I’m taking a major risk tackling this subject because Hallmark might decide to change its mind again.
You’ve likely seen the headlines in the last week about The Hallmark Channel and the kiss heard ’round the world. It all started when the cable network, known for its cavalcade of Christmas movies and social media memes celebrating those who binge watch them, aired a commercial from the wedding-planning-and-registry website zola.com that featured, among its happy couples, a same-sex wedding in which two women kissed.
That disturbed the conservative activists at One Million Moms, who flexed their petition-distribution muscles in Hallmark’s direction unless the ad was pulled from the air. Hallmark announced it would, indeed, remove the commercials. That in turn prompted outrage from liberal/LGBTQ activists who are just as familiar with dangling the word “boycott” in front of businesses that offend them. The result? Presto! The ads are once again welcome on Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses.
If you’re keeping score at home, unless Hallmark reverses course on its previously reversed course, the tally looks like this: Air-Protest-Ban-Protest-Unban-
So who wins? Who knows? The left got what it wanted last, so you could say it did. Yet the right demonstrated it still has the power (no matter what some media pundits suggest) to shape culture, even if only fleetingly in this case. And you better believe it won’t hesitate to do so again the next time a corporation advances values that conservatives believe run counter to what’s proper and moral for families.
While I can’t tell you for sure who won this skirmish, though, I can tell you with absolute certainty who lost: The Hallmark Channel. It has violated one of the chief lessons of standing for something not everyone in the culture agrees with: Stick to your guns. Or you’ll get shot by them.
I don’t have to tell you we live in a divided nation. We are split, often pretty close to down the middle, on everything from same-sex marriage to abortion, whether to impeach or not to impeach, if Die Hard is a Christmas movie or just a really fun action flick. We’re not just divided, either; we are passionately, often vehemently divided. As an individual or organization with a public-facing profile, everything you say or do is not only scrutinized, it can be weaponized. The policies you follow, the values you hold, the programs and advertisements you air, are guaranteed to upset somebody. Likely about 50 percent of the somebodies out there. You have to make peace with it unless you want to lose game after game of public-opinion whack-a-mole.
What does making peace with it look like? Accepting that not everyone is going to love you. Or buy your products. Or watch your network. To participate in the marketplace of ideas in 2019-going-on-2020 is to live by the truth that you can’t win everyone to your side. You have to recognize that the ones who are already on your side are there because they appreciate your products and services – and also share or at least support the values that inform those products and services.
This is the mistake The Hallmark Channel made. If the airing of the Zola ad was truly aligned with its parent company’s vision and values, the network never should have flinched when One Million Moms came calling. If it was not in line with those values, and it was indeed a “mistake” as One Million Moms said the CEO told them, they should have corrected the error and weathered the second round of criticism.
But going back on the decision they had already gone back on is a PR and business disaster. Neither side upset by one decision or the other is 100 percent happy with the outcome. None of the protesters, and none of us who have just been munching popcorn from the sidelines, come away knowing what values the company truly stands for. In fact, I’m left to believe it has no core values that govern its programming. Hallmark’s only allegiance, it seems, is to not make anyone mad.
And that is an impossible goal in today’s cancel culture.