… 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.