Okay, I need to just get this off my chest and be honest about a guilty pleasure I have: I like Hallmark movies. There, I said it. I don’t think there is a “Hallmark Movie Watchers Anonymous” support group or helpline, but if there is, I might have to look into it. By “Hallmark” movies, I mean the whole range of Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Channel et al. relationship dramas that feature sophomoric and predictable plotlines. Typically, the hero or heroine returns home from the big city on some flimsy pretense and is compelled to re-engage with either a past paramour or an attractive stranger to solve a local problem, often involving a holiday fair or celebration, saving a charming commercial venture like an inn or shop in the process. These movies specialize in wooden acting and happily-ever-after obvious conclusions. After some soul-searching, I think I know why I am a sucker for these types of movies, especially the holiday-themed ones that are dominating those specific channel’s programming as of late.

Is it possible that your business-centric local Chamber of Commerce director is just a sappy hopeless romantic at heart? No, it’s not that. You know within the first 10 minutes of every movie that the two leads will eventually overcome the real or perceived obstacles in their path and end up in each other’s arms. Romance is fine, but that’s not the reason I tune in.

Could it be just a feel-good appreciation for the mathematical genius underlying the formulaic plotlines that drive the forward motion of these movies? The algorithms for producing the plot “twists” are amusingly satisfying I must admit (for a laugh, google “hallmark movie plot generator” for a matrix of the finite plot possibilities). But no, it’s not that either.

Ultimately, I am drawn to these movies because of the communities of people and support underlying the lead characters. Invariably, the small-town community members all know each other and interact personally and respectfully with one another. In the final scenes, they all usually come out en masse to support whatever local initiative is taking place that ultimately brings the couple together. While it’s never explicitly delineated, you get the feeling that every person in these idealized communities understands the value that comes from being a helpful and involved member of their community, and to some extent derives a measure of meaning in their lives by being purposefully proactive in their communities. They show up when they are needed. They are positive and give their best in their jobs, and also usually in some volunteer effort too. They offer encouragement to the leads when doubt or uncertainty sneaks in before the final triumphant scene. They are not the stars of these movies, but they are the heart and soul of them, providing the fabric and infrastructure necessary for people to realize their dreams.

I know there is probably more wrong with these movies than right, and they completely gloss over so many of the real financial and social challenges that people have to deal with every day. But they also provide something for all of us to aspire to by reinforcing not only the “rights” we have to constructively pursue our individual dreams but also the “responsibilities” we have to each other to create a functioning community — with family, friends, and everyone else in the town or village. There is a “we” in these movies that is bigger than “I.”

And during the holiday season, it’s an important reminder that we all can help make our community stronger when we make a little extra effort to think about what others in our community need. We can all reach out, ask how others are doing, and find out how we can help — safely from a distance of course given our current health challenges. But “physical distancing” mandates don’t mean that we have to act distantly towards everyone else. Even if it’s virtual or via the phone, community is built one positive interaction at a time — with a neighbor, with friends, or with a local business (who could really use your support this year especially). Hallmark communities aren’t real, but ours is, and we all are members of the cast with a critical supporting role to play to keep building on what we have here together.

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