Thursday, September 4, 2008

Movies--2--Holiday for Love

Holiday for Love is a made-for-TV Hallmark movie. Like many of its companions, it is a delightful love story centered around a holiday theme. The title itself bears little relation to the content of the movie. I think in this type of movie the goal is to get the words "holiday", Christmas, Season, and something related to romance or love in the title. I am reviewing it because I think it tells us a great deal about how our popular culture views business and corporations--a theme I will explore further when I look at the various incarnations of "Sabrina".

The movie stars Tim Matheson, Melissa Gilbert, and country-western singer, Travis Tritt, who sings a delightful country-western Christmas song at the opening of the film. The story centers around a large tractor corporation, "Bean's Tractor", that is having a tough time and is being forced to down-size in order to remain profitable. The company has several plants throughout the midwest and company executives are being sent to each plant to determine who in the plant should be let go or even if the entire plant should be closed. For some reason, the top executives feel that it is necessary that this whole operation should be kept top secret, so the executives are sent to the various plants with the story that they are actually making large purchases from the plant. Why such a thing would be necessary for a company to find out what is going on in its own plants is never, of course, explained, but it is an essential part of the plot. The fact that the top executives of the company would be completely in the dark about what goes on at their plants, and that the people working in the plants should be completely unacquainted with the top company executives, leaves us to wonder how the company has managed to survive at all, but that is not really addressed.

The CEO of the company is a sympathetic character who is clearly distressed about having to lay people off. He makes it clear that the actual layoffs will not occur until after the Christmas holiday. I will contrast him with Harrison Ford, the CEO depicted in the latest version of Sabrina. The hero, Tim Matheson, who is the CEO heir apparent, is sent to a small town named Athens, coincidentally, the town in which he grew up, but left in late childhood. No one knows him, but he remembers some of the people and is shown early in the movie exploring his old (now abandoned) home.

Since he represents himself as a potential customer with a large order of tractors, he is treated as the town hero. Everyone goes out of his/her way to be kind and he is offered goods and services gratuitously. In the meantime, he manages to fall in love with the heroine, Melissa Gilbert, who, like almost everyone else in town works at Bean's Tractor. She points out that her father (he is general manager of the plant), her brothers, and even more distant relatives work at Bean's. Through a series of interactions, she finds herself falling in love with Tim although she has been engaged to Travis Tritt for a long time and the engagement is going nowhere. As the movie moves along, we meet several other of the townsfolk, almost all of whom work for Bean's Tractor, even though many, if not most also have other jobs.

At some point the general manager, the heroine's father, realizes that our hero is not on the up-and-up and is actually there to downsize or even close the factory. At that point the attitude of everyone in the town changes dramatically, and Tim finds that he, not only gets the cold shoulder from everyone, including Melissa, but he can hardly even get any service or goods as people show a reluctance to have anything to do with him even in business transactions.

He returns to company headquarters and makes his report along with the recommendation that the plant at Athens be allowed to stay open without any layoffs and be used to make a new line of Bean Tractors that would be affordable for the small farmer such as Melissa.

He returns just in time for the company Christmas party. When the general manager sees him, just before saying grace at the Christmas party, he says a prayer that is spiteful and mean-spirited. In the speech that follows, Tim announces that no one will be laid off, at which point he again becomes the local hero. In that speech he calls the people of Athens good and hard-working. I would characterize them as neither. They have come to see Bean's Tractor as a source of guaranteed income, in exactly the same way as many, if not most government employees view their jobs. They put in their time at Bean's in order to pursue hobbies or alternate careers. Melissa, for example, uses her resources at Bean's to run what amounts to an animal shelter. The man who operates the local inn, works at Bean's until he can make a go of the inn. One suspects that even the general manager is at least as interested in using his position to provide employment for his family and friends as he is in the welfare of Bean's.

What bothers me in all this, is that this is clearly the attitude of the people who made the movie. Corporations are there more to serve their employees than there customers. The corporate executives that lay off employees are merely greedy no-goods. The executives in this movie are portrayed as people who have absolutely no knowledge of what goes on in the local plants, and very little knowledge of what the company is doing. It has never occured, apparently, to any of them to make tractors affordable to the small farmer. They are portrayed as men and women who get their MBA's and then just sit around collecting huge salaries at the expense of "the little guy out in the field". When times get tough, none of them suffer, they just lay off the workers. This is an attitude I will explore more when I look at the movie "Sabrina".

What is never made clear, is that a company has very limited resources. True, the CEO is portrayed as being hard-pressed and being forced to make the lay-offs, but it is never made clear that be saving all the jobs in Athens, the company will be forced to be harder on plants in other towns. It is this failure to recognize that corporations can only succeed by serving the needs and wants of consumers, that makes Hollywood productions so obviously anti-business.

The ending, of course, is predictable, but it is delightful getting there. What is important for my essay is the attitude the people have toward Bean's and the implied attitude of those who made the movie.

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