home mourning their lack of a love life; no, these women are modern working girls (NOT hookers, though that would be a interesting take on the genre, I know you can do it Lifetime), who have full schedules thanks to their busy careers. Whose friends and loved ones often lament their lack of a significant other for them. But, once they find the man they never seemed to notice before another trope of these movies kicks in: The choice!

Yes, will the woman who has worked so hard in her given field, who has disappointed loved ones, or eschewed holidays to get ahead in the rat race, sacrifice her career for the love of her life!? And, no, this is not an exaggeration. This is genuinely how this plot twist plays out in, again, probably 90% of these movies. The job title may change – she’s a marketing whiz, a decorating whiz, a design whiz, etc. – but no matter what the position she’s presented with an eerily similar conundrum as her predecessors: Will she go for the big promotion/move or finally, finally put her personal life first and be with the man of her dreams (that she just met about 90 mins ago)? Mind you this life changing choice doesn’t just hinge on the man. It usually works out that if she leaves her corporate life she’ll have a local opportunity in her field because she’s still a modern working woman!

For the other 10%, we have Charles Dickens to thank. There are a lot of variations on A Christmas Carol. You also get Christmas “magic” thrown in for good measure. And of course, we can’t forget about the Santa stories – wherein Santa is either looking for a lady love, or helping another person find their love, because…you know…Santa wants all the holidays. Fuck you, Cupid.

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Probably the weirdest part about all of these movies is that they take place at Christmas and not, say, a holiday that’s actually dedicated to people falling in love. Seriously, how the fuck did this trend not become a Valentine’s Day thing??? My best guess is because Valentine’s Day isn’t some asshole holiday that eats up the entire month in which it exists not to mention several months before (Lifetime started this shit in October). My other guess is because Christmas tends to be a TV wasteland – a lot of shows have their Winter Finales in early Dec. and don’t come back until January – this leaves people with a dearth of programming. It is nice to be able to turn on one channel and not only get new movies, but a slew of old ones you may not have been able to catch the first time they aired.

Now, in case you think I only hate these movies because of their anti-feminist bend, I’d like to also circle back to the fact that they are, inherently, bad. The plots are ridiculous, insanely predictable, the acting is often one-take, which is a shame, and the romances are…well…stupid. “I love Christmas…oh, you love Christmas too!? We should definitely make a lifelong commitment to each other based on our shared love of this one holiday and our brief time spent together celebrating it”, yeah, that sounds…sound. Mind you, most romantic comedies have a love story that is ridiculous. Not that some of these tales don’t incorporate more reasonable romantic roots – you’ve got your childhood friends or exes reconnecting, which I find a much more believable bedrock for a possible future together.

So, given all these flaws, what is it about these movies that I love? Why, every year, do I dedicate the majority of my weekend hours to watching them? Well, for one thing, as I said earlier, they are on. Do you have any idea how boring weekend TV is? It’s mostly movies you’ve seen a thousand times replaying on other stations, or, if you’re like me, you’re catching up on TV you missed during the week because of work or school. Once you’re done with that, or tired of the reruns, what else is there? And, it’s cold out. Mind you, I love the cold so I have no problem bundling up and going for a walk or out to shop, but this year especially, staying indoors is a must. Which leaves me with my original problem: what to watch?

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These Christmas movies are great because they are pretty much always on. They also don’t require any real attention, because they are so predictable, you can start one, go live your life, come back and watch the end without really missing much. The leads will always get together, trust me; the how and why of it isn’t of much import. It is a nice level of reliability. Be it Lifetime, ION, or Hallmark, just to name a few, you’ve got something seasonal to watch. That’s another part of it: seasonal. Christmas movies are not shy about being Christmas movies. For someone who does the bare minimum decorating wise, it’s nice to see whole towns decked out. Trees, Santa, reindeer, cookies, snow, you name it they’ve got it. Hell, even the warmer towns get love – Pheonix, L.A., Tennessee, the south is not lacking for holiday spirit. And that brings me to possibly my most important point: traditions and the breaking there of.

I’ve been watching these holiday schmaltz fests for a long time, and I’ve noticed a wonderful trend – modernization! A long time ago, these kinds of movies only took place with pretty white people in pretty white snow towns, but now? There have been a slew of holiday movies that feature a majority black cast, including the two leads, there are even some promises of more diversity – you’ve got an Asian couple this year, and even Latin/Hispanics are starting to fill the void (thanks Mario Lopez!). And race isn’t the only shakeup: this year drops the first romantic movie I’ve seen involving a disabled woman (Tony award winner Ali Stroker), and two gay couple centered movies (previously they were just featured in the background). Where are the lesbians? I have a theory about that.

I’m not saying it’s a fact, this is my opinion based on patterns I’ve noticed in shows but here it is. Because these movies are largely geared towards women, lesbians get the short end of the stick. Mind you, if these movies were geared towards men, I feel like lesbians would have already been a lead couple in one of these movies long ago. Here’s the thing: in many of the shows I’ve watched, if they are geared towards men, you’re more likely to see a lesbian love story. This is because, I believe, straight men are far more attracted to the idea of lesbians than straight women are. This isn’t because straight women have anything against lesbians, but I have noticed a particular predilection for gays (different strokes, right?).

There is a whole subset of straight women, who are turned on by the idea of gay men. Look at Supernatural (a show I’ve reviewed), it is not geared towards women but garnered a heavy female fan-base (hot leads? Yes, please) who wanted….ah, that’s right: gay love stories. This female fan-base did not ship Sam or Dean with any of the women who appeared on the show throughout its fifteen year run, it shipped Dean with Castiel (a male angel who became essentially the third lead) OR Sam and Dean together. That’s right. Rather than ship the boys with a lady, they chose incest. And let me quickly say that this isn’t the only example – there was an anime called Gundam Wing, which also had a lot of lady fans, and guess what their fan fiction centered around? That’s right: gay love stories, and that show had a female counterpart for each of its male leads, but most of the fanfiction didn’t focus on heterosexual pairings. It’s a thing, and I believe it’s the main reason Christmas movies are embracing gay love stories before lesbian ones…

But still, shaking up the traditional idea of who can 1. Love Christmas and 2. Have their love celebrated is being smashed and expanded to include a more widening cast of people every year, which is great. Even body types get some variation – my guess would be this is because of the quick turnaround schedule of these movies; they have to take who they can get without waiting for the perfect waif to fill the role. A lot of these women are not your typical Hollywood twig person. The men, however, do face the rare instance of objectification here. I have yet to see one of these movies without a perfect, fit, male lead. This is hilariously flipped from the Hollywood standard, where you have the insanely trim leading lady and the seemingly gym averse male lead (though I do see this more in TV shows than in movies, but the opposite is very rare in either case).

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I do wish more holidays would get love. There was one Hanukkah movie last year, and there’s only one this year again, and both of their plots were just awful. Why not explore other cultures’ celebrations of the winter? If you’re willing to put other races and ethnicities in your movies why not take the extra step and show us how they celebrate, not just the usual Christmas trimmings. We get it, Christmas is great, but it’s not like these movies are heavily religious in their messages or presentations (for that I am HUGELY thankful) so it wouldn’t be blasphemous to move away from our typical holiday trappings to perhaps a more eclectic one.

I would also like to give special props to the Syfy network for their Christmas horror movies. Yes, Christmas, you feel the need to spit on Halloween’s grave before it’s even in the ground, why not shove a bit of Halloween into the Christmas season? It is truly the best example of a taste of your own medicine. Plus, let’s not forget, that the holidays aren’t exactly fun and romantic for most people. It’s a time of great stress, family conflict, high expectations, and sometimes crushing disappointment.

But, this year’s been a lot, and a visiting a magical land where everything works out just because the calendar changed to December isn’t the worst lie to tell ourselves. I think, at the end of the day, that’s what I love most about these movies. They are lies, yes, but they are best kind of lies. Imagine living in a world where everyone celebrates the spirit of the season, where everyone in a small town comes out for seasonal festivities, or everyone in a big city is a little kinder to each other just because Santa is watching. Then, the biggest lie of all: if you really want it, and you really open yourself up to it, you too can find true love. It’s the lie that all great romantic comedies tell us, only these add the outward expression of what the people are feeling. I mean, I know most people describe falling in love as fireworks, but couldn’t it also be similar to when the lights of a fully decked Christmas tree come on?

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