Things 1 and 2 watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” this weekend, and before I say anything else, let me say that “Rudolph” is a classic. It’s become deeply embedded in the culture. When you mention the island of misfit toys, in any context, everyone knows what you’re talking about. It’s like calling a mangy-looking Christmas tree a Charlie Brown Christmas tree or walking into a new situation and realizing, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“Rudolph” is beloved. I watch it every year — there’s even a Sam the Snowman ornament on our tree — but watching it this weekend, I was reminded what a bad lesson it sends to children.
Let’s start with Santa.
Santa should be jolly, but in “Rudolph,” he’s a bully who crushes his employees’ self-esteem. He’s a seagull manager who poops all over everything then flies away and lets someone else clean up the mess.
For example, when the elves sing, “We Are Santa’s Elves” — a song all about him, mind you — he dismisses it with a vague, “It needs work.”
When he discovers Rudolph’s glowing nose, he scolds Donner and writes off Rudolph as a potential member of his team, no matter how well he flies.
“Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Santa says. “What a pity. He had a nice take-off, too.”
Of course, Rudolph’s family isn’t much better.
His father is Donner (which bugs me, because the reindeer’s name is really “Donder”), while his mother is “Mrs. Donner.” She doesn’t have a first name. “Rudolph” was made in the early-1960s. She doesn’t need an actual name. She doesn’t have an identify other than being Donner’s wife and Rudolph’s mother.
Donner is deeply embarrassed by his son’s glowing nose and hides it under a clump of dirt.
Rudolph — who, let’s remember, hasn’t done anything wrong, who simply is different because of some genetic mutation or recessive gene — complains that the false nose is really uncomfortable.
“There are more important things than comfort: self-respect!” his father tells him. “Santa can’t object to you now,” because that’s the most important thing, impressing your dad’s jerk of a boss who thinks you’re a failure because of what you happen to look like.
Then, one foggy Christmas eve, Santa decides to cancel Christmas.
Santa isn’t much of a doer. He’s not a problem-solver. Rather than scramble to find a work-around, he cavalierly decides to crush the spirits of millions of children — until he’s distracted by Rudolph’s glowing nose.
Santa has an epiphany. He asks Rudolph with his nose so bright to guide his sleigh, and Rudolph, being a good reindeer but also a reindeer with low self-esteem, agrees.
Only now do the other reindeer love him and shout out his name with glee, but, Rudolph, remember this:
They don’t really love you. They love that you can help them.