Tuesday, November 28, 2017

In Defense of Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (CBS)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs November 28, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. on CBS.

 MUSINGS 


Say what you will, but I can’t think of a more divisive Christmas TV special than the Rankin Bass original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Some people love it, others hate it. But ol’ red nose is definitely part of our holiday culture.

After over 50 years of airing repeatedly, you would think that people would have grown tired of the special by now, but just the opposite is true. The quality of the stop-motion animation is fairly clunky compared to computer-generated fare that we are all used to and music is terribly dated, but the special is a ratings winner every year anyway. CBS has been airing the special since 1972. (Before that, it aired on NBC beginning in 1964.)

Yes, Rudolph has its fans, but he also has his share of haters as well. Some hate the fact that “nobody let Rudolph join in on the reindeer games” or that they didn’t appreciate him until he proved he could do something with that red light bulb of his. Yes, the story can be dark at times, but honestly, these people are missing the point. A story needs to have a conflict in order for it to me entertaining. Who would want to watch “Rudolph, the Socially-Accepted Reindeer?”

Rudolph is one of the best anti-bullying stories around. This is something almost all children are familiar with but tend to forget about when they grow up. Whether your child is the bully or the bullied, everyone can relate to this story. Like children who don’t wear the latest fashion in clothes, Rudolph wasn’t like the other reindeer. While the others all had nice black noses, he was only one with a different color. To make matters worse, it also lit up. Not all that different from being the only “black” kid in a “white” neighborhood.

Rudolph and Clarice.
Rudolph was also mistreated as if he had some strange handicap. Instead of befriending him and learn from his differences, the other reindeer decide to make fun of Rudy instead. Years ago, people with disabilities (or in this case, perceived disabilities), were treated as if they were not able to contribute to society. Rudolph’s “condition” didn’t keep him from performing well, (he was super-fast which is a real asset when needing to deliver presents within a 24-hour period), but it was his “perceived” disability that caused others to not give him a chance. His only “fault” was that he was different.

Rudolph’s red nose scared everyone around him, including his parents. His own father, Donner, tried to help Rudolph hide the fact that his nose was red by covering it up with mud. This worked great in his efforts in begin accepted at first. However, when the mud wore off, he was shunned like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s not a lot different in the human world. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. Instead of asking questions, the woodland creatures just pretended that Rudolph didn’t exist. His only friend, Clarice, thought nothing of his rosy appearance and fell in love with him. This was to the dismay of her father who forbade her from socializing with “his kind” as if reindeer with red noses thought and did things differently than those with black noses.

Hermey and Rudolph
Of course, Rudolph wasn’t alone with this condition. Over with Santa lived Hermey, an elf that was “supposed” to enjoy making toys because he’s an elf and that's what elves do. But toy-making wasn't Hermey's skill set. He wanted to be a dentist. Many years ago, left-handed children were forced to write with their right hand because leaders thought that was the “correct” way to write. Because writing with their right hand didn’t come naturally to them, many left-handers felt like something was wrong with them. Because Hermey didn’t want to build toys, he felt that something was wrong with him too. Hermey faced the same dilemma many adults do. 

All men are “supposed” to enjoy football, fishing and cars. Women are “supposed” to enjoy scrapbooking and dress-making. But what happens when men are more interested in the arts than the areas they are “supposed” to master in? What happens to women who would rather change their own oil thank you very much? They can either conform to what society tells them or take a stand to live the life that they want for themselves. Even so, I'm not talking about just traditional gender roles either. In Hermey's case, he was expected to be a toy-maker; probably because his father was one and probably his grandfather too. When he expressed an interest in dentistry, nobody understand or even saw a need, and so therefore, he didn't fit in.

Yukon Cornelius
As life does, Rudolph and Hermey found each other and considered themselves to be a pair of misfits that nobody in Christmasville could love or understand. They decide to run away together and during their journey to who knows where, they meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, who has spent his whole life in search for silver and gold, but never found either. Since he failed in his mission, he considered himself a misfit too. The two become three and then after a run in with the Abominable Snow Monster of the North, the three wind up on what is known as the Island of Misfit Toys. 

For a moment, the trio feel like they have found their people and are now "home." After close inspection though, they realize that these toys are not considered misfits because they are broken or have sharp edges. No, they are misfits because they are not perfect. Some of the toys’ errors appear to be obvious like the train with square wheels, but others like the doll, don’t have any signs of being a misfit. And there are others like the "Charlie-in-the-Box," who says, "That's why I'm a misfit toy. My name is all wrong. No child wants to play with a Charlie-in-the-Box. That's why I had to come her." Perhaps they told themselves that they were not “good enough” to be loved “as is” and see themselves as unlovable. Who knew that the North Pole was so dysfunctional?

The Abominable Snow Monster
The trio meet the island's King Moonracer, a winged lion, who allows the group to stay on the island for one night on the condition that they will go back to Christmastown and ask Santa if he would find homes for all of the misfit toys. However, in the middle of the night, Rudolph is afraid that his nose will bring the Abominable Snow Monster to the island and will endanger them all, so he leaves without them. 

About two thirds of the way through the story, Rudolph grows up and realizes that he can’t run away from his troubles. He returns home, only to be mocked again by the other reindeer. Life seems to be repeating itself, but like Taylor Swift, he shakes it off. He runs into Clarice who tells him that his parents have been looking for him for months and were then kidnapped by the Abominable Snow Monster. As luck would have it, Hermey and Yukon track down Rudolph and help rescue his family by attacking the monster and pulling out all of his teeth. With his bark worse than this bite, Yukon reformed the beast into becoming a Christmas tree decorator. 

Santa and Rudolph
Rudolph and Hermey were soon reunited with their family and friends and were warmly greeted by those who earlier pushed them away. This is a point in the story that many adults tend to forget. The TV special clearly states that the others realized that they were too hard on the “misfits” and even Santa realized that he was wrong. He tells Rudolph, “I promise, as soon as this storm lets up, I’ll find homes for all of those misfit toys.” (A toy can never be happy unless they are loved by a child). Donner too apologizes to Rudolph for his actions toward him. Hermey’s supervisor tells him that he can open up a dentist office that week. After Christmas of course.

The next day the weather looked frightful and Santa announced that Christmas would be cancelled. It is only then that he notices that Rudolph could not only be usual, but he could actually be “extra” useful. Not just good enough to join in with the other reindeer, but actually lead the pack.


So, yes, Rudolph’s family and neighbors were cruel to him and pre-judged him but they learned the error of their ways and repented. Rudolph was the underdog who rose to be on top. It’s a great lesson for all of us to re-learn each year.