Hidden Gender Agenda in Hallmark Christmas Movies?

What bad could possibly be said about Hallmark Christmas movies–the channel that markets itself as feel-good TV at Christmas time? The real question is–what’s right about Hallmark TV?hallmark_2Capture

The first inkling of the negative messaging embedded in Hallmark movies, occurred to me a few years ago. It was the recurring theme of a successful professional woman, who found herself in a dream as a happy housewife with husband and children, at first yearning to return to her old self, but in the end happy to toss aside her “present” for the wedded bliss of the “future.”  That was followed by more than a few movies where every professional woman was unwed, in an unsatisfactory relationship or demonstrated a distinct lack Christmas spirit as she paid attention to work pressures, deadlines and other office-related predicaments. The heroine in those stories lived in a cold urban environment, typically New York City. Those movies were complemented by a series of movies where lonely single city dwellers gave up their digs for a solo country Christmas. In those movies the woman typically ended up falling in love with the strong country type–usually a handyman, plumber or toy shop owner.

For lawyers, the next in the series offers a landscape of feel-good movies that crossed every legal line imaginable with lowly secretaries, assistants, window dressers, and nannies (often an errant elf)  falling in love with their bosses, bosses brother or bosses male assistant. In half of those scenarios, the current girlfriend is a lackluster unspirited socialite, who gets dumped for the morally anchored but lowly secretary, housekeeper, hotel maid or nanny. Those are followed by nefarious land-grabbing developer movies who “steal” the deal of an aging Christmas tree farm, wonderland or town and extract a pound of flesh or worse, to un-seal the deal. Nevermind that the lawyers in those movies are portrayed as unsympathetic dumb slugs who can’t muster up the creative intelligence to negotiate the duped client’s way (its always a woman) out of the clearly unscrupulous contract.

Then there is the class of movies where a series of late twenty-something or early thirtysomething women can’t face their families and parents over the holidays without a date. Those offers solutions for these sad sack young women that range from making an intimate pact with total strangers they bump into on the street  (with whom they ultimately fall in love) to outright “boyfriend” kidnapping. There was one uncharacteristic exception to that class involving a prosecuting attorney who brings home a woman (state’s witness) in his custody awaiting an important trial where she is expected to testify against a crime boss. He parades her amidst his family on Christmas day as his girlfriend. She is loose, wears tight clothing all featuring fake animal fur and a variety of animal prints.  Each of the movies in this genre shares the common ending of coming clean to the families, only to have the main character eventually fall in love with their stranger dates or custodial witness.

There are others–which no surprise loosely fit into one or all of the categories above, the stranger in the coffee shop who ends up being a Prince from Askovia. The handsome prince keeps his royal roots under wraps but nearly every story involves a stodgy butler, a pompous mother and occasionally an errant sibling (brother) who collects cars and blonds. These nearly all disparage those who do not demonstrate the requisite enthusiasm for Christmas who are,  by coincidence, from the ranks of higher economic or social status.

Lastly, there are the sad widower movies. These too cross lines across the genres already described. The widowers are left to raise a daughter while the widows are left behind by their deceased spouses to single-parent young sons. Each finds happiness with mom’s new love. The men saviors will compete against a rich city slicker but the fellow who works in a soup kitchen, is a kind stranger in an airport, cook or restaurant dishwasher, will win her heart out every time.

Time constraints prevent me from writing about the miserable lady lawyers, lonely valueless women who date superficial greedy guys or lady doctors who leave California to head out to the-middle-of-nowhere Alaska to run a clinic.  And for those of you who do not fall into any of these hapless categories–take a second look. Do you flood your house with lights at Christmastime? Beware, if you don’t, your neighbors might just be talking about you behind your back!

So what’s it all saying? Women who work hard, are missing out. Young upwardly mobile women who put work first are misguided. Single parents cannot lead rewarding lives. Widows and widowers will live unsatisfied until they find a new mate. Those in the lower economic social strata can and should aspire to marry princes and all guys who run tree farms in Vermont are handsome, morally sound and good marriage material. For those of you who live in southern climes, Sorry–Christmas cannot be truly appreciated without snowflakes but if you kiss your significant

frasier_Crane_Capture

other, preferably under a mistletoe, while looking at all the bright lights lining your roofline, there’s a chance you might capture the Christmas spirit, Hallmark style.

For all TV-on-while-you’re-working-all-night-long insomniacs out there, they say Frasier reruns will resume in January. I’m counting the days.

On the Eve of New Year’s Eve: This Year’s Resolution

12-30-2013 11-25-40 AMThis is the time of year, when for a a few short days, sometimes weeks, “time,”  philosophically speaking, assumes its rightful place in peoples’ lives.  In a  Dickensian sort of way, we are  aware of present, past and future, if only briefly.  As the calendar runs up to January 1st,  many will reconnoiter and with uncustomary resoluteness, propose a change or action that should occur in the year ahead to improve the quality of their lot.

As we get older and with the passage of time,   the New Year Resolutions begin to overlap with Bucket Lists.   There are nuanced differences between the two, even as they begin to merge. Whereas the New Year’s Resolution is supposed to connote positive change or direction and thusly generate action, the Bucket List involves recognition that the window for wishing and hoping is narrowing. The Bucket List  generates action–in a “speak now or forever (no metaphor intended) hold your peace” sort of way.

paraprosdokianYou will not be surprised to learn that America’s number one New Year’s resolution this year is to “lose weight.”  I think for many of us, weight loss is  a perennially welcome guest. But, for some, and I am among them, the time has arrived when it does not top either the Bucket or New Year’s Resolution list.  As I write, I am reminded of a Erma Bombeck quote and book title, written  when she looked back on her life and, referring to her own tug of war with weight, if given a mulligan-life option she might have elected for “Less cottage cheese and more ice cream.”

While verifying the sourcing of that quote,   I came across a word I had never before encountered:  paraprosdokian. Its has classical roots, but not classical origins and apparently it hasn’t yet appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. No matter, I like it and what it stands for:

“A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of the sentence. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.”

Apparently Winston Churchill was adept at it: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.” Here are a few other examples:

  • War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  • If the enemy is in range, so are you.

Google the term and you can read and enjoy dozens of examples of paraprosdokian phrases.  But, beware, while they are delightful to read, they are harder to create than one might imagine. Inspired by the new addition to my vocabulary, on this eve of New Year’s eve, I am inclined to view life metaphorically through the paraprosdokian lens.  To do this, you merely substitute the word “my life” for “sentence.” The definition, rewritten, looks like this:

“A paraprosdokian is an approach to life  in which the latter part of one’s life  is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes a person to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of one’s life.”

You’ve heard of 12 steps? This involves 3.

Step 1: The First Part
Everything until now falls neatly into the category of the expected–a life I’ve grown accustomed to living, a persona I’ve come to know well, a past I’m certain I recognize.

Step 2: The Surprise
Resolve to  create for myself a context that makes room for the surprising and unexpected, so much so, that it…

Step 3: The re-frame
…causes me to take a second look at life up to today, seeing it in a new and different way–paving the way for the future to change the past without changing the past, just changing how it looks to me in retrospect.

I had a wonderful aunt who often said, “if you can’t change something, change the way you look at it.” A paraprosdokian approach to life does that for you. Making room for the unexpected and surprises in one’s life, will at the very least oblige you cast off  the morsels of intractability that sometimes creep in as we mature.

And so, 2014’s  New Year’s Resolution might look like this: Resolving to  make room for being surprised with the unexpected in 2014 in a way that casts the past in a new light, provides continued purpose going forward and rewards me with the kind of unpredicted delight one feels when a good comedian leads you down the path that ends with a chuckle, or better yet, a belly laugh.  Yes, more belly laughs in 2014.

The Essence of The Christmas Tree

It has been written that for Hegel “essence” describes “how you come to the Notion, to the “key” to understanding something which, once arrived at, is the basis for all analysis of and “logical thinking” about the thing.”  For Kant, it was the thing “in and of itself.” After 40 years on the planet in contemplation and study of essence, being and rose colored glasses, I believe I managed to arriveOld Saybrook-20131224-00715 at understanding the concept when conjuring up of the christmas tree pictured here. The tree did it. It got me there–to understanding the essence of being.

The Back Story:
Work and other preoccupations kept me from having the opportunity to fulfill the annual ritual of wandering deep in the tree farm to find that perfect Concolor tree, with long lemony scented needles (which almost never shed). There are strict parameters to trees in my home:  not too tall, not too short– recognizing that the measure of small is anything that is shorter than I.

This year the ritual did not happen. There would be no  tree in our living room this Christmas. On Christmas eve with children traveling far to come home, the negative gravitas of that decision  began to weigh heavily. By noon on Christmas eve, when the first installment of visitors left, my options were reducing exponentially with each passing hour, possibly in direct inverse proportion to my anxiety over the decision.  We headed out to survey the options. The two local nurseries were, not surprisingly, out of trees. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw those trees loaded on trucks from Canada in August. I did not want one of those.

Art is important to me and every home since my first had few blank walls. On her first visit to our home years ago, a neighbor remarked “this place looks like a museum.”  I have an aversion for crowded public places. For this reason I have always enjoyed having a handsomely populated home library and well adorned walls. This indulgence is one that suits my idiosyncrasies concerning libraries and museums. Which brings me to the large blank wall in my small living room.

treeAdmittedly I had some inspiration. Somewhere along the way I managed to collect an image of a two dimensional tree made of twigs. It apparently struck me as I saved it to my hard drive. Now I was facing a blank wall, only a two hours remaining before the first child arrived home, and a fireplace mantel, that while out of the ordinary beautiful, was not  a substitute home for Christmas presents accustomed to sitting under a tree.  We were in the car, and though I ruefully glanced at  the  empty tree lot,  I proceeded on to CVS resolved to pick up two dozen clear “hooks” and convert an empty wall into a “tree.”  A  few minutes later, I was pulling into the driveway, threw the car into park,  scrambled into the wooded area adjoining the driveway to gather a half dozen long boughs that had been cut from a downed tree the winter before.

I laid them out on the living room floor—imagined the configuration that would best approximate a  “tree,” marked where my partner needed to make the trim cuts, grabbed the box of “favorite odds” ornaments from the attic and a string of lights. A large star-fish topped off the work which was assembled with the help of dark brown English twine  brought back from one of my London jaunts that I knew at the time, would someday come in handy. That day had arrived, and sooner than I thought.

The base was formed by (an empty) beautifully wrapped square box which was soon joined by the other presents. I plugged in the string of lights and there it was: The Christmas Tree, and really, a fairly perfect tree too.

Later in the evening  I sat with my daughter in the living room gazing at “the tree.” My analysis: it provided the function of “housing” the gifts below. The lights twinkled. The oddity of the ornaments, all favorites for one reason or another, allowed me to savor each one in a way the traditional tree did not. An early gift from my daughter of an ornament made by trafficking victims from NOMI, an organization that serves victims of trafficking was added to it—and fit in perfectly. It meant something–a gift from a child that recognized her mom’s work and something that was important to me. The Starfish atop it was personal too—starfish have always been in our Christmas trees, a symbol of our life these last many years living near the water. It was balanced. It was beguiling. I had managed to capture the essence of The Christmas Tree, without having one—and that I suppose is what Hegel and Kant were all about—capturing the essence.

I was startled. For the first time I had a truly deep sense of the essence of a thing, which was more amorphous than I had ever imagined and yet more real than anything I could have envisioned.  That assortment of sticks from the woods, strategically placed and ordinarily combined, generated a spot where we would sit, smile, giggle, share and realize in a very real and deep way, what this holiday is really all about.  

 

No presents please.

no-gift-imageMy grandparents reached a stage in their later years when they often said at Christmas or on birthdays: “Don’t buy us anything.” They didn’t offer more. They didn’t suggest substitutes nor did they feel the need to explain. Being on the giving end of that mandate was unpleasant. Giving them gifts made us feel good. Their not wanting gifts was discouraging, to say the least. What we didn’t comprehend was that we were gift enough…our accomplishments and our companionship. I finally get it. They derived pleasure, as I am beginning to, from our just (to borrow a phrase from Jerzy Kosinski) “Being There.”  Being There is the gift I want from those close to me and Being Here in the moment is the gift I give to myself.

The journey to this place was pretzel like–it was a journey that truly is only recognizable in retrospect, that is “through the rear view mirror.” It is a state of mind that you can achieve, but cannot map. You can only hope to land at this spot, but planning the journey in a way that guarantees you will, well that’s something else. Not much different from the measure of the parameters of obscenity, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter,  I can only offer that while I can’t explain how one gets to this place “I know it when I see it.”

That’s about as lofty as things will get here today. For, having arrived at this state of mind that does not require my fighting traffic, pushing my way through crowds in stores at any hour of the day or night, no matter the enticement or otherwise being in “go” mode, the following is a list of things and holiday messages that I’m finding particularly irksome–and in some instances, downright problematic this week:

Hollywood Messaging:
1) Being committed to work and high caliber performance (male or female) must necessarily involve short changing family–and if you don’t have a family, your work is a likely culprit. 2) Life in New England or other backwoods country locale (=good) is preferred  to life in New York or other urban area (= bad). 3) Hard working type A’s probably don’t believe in Santa Claus and are, no surprise, often found on the naughty list. Additional faulty personal traits that tag along  include lacking true Christmas spirit and understanding what, in Charlie Brown’s words, “Christmas is all about.” This list could actually benefit from an entire blog, but you get the gist.

Commercial Enterprises Changing Roman Calendar:
Friday, Saturday, Sunday–the names of the week date back hundreds of years. Sure, there’s a favorite I have of “Over the hump Wednesday”–but that’s a prepositional phrase–falling far short of the current trend towards adding  adjectival descriptives to the days of the week that in effect become  name changers.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is no longer,  as in “Do you have to work on the day after Thanksgiving?”  but is now:  Black Friday. What was for some a welcome day off from work, generating one of the only fourdayweekends in American working life, has been transformed into a day when everyone bears a piece of the responsibility for turning the economy around, signalling recovery and the harbinger of hope for the year ahead. Opt out of being part of that message at your peril for being labeled downright unpatriotic.

If you thought that skipping Friday was a simple way of avoiding falling into that commercial trap, special thanks to American Express for naming Saturday “Small Business Saturday.”  Just when you patted yourself on the back for staying away from the big box stores on Black Friday, your guilt can only now be assuaged by visiting the mom and pop stores and “shopping small.” You don’t want to be seen as a Scrooge, do you?  Lastly, lest you believe you have outsmarted every effort to draw you into the shopping melee, on Cyber Monday when you return to work your inbox and every website you visit will bombard you with promises of the bestprices, steepestdiscounts, todayonly lastchances to shop for those special people on your list.

In what world that you or I may have ever conceived would spending the weekend listening to music, reading and writing be viewed as excessively sedentary downright unpatriotic pursuits? In what world could reading about the comet that managed to escape capture by the sun or contemplating from my window the lone swan who swimming  back and forth without his/her now missing spouse not hold  a candle  to running around saving the economy through endless shopping?  In what world could reminding your fingers and brain that you once played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude and can again, ever be mentioned in the same breath as an admonition that includes the words”staying home and sitting around?”

Something is amiss.

For a long time now I have enjoyed these lines by notsofamous poet, Hugh Prather from his book “Notes To Myself”:

“Ideas are clean. They soar in the serene supernal. I can take them out and look at them, they fit in books, they lead me down that narrow way. And in the morning they are there. Ideas are straight. But the world is round, and a messy mortal is my friend. Come walk with me in the mud.”

And by that, I don’t mean let’s head out to the mall and check out the sales.