Is it time to re-evaluate the status of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a classic Christmas special? Although it can be enjoyed as a kitschy, retro example of stop-motion animation, consider for a moment whether the story is too full of stereotypes of ethnicities and genders, hypocritical messages, and some really fucking weird plot points, to really be revered. Not to mention that Santa acts like an ass throughout.
First, the stereotypes. Rudolph’s dad acts like an American football coach dad who is ashamed of his son’s differences. Rudolph’s nose might means he’s gay! Horrors! (Maybe that’s why Santa breaks into a showtune at Rudolph’s birth…) Hermey the elf sports a Jewish accent and wants to be a dentist. Maybe the sweatshop toymaking job isn’t working out because he’s just not into the toys for the Gentile children thing. Mrs. Claus is an Italian grandma who calls her husband “Papa” and most of her lines are “Eat, eat!” As for gender, only boy reindeer get to fly – the girls just sit around passively on the sidelines. You know Dancer? Prancer? Vixen? Hmmm. You’ll also notice that at the end of the show, Santa only has six reindeer, not eight, pulling his sleigh. Was that because the female reindeer were not considered up to flying through the snowstorm on Christmas Eve? A snowstorm at the North Pole in December – who could have foreseen that?
Second, for a story that’s supposed to be about accepting other peoples differences, there sure are a lot of examples of accepting others only when they become useful to you. First, Donner won’t let his son leave the cave without covering up his red nose. Then Rudolph is the best reindeer at his first flying lesson – but then his nose cover falls off and he’s instantly ostracized. Even Santa gets in on the action of not allowing difference on his team – snowstorm, headlight, come in Santa? At the end when there’s that snowstorm that no one could have predicted, suddenly Rudolph’s The Man. Most people today would probably agree that Rudolph should have told them all to stick it. But I guess he still needed to be liked by all the bigots around him, despite already having proved he could make it on his own, if need be. What’s the message here? Celebrate your differences, but be sure to conform when they tell you to. Nice.
Third, the plot. What was up with that whole Abominable Snow Monster/Island of Misfit Toys subplot? I sort of get how the Snow Monster was a metaphor for the dangers of life beyond the “safe” confines and familiar prejudices of Christmastown, but the Island of Misfit toys? Let’s see: this Winged Lion figure (a cross between Aslan of the Narnia series (himself a representation of Jesus) and the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz) flies around the world collecting toys too weird to love, brings them back to his island and imprisons them on an ice floe while he stays in his castle, and then says he needs Santa’s help to get the misfit toys adopted by children who will love them. Yeah, that makes sense.
And what about Santa? This whole critique germinated in my sister’s observation that the Santa of this particular Christmas special acts like a real prick. Despite delivering toys to children around the world, he won’t tolerate diversity among his reindeer. Then he acts like a grumpy old man while the elves are singing to just to him. And then he only acts nice to Rudolph when he needs him to guide his sleigh. I hope no one forgot to leave this Santa his milk and cookies. He’d throw a shitstorm of a tantrum.
Is this mishmash of stereotypes and prejudices really what we want the kiddies to be watching? To sum up: prejudice against others, nonsensical plot, Santa’s an ass. The only thing it’s got going for it is Burl Ives. And I’ve got his Christmas album.