Opinion: In culture war, as Hallmark learns, pick a side — and stick to it

Aaron B. Andrews
The Detroit News

Hallmark recently got caught in the crossfire of a raging culture war. And it didn't handle it well. 

The TV channel known for Christmas shows guaranteed to get moms through long nights of gift wrapping decided to play it woke this holiday season by airing a series of commercials for a wedding planning app, Zola, that showed a lesbian couple kissing at the altar.

Conservative mothers had a cow.

A traditional family advocacy group, One Million Moms, unleashed a flurry of shame on the channel, petitioning for the advertisement’s prompt removal.

This image made from undated video provided by Zola shows a scene of its advertisement.

“The Hallmark Channel has always been known for its family friendly movies,” the group said in a statement. “Even its commercials are usually safe for family viewing. But unfortunately, that is not the case anymore.”

Hallmark capitulated, removing the ads, saying that the controversy was a distraction.

“The Hallmark brand is never going to be divisive,” said Hallmark spokeswoman Molly Biwer in an interview with AP. “We don’t want to generate controversy. We’ve tried very hard to stay out of it.” 

Wake up and smell the chestnuts, Ms. Biwer.

The move sparked an immediate backlash from the LGBTQ community and its allies, and before you could say “Merry Christmas,” #boycotthallmark was trending, and Hallmark was on its knees begging for Zola to bring its business, along with progressives’ goodwill, back to the channel.

If Hallmark didn’t want any controversy, it should have steered clear of the topic. There’s just too much at stake on both sides.

On the one hand, you have conservative mothers’ instinct to protect their children from sexual confusion. And on the other hand, you have the LGBTQ community’s desire to be recognized and accepted.

“It is my family that they’re telling shouldn’t be on television, should be censored, shouldn’t exist, that we’re considered controversial,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in an interview with CNN. GLAAD promotes LGBTQ acceptance.

“For my wife and I to try to explain this to our 10-year-old twins is mortifying,” she said. 

Similar arguments exist on the other side. 

Airing the lesbian kiss was just as much a threat to conservative moms as taking it down was a judgment of lesbian couples.

While it’s easy to criticize Hallmark for being tone-deaf, we can all take a lesson from the channel's mistake.

People and brands alike should approach these social issues with the Hippocratic principle to "do no harm.” 

For situations like this one, where it seems impossible to protect both sides, the most respectful thing to do may be to stay silent.

That’s not to say that people shouldn’t take principled stances. We all have a right to believe what we believe and to voice our opinions. Liberty depends on the free exchange of ideas.

We shouldn't allow the fear of the Twitter mob to drive those with deeply held beliefs into hiding.

But for those who, like Hallmark, might not have thought that hard about it, perhaps the best plan is to hold your tongue.

Or pick a side, and be ready to defend that decision, regardless of the Twitter backlash. 

If you're going to flip-flop, though, be ready to follow Hallmark's lead and flop with the progressives. They're better at Twitter than conservative moms. 

Aaron Andrews is an editorial fellow at The Detroit News.