Oh, Rudolph. You’ve Been Hoodwinked

Monday, December 13, 2010

Last week, we dared to ask the Santa question: Is telling your kids that he’s real just fun make-believe or a brazen lie? Folks fell on both sides of this mini-debate. No hard feelings, I hope. If nothing else, it was a good discussion.

Today, hold on to your red stockings, ’cause we’re going in on Santa’s “ninth reindeer.” Yes, the one with the shiny nose.

I feel I need to lay down a disclaimer here. One that says I’m not picking on poor Rudolph. One that also acknowledges, clearly, how big fan I am of Christmas and this delightful holiday season. And something in the fine print, a caveat, that states that I hum along to the catchy ditty about reindeer games and that one foggy Christmas Eve all the time. Plus, the stop-motion animated characters in the TV special? Crazy cute.

Having said that …

My husband and I were having yet another Christmas traditions conversation. This time about the classic, animated TV specials we’d typically watch as kids.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! You’re a mean one, indeed, Mr. Grinch.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Even the Winter Warlock is damn near cuddly in stop-motion.

Frosty the Snowman. How can you forget that gray top hat with the splash of fun in the shape of that pink flower? Dapper.

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Although, there’s one guy who definitely does not appreciate Chuck Brown and his crew. Not even a little. [Note: That Charlie Brown rant is light on Christmas cheer and heavy on f-bombs.]

And, of course, there’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Another stop-motion classic that debuted on television 46 years ago. Actually, the 47-minute movie has aired every year since 1964, making it the longest running Christmas TV special. I also remember reading, some years ago, that Rudolph came to be in the ’40s, the invention of a department store copywriter. Turns out, it was 1939 and the store was Montgomery Ward.

All fine and good, yes. So what’s my husband’s beef with the fuzzy one? It’s the message of Rudolph’s story, really.

As the parable goes, the red-nosed reindeer is ostracized by his community. Mocked for his cosmetic difference. The other reindeer didn’t consider him, didn’t think about his intrinsic worth until after he proved his value to them.

“They didn’t accept him for who he was, but more what he can do for them,” my husband said. “That’s a terrible message.”

Now, my husband is fully aware that these Christmas tales are exactly that, stories. He appreciates the fun and sweetness to them as well. But all stories (or most, I would hope) have a lesson, a point, some meaning tucked into its pages.

Maybe the essence of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is more about perseverance and self-worth and less the inhumanity that can fester within intolerance. It comes down to interpretation, context and insight, like nearly everything in this life.

Which brings to mind another stop-motion show. This one, a modern sitcom with the perfect name to bring home the moral of this reindeer story: Community. For the customary Christmas episode last week, the NBC show went out on a cartoon limb, rendering their own “very special” stop-motion animated episode called “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

It’s funny and heartwarming. Key ingredients for a holiday classic. If you have 21 minutes, click this link and enjoy.

Here’s the gist: The Abed character is looking for the meaning of Christmas. And after some sweet songs, sly pop culture references and a surreal adventure, he and his classmates/buddies find it. As Abed aptly put it: The meaning of Christmas is that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.

1 Comment
  • 1
    41 Going on 29 says:

    It’s true, even Santa treats Rudolph poorly until he sees away to exploit (whaaa?) Rudolph’s shiny asset. However, Rudolph’s mother loves him, he has a girl who thinks he’s cute (I’m Q-ood! I’m Q-ood!), and eventually people come around and see that Rudolph has something special. Don’t we all have weeks or months or years or epochs like that?

    And what about the Abominable Snowman and Yukon and the wannabe Dentist and the Island of Misfit Toys? Isn’t that all about everyone having a place and being a “misfit” as all in the eye of the beholder? It also says that basically everyone is a misfit so get over yourself. Maybe that wasn’t the original, but a follow-up?

    You know what they don’t seem to show anymore? The Little Drummer Boy. There was a scene when one of the animals gets caught under a cart and almost dies. Maybe it’s too overtly religious? But boy did it have me riveted every time.