My husband likes movies and TV shows in which they “blow up stuff”—“boy” movies like Mission: Impossible and the James Bond series…and the TV show Breaking Bad. I lean toward true-life dramas, especially ones about athletes and others who overcome life’s challenges. I also like romantic movies full of relationship struggles and happily-ever-after endings—The Sound of Music, Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing top my list. But, of late especially, the Hallmark Channel has become my “narcotic” of choice when I really want to escape life’s stresses.
The movies on the Hallmark Channel are predictable and comfortable—often set in small towns where the hero/heroine’s dreams are fulfilled. Even though there generally is some kind of relationship challenge, there is never any bitterness or harsh words.
When someone is dating the wrong person and breaks up with him/her during the movie, the words are simple and straightforward, and the recipient accepts it as a gentleman or a lady. No slammed doors. No cusses. And no drunken nights out to forget his/her sorrows. What a contrast to my social-media feed.
With life as tense as it has been the past year, it’s no wonder that Hallmark is the highest-rated non–news/sports cable channel. It has the fifth-highest rating overall for cable channels…behind three news channels and ESPN. Congratulations to those, like me, who use it as their drug of choice, since it’s far safer than drugs and alcohol.
But that’s not really why I’m writing about the Hallmark Channel today. What is fascinating is that, for all of the simplicity and perfection of the movies, the characters actually make life-altering decisions that require a lot of fortitude and are both inspiring and educational. One of the most common themes has the lead character walking away from a high-powered “successful” career to return to a simpler, calmer place where they can have a better work/life balance while surrounded by family and friends.
This is a decision that millions of people wrestle with every day. They feel obliged to pursue a fast-track career path, only to realize that money doesn’t buy happiness and the cold pursuit of career achievements is empty without loved ones to share it. They return to their hometown from a big city and come to appreciate the importance of community. They realize that they can achieve their career goals in a more fulfilling environment. It is not easy figuring out what you want in life, and it is even harder making a shift, whether that includes relocation or not.
On the flip side are the powerfully opinionated parents in the movies who “want only the best for their children,” pressuring them to follow in their own footsteps or fulfill their vision for them. In Hallmark-land, the overbearing parent often is a king or queen, but they are emblematic of parents of all walks of life. Their offspring have felt suffocated by their parents and stifled by their own lack of choice for their personal path. It may be depicted as a royal obligation in the movie, but this is a classic battle between the generations as the younger ones develop the maturity to identify their own paths and stand up for those paths…and the parents realize that their children are independent capable adults.
A third common theme is that of legacy. In our disposable world where technology becomes obsolete every few years, legacy has lost its meaning for many of us. But it’s a frequent theme on the Hallmark Channel, as intergenerational connections, family traditions and ancestry are shown to be an important part of each of us. What is a member of the younger generation’s obligation to sustain his family’s farm if he is not interested in it or the farm simply is not economically feasible? Is it fair to burden him with that obligation? If he walks away, will he have lost an important tie to his past? Or is there a middle ground that allows the legacy to stay current while maintaining the traditions and connection to the lineage?
When I was a teen, I had a discussion with my Dad about nonfiction versus fiction books. Dad was a staunch believer in the value of nonfiction and the education that it could provide. Needless to say, I felt otherwise, probably because I actually hadn’t read all that much beyond The Happy Holisters and Jane Austen. Now, I spend the vast majority of my reading time on nonfiction. I have come to see the light of his wisdom and, in fact, dislike many contemporary works of fiction. That said, I remember distinctly making the argument that fiction allows the reader to learn the lessons of the books’ characters and gain insight into worlds beyond their own.
I guess I still feel that way in that a little light fiction—books or movies—does have its benefits. It’s wonderful escapism…and there are lessons in life to be learned as in every art form and genre.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.