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The Hallmark Channel and the horrors of aging.

July 30, 2010

[originally posted at my blog Love Is The Slug]

So there are certain days where I’m off and I have to do laundry and clean my room and other mundane tasks that you may be shocked to learn an ultra-glamorous hairstylist/rocker/blogger like myself may have to do. But when faced with having to engage in such drudgery, I often find solace in the marathon stretches of  The Golden Girls that air most mornings/early afternoons on the Hallmark Channel, allowing the wacky antics of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia to whisk me away to a happy place while I vacuum up mannequin head hair from the carpet and fold my delicate unmentionables. And while I get a certain perverse thrill in watching a gay-cult-following sort of TV show on such a family-oriented network , I’ve increasingly found myself horrified at what an utterly depressing network Hallmark is. (And not just because it also reruns episodes of  Touched By An Angel which are terrifying enough to behold in commercial form. And emotionally stressful too. One minute I am loving Della Reese’s silver-foxy hair and the next I am being accosted by Roma Downey’s giant head and horrifyingly Feria-red tresses. But I digress.)

The same way that the Lifetime network feels like it essentializes women in this International Coffees-sipping, Oprah worshiping, perpetually victimized (seriously, those original movies are like a Wheel of Fortune game of cancer/rape/abuse/murder) sort of way, Hallmark feels like it’s here to remind older folks that Growing Old Is Horrible And Terrifying Always. I’m not saying it can’t be scary – hell, I just freaked myself out a month or so ago when I realized I had been convinced for WEEKS that I was still 36 and not 37 and the fact of forgetting my actual age made me feel positively ancient. But their advertising space is mainly devoted to a series of commercials that make aging seem like an endless series of events involving falling, broken hips, bowel problems and incontinence. And while all of those issues are doubtlessly relevant to older adults, I guess I’d like to see a little more balance.

It’s ironic to watch a show like Golden Girls – a show that was rather groundbreaking in that it centered around the lives of a group of older women who led full, active lives, complete with romance, sex and frank and unflinching depictions of the stresses of aging instead of letting it all slide into cartoon-ish mishaps and pandering crap. And then you get to a commercial and you see Jamie Lee Curtis, a gorgeous woman of 51 who is not an untalented actress whom Hollywood has seemed to discard so she has to make a living hocking yogurts that make it easier for you to take a shit. How about we get to see one of those new KY ads featuring a couple over 50? Or even over 60? Because they do have sex you know, whether you want to imagine it or not. Or what about an ad for the iPhone with some older adults in it? I saw a woman on the bus the other day who was easily 20 years my senior who was working her iPhone like there was no tomorrow. I don’t even know how to use one of those things!

It’s a depressing wake-up call when a cheesy, two camera sitcom from the 80s seems almost revolutionary alongside most of the media we consume today. And don’t try to use Betty White’s current ubiquity as a counter-argument. It reeks of tokenism even if she’s funny as hell and I like that she’s around a lot. It’s 2010, folks. It’s time to realize that older people do more than worry about Osteoporosis, have irregular bowels and watch TV shows about angels who mess with people’s lives.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 4:17 pm

    @Chriso All very well considered points, and thanks for bringing this up because it really helps point out some universal truths about television.

    The first thing I think is important to remember, and I have and will continue to bang this drum, (and who knows, I may do a whole post about it!) is that television is always an “advertising delivery service” before any and everything else. That is, the centerpiece of TV’s existence is to show you ads for goods and services. Anything that may happen between those commercials is of secondary concern to the medium.

    Next, from an advertiser’s standpoint, getting people to believe they “need” a product is key. And what’s the best way to get someone to think they need a product? Make them think their lives will be ruined without it! Remind them of all the unpleasant and insufferable experiences, the embarrassment they may have undergone in a similar circumstance, then offer up the solution: their product!

    Ultimately, I think the people at the ad agencies hated their parents/grandparents and this sort of toxic bombardment of commercials about falling and the inability to get up is some sort of angry revenge from when they were kids and didn’t get the biggest birthday party of all time on their block. Mad Men, indeed!

  2. July 30, 2010 4:25 pm

    Roma’s hair always bothered me because the color seemed to go against the “No one dimensional flat shoe polish color” mandate. Clearly the product used did not work with her “natural tones and highlights”. The other thing about that show was it was all CLOUD and very little silver lining. Ha. I remember Chris Noth doing an episode of that show.

    I don’t have cable, but I am very familiar with their style of “old people” programming. It alternates between fear mongering – with Alec Trebek peddling supplemental insurance products – and marginally entertaining (with the exception of Golden Girls) entertainment.

  3. IrishUp permalink
    July 30, 2010 5:00 pm

    Sigh, when did Halmark turn from presenting “The Borrowers” “The Yearling” and “Sounder” to shaking down the fixed income set? Hell in a handbasket, I tell you, and HEY, stayoffamylawn!

  4. eieioj permalink
    July 31, 2010 8:03 am

    Oh man, Hallmark kills me. I love the GGs, but the ads… oh, the ads. And the Little House on The Prairie. And since they show Touched by an Angel and Little House, I’m surprised they haven’t picked up The Christian Michael Landon Show, Highway To Heaven.

    I do find it amusing that they’re still running the same Life Alert commercials that I remember from the original run of GG. Except now they have that really pissed off woman who had a heart attack and “No one was there. Life Alert was there.” She seems to be making a very pointed statement; I imagine it’s at her crappy kids who never come to visit. She put her life on hold for you ungrateful brats when you were little, and now all she has is LIFE ALERT?!?!?!?! THE SHAAAAAAMMMMEEEEEE! See what you get left in the will, Junior. She’s gonna leave it all to her Life Alert bracelet, and if you try to contest it, the public will stand behind her decision…seriously, leaving your mom alone all the time, only visiting at Christmas to see what you can pilfer out of her silver drawer…hmmph.

    Whoa. Anyway.

    The only positive thing I will say about the ads on Hallmark are that at least the elderly folks in the commercials they show tend to be, well, actually elderly. There’s very little room on Hallmark for anti-aging/wrinkle cream ads featuring women in their 30s trying to pass off “really” being in their 50s.

    Of course, those are the sorts of ads I kinda want to see during my GG marathons, even though I know that, as a Southern Lady, Blanche only uses original Oil of Olay and Pond’s Cold Cream on her skin.

  5. Octavia permalink
    July 31, 2010 8:14 am

    We don’t get Hallmark here (which honestly even sounds terrifying to me as I just think of trite sympathy cards) but this awesome analysis is applicable to virtually all media containing advertising. The invisible older people. Who apparently aren’t consumers of a variety of products, somehow.

    I feel that the type of advertising directed at older people is very intertwined with social attitudes towards older autonomy, dignity, and the fear of loss of bodily control. I am all for social health awareness in the sense of talking about ‘icky’ or ‘private’ social health concerns because fuck body shaming, but it seems like the “Hey older people, what about your bowel movements and other things our society still finds embarrassing for people who aren’t you” dialogue doesn’t come from a remotely good base place of sharing and caring and being honest about ageing (even if individual adverts themselves can be presented in a positive way), but rather from the idea that once you become, gasp, old we’re going to talk at you about your health and life (usually like you’re an idiot), not with you. And dignity and other life experiences and hobbies and such things are sidelined.

    I love Sam Waterman’s Old Glory Robot Insurance skit from SNL. Funny as hell largely because advertising does talk to older people like they’re willful toddlers who are completely removed from ‘current’ life experiences. And I think Waterman challenges the idea of what a senior citizen is, not being the stereotype.

  6. July 31, 2010 5:06 pm

    @eieioj: Your rant about the lady leaving all of her money to her Life Alert bracelet was priceless! I feel like it is totally a pointed comment in the ad. And you know those are PRECISELY the products that Blanche Devereaux uses on her skin. And perhaps some sort of family concocted serum as well, with secret ingredients no Yankee would be privy to knowing.

    @Octavia: The Old Glory Robot Insurance skit is effing brilliant and perfectly captures/satirizes the tone of so many ads aimed at older folks. I hate how a lot of the ads now about insurance and such assume all older adults are totally clueless and cannot use the Internet to save their lives. It’s so insulting!

  7. August 1, 2010 11:27 am

    Oh gosh I watched that Old Glory skit again and Sam Waterston nailed it. God it was so funny. He’s perfect for it because everyone who watches TV of the targeted age group trusts him.

  8. Octavia permalink
    August 1, 2010 12:31 pm

    Trust for Sam Watertson is one of my constants!
    He has some fine reliable eyebrows.
    (I apparently can’t spell his surname, ha)

    Until age 55 you know about insurance and such things and we assume you might have picked some stuff up after doing your paperwork and running your damn life for god knows how long. 55+ you forget it all and start needing to be talked to either very slowly and calmly or in extremely panicked tones because HOLY CRAP WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT USING OUR INSURANCE DON’T YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE?

    That being said the man could make me consider robot insurance. I do want to avoid their cold metal claws.

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