Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

November 30th, 2010

… will be airing tonight in Boston! I might … just … have to watch it. Some things transcend the fact that I am Jewish, don’t believe in Santa Claus, and am not particularly fond of deer. Those trippy, trippy stop-motion Rankin-Bass Christmas specials left their indelible mark on my childhood, as they did most of my Generation X cohort. Would we have loved “The Breakfast Club” as much if we hadn’t had the Island of Misfit Toys to prepare us? I don’t think so.

As a child, I found “Year Without a Santa Claus” to be a revelation primarily for its awesomely funky “Snow Miser/Heat Miser” sequence. (I have the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy version of this song on my iPod workout tunes playlist.) As a baby geek, I appreciated the way “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” filled in the blank spots of Santa’s history — years later, of course, I was to become equally fascinated with such burning questions as “What was Sarek and Amanda’s courtship like?” and “Why did McCoy join Starfleet, anyway?” I didn’t yet know what fan fiction was, but I knew it when I saw it, and I liked it.

But Rudolph … ah, Rudolph.

“Here Comes Santa Claus” just fills in some details. “Rudolph” creates a whole new world. A world in which everyone is either a rigid conformist or an exiled, despised outsider. The North Pole in “Rudolph” isn’t some happy workers’ collective: if you’re an elf, you make toys, and if you’re a reindeer, you fly, and you damn well know your place and don’t get fancy about it. And it doesn’t matter whether you have different ideas (like wanting to be a dentist) or if you only look different (with a shiny red nose) — if you are different, you are The Other.

It’s no wonder that watching “Rudolph” doesn’t make me feel weird. It’s pretty much about the most Jewish Christmas special there is.

It’s no wonder two of my favorite gay friends call their annual Christmas Party “The Island of Misfit Toys,” either. “Rudolph” is, for all intents and purposes, a story about growing up gay in a military family. Rudolph’s father, who forces him to wear a cap over his nose, is basically the Great Santini with antlers. The only thing keeping him from bouncing a basketball off his son’s head is that he doesn’t have opposable thumbs. Rudolph’s mother is a stereotypical beaten-down military wife — she accepts her son, but doesn’t have the backbone to defend him against her tyrannical husband. You know she’s got a secret substance-abuse problem and runs off to the Valium lick as soon as Donner goes to work in the morning.


5 Responses to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

  1. Ajay on November 30, 2010 4:19 pm

    I need/want a Valium lick! Thanks for another indelible phrase AND image for my collection : )

  2. ccr in MA on November 30, 2010 10:50 pm

    Excellent analysis of Rudolph! It is so questionable in its messaging, yet I still love it. (And thanks for inspiring my own blog today with this topic.) I missed seeing it tonight, so I hope they show it again.

  3. WES on December 1, 2010 9:35 am

    Wow hate the military much?

    I love Rudolph for many reasons, one it shows that even Santa has bad days and isn’t jolly all the time, and has worries about doing his job well. It shows that a lot of hard work goes into making people happy and that is a good thing, making people happy.

    I shows that yes there are some jerks in the world, and those jerks can be in your own family, but you can still find your bliss. You can go out and explore the world to find your place. While you don’t need to conform many people like to and that is ok, but if you don’t like to conform then follow your bliss and it will be recognized and celebrated. Those misfit toys make someone happy, sometimes the journey is easy sometimes it is not.

  4. Robin on December 1, 2010 10:05 am

    WES, sorry if I stepped on any toes there. I most certainly do NOT hate the military. But — have you ever read Pat Conroy? “The Lords of Discipline,” or “The Great Santini”? There’s certainly a literary tradition of the brusque, honor-above-all military father and his faded beauty of a wife. It’s hard not to think the creators of “Rudolph” weren’t drawing on that.

  5. WES on December 1, 2010 12:36 pm

    I have never read him, and looked him up on Wiki. He is one year younger than my father so that certainly will color his writings. My Father is a Vet, my cousin (female)and brother in law are currently serving as active military “lifers”, one even attended West Point. My FIL also served 20 years in the National Guard, and the description of Conroy’s books offer a very different view point than what my experience has been with the military.

    While there may be a “tradition” of that type of writing I don’t feel it is reflective of today. I am not sure of your age bracket so that perhaps colors your perspective.

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