American Consequences - December 2018

In these tellings, a well- kept Christmas is an antidote to the poisons of modern life. There is one aspect of the holiday season that grows ever more fascinating, and that is the explosion over the past decade of cheap TV movies centering on the holiday. Since 2010, Hallmark has made – get this – 170 Christmas movies, which it puts into heavy rotation on the Hallmark channel beginning in mid-October. And now Netflix is following suit. It has released eight this season alone. Not since the days of the Western have there been so many films made with exactly the same plots and exactly the same setting with exactly the same effect. What’s even more interesting is that they all suggest Christmas is a time of magical salvation from the forces of modern isolation and loneliness. The plots almost always involve a young woman from a big city who finds herself, for some reason, in a picturesque small town. She is either unmarried, or engaged to someone unexciting, or sadly widowed. In the small town she finds a manly man, usually someone who works with his hands, who was either her high school boyfriend and has remained a bachelor because he pines for her or is sadly widowered. The town is wonderful. The man is wonderful. And yet the woman has a life back

in the city. But a few poinsettias, a crackling fire with some stockings hanging nearby and somehow kept from catching fire, a spinet playing carols, and a bearded man who just may be the actual Santa Claus, and you know she’s not going back to her soulless lonely modern existence. She will stay in the small town, protected from the Christmas-lessness of the everyday world, and find peace. The insatiable public appetite for this story is such that we have to assume it means something more than people liking a good Christmas movie, in part because they’re almost all very bad. In these tellings, a well- kept Christmas is an antidote to the poisons of modern life. These poisons do not spring from active evil, but from a kind of disconnectedness from community and fellowship. Apparently community and fellowship cannot be had in The City in 2018, even though Dickens’ Scrooge managed to find them smack-dab in the center of Victorian London. The same nightmarish place where his Fagin ruled over a roost of lost boy thieves and where, in Our Mutual Friend , people earned their living dragging the bottom of the Thames looking for corpses with cash-filled pockets. Thus has Dickens’ de-Christianized Christmas come down to us today, with a peculiar message of glorious retreat from the world rather than a new commitment of moral and spiritual engagement with it. God bless us everyone, indeed.

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