Big City Boy + Small Town Girl = Holiday Magic: The Urban-Rural Divide as Depicted By Hallmark
by Fiona Burke
by Fiona Burke
The time I’ve spent watching (objectively bad) Christmas movies is getting to the point of being better quantified in days, not hours. There’s just something so comforting and cathartic about the formulaic plotlines, picturesque landscapes, and wholesome family fun.
Each of these hokey flicks seems to have a small handful of tropes in its toolbox that it pulls from to try and create a movie that is somehow both unique and thoroughly recognizable. These cutesy features highlight the urban-rural divide, while also belying the harsher realities of small-town America.
The Hallmark Trope-box:
The Hunk: The male lead falls into one of two categories, but either way he has abs:
The Leading Lady: A no-nonsense, driven woman. She doesn’t need a man, but somehow always ends up with one.
The Corporate Fat Cat: This plot device can take the form of a local businessperson who’s gotten too big for their britches and is encroaching on the community’s way of life, or just a cold-hearted city dweller who doesn’t know the value of a warm cup of cocoa or a well-sung Christmas carol.
The Small Town: These movies tend to feature a quaint Main Street or town square studded with festive wreaths and charming local businesses. Their residents are down to earth, value their families and communities, and seem to know everyone else in the town. They’re also comfortably middle-to-upper class, educated, and diverse. There is no poverty, the opioid crisis is nowhere to be seen, and the political divide doesn’t exist—none of those realities would cleanly fit in the Hallmark brand book.
Why Does Any Of This Matter?
The widening divide between rural or small-town America and urban communities exists beyond the screen. The bustling Main Streets and the thriving rural communities in made-for-TV movies are rare and the ways in which rural communities are depicted in these films, although comforting, is simplistic and mostly inaccurate.
The overly-simplified depictions of these communities are certainly not unique to these movies. Communicators and PR professionals (who largely come from and work in urban hubs) tend to use images and buzzwords that seem emblematic of rural life to them when they attempt to reach rural Americans. Think strapping young men in plaid shirts, chopping wood next to a picket fence while Aunt Debbie bakes apple pie in the kitchen. As someone who comes from a rural community (“town” might even be too big a word to describe my hometown with a population of just over 1,000), I can tell you that there isn’t a whole lot of that going on.
In reality, these communities are suffering; the town squares that once were filled with local businesses are often derelict.
“Small town” Americans are frustrated by the lack of (accurate) inclusion in public discourse. There’s a strong sense that decisions are made in urban hubs and handed down to rural areas without their input or consideration. In order to alleviate this frustration, our media—and our PR campaigns—have to put more work into understanding and accurately representing them if they want to successfully reach these communities, rather than relying on tropes and denying the hard realities of rural America in 2020.
Urban professionals have continuously misunderstood these communities (e.g. the last two presidential elections) to their own detriment. If they’re your target audience, make sure you take the time to truly understand them before you pull out stock images of cowboy hats and flannel.
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