Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Real Message of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

Most people think that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a cute Christmas story about a little reindeer with a shiny nose that has a happy ending. Think again.

As a child, watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an annual TV event. It signaled the beginning of the Christmas season. It was one of my favorite Christmas movies, but watching it recently, I discovered that it's really a story about ostracism and exclusion. Weirdly, it doesn't seem to come down very forcefully against this type of behavior. 

The treatment that Rudolph receives from his parents, community, and even Santa Claus is tantamount to bullying and even child abuse. The movie sends a terrible message to children, and especially children who are different, by telling them that they won't be accepted unless they conform to society's norms or do something extraordinary. 

In the movie, we see that Rudolph's father is ashamed of his own son. It's seems that having a red nose will preclude Rudolph from being on Santa's sleigh team. Rudolph's dad even tries to cover up Rudolph's defect. When Rudolph tells his dad he doesn't want to cover up his nose because it's painful and uncomfortable, Rudolph's father grabs him and tells him coldly that "there are more important things than comfort - self respect," and then shoves the cover back on Rudolph's face. The implication is that Rudolph has let everybody down because of his oddity.

Later, when Rudolph is playing with the other reindeer kids and his nose cover falls off, the kids and even the coach make of fun of him. The coach informs Rudolph that he is now forbidden from interacting with the other reindeer or any member of his species. Moreover, all the other adult reindeer react in exactly the same way, including beloved Santa Claus


Throughout the show, Santa is portrayed as a rude and impolite grouch. For example, Santa's elves spend the whole year making toys for Christmas. In their precious spare time, they practice singing songs for Santa Claus. When they have the nerve to ask Santa if he would like to listen to a song they wrote for him. He replies that he's "busy, so they better make it quick." Granted, Santa is probably stressed out, especially so close to Christmas. After they have finished the song, the elves ask Santa: "How did you like it?" To which Santa brusquely responds, "Well, it needs work. I have to go," and then storms out of the room and slams the door. 

When Rudolph is lost, his father, mother and girlfriend go searching for him. When Rudolph return home months later, Santa tells him that his family has been gone all this time. Uh ho, Santa must have sent out a search party. There must be flying reindeer scouring the countryside to help find the missing trio. No? Apparently not. Santa merely whines about not having Rudolph's father to help pull his sleigh and then wanders off. It's left to Rudolph to try to find and save them. Selfish Santa!

The ending of Rudolph is not much better. When bad weather potentially forces the cancellation of Christmas, Santa reluctantly asks Rudolph to help. Rudolph agrees and saves Christmas. Everybody comes to accept Rudolph because he has saved Christmas; yet nobody's really sorry for how they treated him, or repentant for their harsh words. It's a given that Rudolph should be grateful he's on sleigh team despite the appalling treatment he has received. 

Christmas movies are supposed to be heartwarming, and above all, teach us the value of selflessness, kindness, and charity. Rudolph fails on all counts.

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