So it was perhaps not a surprise last week that an antigay advocacy group calling itself One Million Moms went after the channel for running advertisements featuring same-sex couples. The group took particular issue with one ad from the wedding-planning company Zola showing two women kissing at the altar; it depicted, the group said, “a sinful lifestyle that Scripture clearly deems as wrong.”
Nor, given the makeup of Hallmark’s fan base, was it a surprise when the network initially caved to the petitioners’ wishes. “We are not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” a spokesman explained. That ensured, of course, an even bigger backlash. Twitter glommed onto the controversy; boycott threats ensued. Hallmark bowed again. But it didn’t just reinstate the ads. In a statement Sunday night, the company vowed to work “to better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands.”
Anywhere else, that would be an anodyne promise. Gay characters have been normalizing LGBTQ people on television since “Will & Grace” (Just ask former vice president Joe Biden, who cited the series in endorsing same-sex marriage in 2012.) Same-sex couples have gone more or less mainstream on the small screen. But things are different in the world of Hallmark. It’s the province of family values, of don’t-rock-the-boat boringness — TV, largely, for the red states. It’s where a gay couple goes when there’s just about no more ground to break.
Now, re-greenlighting a wedding ad with lip-locking lesbians is still far from running a flick about two women’s Christmastime journey down the bough-bedecked aisle. But it is a first step, however faltering. Hallmark seems to have calculated that it’s no longer sustainable to play only to its longtime audience. The old guard and new guard of schlock-watchers went to war over the ad, and Hallmark declared the new guard the winner.
As the older constituency continues to diminish, the company’s newfound spirit of inclusion is likely to spread across all its offerings, including its holiday TV lineup. Yes, a queer couple will soon get the gauzy Hallmark treatment, their relationship packaged into flat, predictable drivel. And that’s great news.
Hallmark’s holiday movies are the epitome of the formulaic. The whole point is that there is so little surprising about them that any half-savvy viewer, with one eye on making sure the sugar cookies don’t burn, can map out the plot from the moment the opening lands on the protagonist in their cafe/barn/high-powered law-firm office. For stories with straight lead characters, this has always been easy: They show up, realize their recently deceased grandmothers would have wanted them to take a chance on love, and live happily ever after.
How will Hallmark incorporate gay characters into this intentionally flat genre? For Hallmark to stay soothing, there will be no disowning upon coming out, no religion-inflicted trauma and only the lightest touch of humorous homophobia when the horse-drawn carriage driver is embarrassed to realize the two gentlemen in the back are not, in fact, brothers.
That sort of oversimplification is bound to spark complaints from those crusading for realistic representation. But Hallmark has never been in the business of nuance. The few minorities who do make guest appearances in the Yuletide lineup never really encounter the unpleasant realities they’d face in real life. As far as hearts go, Hallmark is better at warming them than changing them.
That’s fine. After all, there’s the rest of the year to sweat how much progress is yet to be made and weather the bah-humbugs of however many moms. For a community with a long history of holidays on the out, looking up at the screen and realizing you’re just as unremarkable, just as boring, as everybody else might be its own Christmas miracle.