I don’t know about you, but for me, this season is basically one long Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s a genre of cinema that has received decidedly little critical attention… until now. Film reviewer and Media Studies academic Angela Harmon (see thenitpic.com) and cultural critic Michael Fisher (professor at Holy Family University and Rowan University) discuss Hallmark Christmas movies in their seasonal project, A Podcast for Christmas. The sometime Phindie writers take a lighthearted but serious look at these masterpieces of holiday cheer. We talked to them about the new podcast.
Phindie: Um, how did you come up with this idea?
Angela Harmon & Michael Fisher: The nugget of the idea came around last Christmas when we caught ourselves talking for hours and in great detail about a Hulu Christmas movie like it was a Palme d’Or winner. It was mostly a joke until this year, when on one particularly dour quarantine day in October one of us said, “We should just do that Hallmark Christmas movie podcast.” We broke out some mics and made some tea and started talking.
Phindie: Would you say you’re Christmas people?
Angela & Mike: At the risk of betraying our highbrow, academic-leaning tendencies that would generally frown upon corniness, yes. We are absolutely Christmas people in the secular, commercial way. It’s not a holiday more than a collective shift in consciousness that happens at the same time every year. Christmas triumphantly claims every aspect of our culture for almost two months and (other than spending money) its main goal is to force us to acknowledge warm and fuzzy feelings about the people we love. It’s wonderful.
Phindie: Had you seen many Hallmark Christmas movies before embarking on this project?
Angela & Mike: We had seen exactly three of these kinds of movies, one on Hallmark and two on Hulu, before starting the podcast. The Hallmark one was a hotel room watch when there was little else on and what started out as an exercise in irony became something like a puzzle we were trying to solve. The main complaint we’ve heard that people have about these movies is that they’re “too predictable” but if you accept that predictability as part of this genre’s canon, you’ll find there’s much to enjoy about how the filmmakers choose to create something usually very watchable within tight parameters.
Phindie: They make new ones every year?
Angela & Mike: Apparently there have been a total of 82 original Christmas movies made this year, 40 of which are Hallmark’s alone. FORTY.
Phindie: What do these movies represent for you? I’m thinking, like, they capture something essential about Christmas. Something saccharine or commercial. Bon hominy and all that?
Angela & Mike: We think they represent everything we as Americans want Christmas to be: just commercial enough, earnest love that doesn’t work too hard, Christmas decor in every room you’re ever in, very minimal conflict, and everyone has a huge mansion for a house. (Truly, everyone has a huge house no matter what their profession in these movies. It’s been the most unexpected find for us.) These movies are McDonald’s. They’re not good for you, but that’s not the point. They make you feel good.
Phindie: How does this fit into your academic and other critical work? How do you approach the movies?
Angela & Mike: What makes this project fun for us is that we can’t help but approach these movies the same way we approach every other movie. We watch it to see how it works in its own right when considering character and plot development, narrative novelty, and the like, but we’re also keeping notes about how these movies function on a larger sociological level. This genre of film fits in pretty neatly with our other work, which makes a habit of picking apart popular culture to figure out what makes it work and also what it says about all of us as a culture. For the sake of the podcast we’re keeping it light but it’s impossible to deny that there are certain problematic aspects of these movies that point out some pretty bleak priorities.
Phindie: Um, this is something I can listen to without watching the movies, right?
Angela & Mike: Absolutely. We do a pretty comprehensive, and hopefully entertaining, recap at the top of each episode.
Phindie: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
Angela & Mike: Any movie is a Christmas movie if you just believe.
Check the podcast at apodcastforchristmas.com?or listen on Apple Podcasts.