Reversing the Numbness

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rudolph the Red-Headed Step-Child

Don't you just love the stop-motion Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? I know you've seen it dozens of times. Originally aired in 1964, it's the longest running TV special with regard to consecutive years. That's pretty impressive.

I always get a kick out of breaking down the plot of this much-loved special. Let's give it a try.

Rudolph, a young reindeer who simply wants to belong, finds himself with a physical trait that makes him different from the others. This shames his father, Donner, who insists Rudolph try to hide his shiny nose. (I liken this to a father insisting his little-person child wear heightening shoes. He should be flogged with a giant candy cane.) After Rudolph's disguise comes apart in public, and despite his impressive, passion-inspired virgin flight, all of the other reindeer (with the exception of the sweet Clarice) give him hell and make him feel worse than his his no-good, sell-out father made him feel. Then, perhaps the biggest villain of the movie, Santa the Bigot, a man whose entire business is built upon the apparently bogus idea of rewarding the just, lays into Donner, declaring, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" And he means because his boy has a shiny nose, folks, not because of the atrocious way he reacted to that discovery.

Now let's think about Santa's slaves for a bit, the elves. (Note that the word elves is a mere a away from being a perfect anagram of slaves.) They all seem happy with their lots in life. All of them, that is, with the exception of Hermey the Misfit Elf. See, this poor chap wants to be a dentist. Is there any encouragement for his uncommon drive? Of course not. Even his offers of free dental care are rewarded with ridicule, and he's driven away.

So it's natural that the two societal rejects meet up and form a bond that causes them to go in search of "fame and fortune." What they're really looking for is acceptance and opportunity, of course, but their sheltered naivety is unsure how to define their drive. Along the way they meet up with severely inclement weather, a seemingly greedy but helpful prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and a misunderstood yeti that man has tagged as "abominable," imposing a role upon him that manifests in exactly that type of behavior. The three new friends stick close to each other as they battle beast and nature in pursuit of their dreams.

Let's hop over quickly to the Island of Misfit toys, an internment camp where unwanted toys are sent as victims of a consumer society growing out of control. What a brilliant concept to include in a Christmas special, and in 1964 it was downright prophetic.

Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, ol' Santa the Bigot is starting to realize that he's gotten himself into a bit of a pickle. He sets up shop in the most rugged tundra the earth has to offer and finds himself surprised to encounter -- gasp! -- a bad snowstorm on Christmas Eve! What a shock. What's he going to do?

You all know how the story ends. The yeti gets knocked out, Hermey converts him to the good side by extracting his teeth (the Wikipedia entry makes it seem like this somehow tamed him, perhaps through submission, but I always thought he had toothaches that were making him particularly grumpy and, like the lion with the thorn in his paw, he repaid a good deed with proper gratitude), we find out that Cornelius was really just prospecting for peppermint and not gold or silver(at least in the original version), the whole crew makes it back to the North Pole, and when Santa the Bigot realizes that Rudolph actually has something to offer him, well then it's all just freaking dandy! Rudolph is the best! We all love Rudolph! Attaboy Rudolph!

But Santa at least saved the Misfit Toys, you say? Sure he did. In the revised version that was created after consumer complaint.

Hypocrites, the lot of them!

... Then how the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
They're full of hypocrisy
How would a kid who has an "abnormal" feature or condition feel about this show? Hopefully they'd feel redemption at the end, as the "misfits" clearly rise above the rest in this cautionary tale, but if I was an albino child, or if I had a particularly large nose, or a visible birthmark on my face, or anything else that's sure to keep me off the cover of Mademoiselle or GQ, I think I'd tell my mom that I don't want that red-suited bastard and his army of demon deer to come anywhere near my house. I'd be lighting a fire under the chimney and booby-trapping the hell out of my Christmas tree. Of course all of this work would be done in vain, because I'd know Santa isn't coming anyway. The bastard doesn't give a crap about how nice I've been all year when I'm running a cowlick this.


Clash said...

You have done what time could not….YOU RUINED RUDOLPH for me! Don’t even spin your web to include Frosty. He was a Saint! You probably rooted for the magician.

I’m going to watch it again…in Hi-Def…and sing Burl Ives’ classic songs extra loud!

Inarticulate Fumblings said...

And you KNOW Mr. Claus, or as Santa likes to call her Bitch, is chained to a stove in the house somewhere with a black eye and a split lip, being forced to make the perfect cookie.

I wish they'd do a True Hollywood Story on this one.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Can you name all the reindeer? I can never remember them all.

Ooh, so sorry to burst your reindeer bubble, but the longest running TV special is in fact Dinner for One, the fabulous 1963 New Year's Eve special. Have you seen it? It really is hilarious.

Eric said...

you're reading into it waaayyyy too much. remember, this is made for young kids.

the bottom line is, the story is about ignorance, and how ignorance is ignorant.

how no one is immune from being ignorant sometimes, even santa.

and if someone thinks that they're immune from being ignorant every once in a while... well, then they're ignorant.

olives and more said...

WOW, Sleek! Merry Christmas to you too;)

SleekPelt said...

clash: Ha! Frosty was a pillar of goodness, are you kidding? Santa is appropriately portrayed in that toon as the loving, caring saint that he is. Can you honestly say you've never watched Rudolph and though, What a dick Santa is!

IF: That sounds Pulp Fictionish. Yikes!

teoh: Dasher, Dancer, Pranzer, Blitzen, Donner, Cupid, and my boy Wolf Blitzer. Is that right? As for the misinformation I'm guilty of spreading -- doh! Damn Wikipedia!

eric: My whole point is that it's made for young kids! And I disagree that Santa would ever, ever be so ignorant as to ridicule Donner for having a child with an out-of-the-ordinary physical trait.

olive: And you! Hey, let's watch Rudolph when you come in this weekend! I made up a drinking game -- we drink every time Santa's a dick. We'll get sloshed!

Raoul Duke said...

you have been reported. nothing but coal for you. I would have waited to sling jive on Kris Kringle on the 26th. Maybe you will learn next year you bad boy.

SleekPelt said...

rd: Dude, Santa Claus was the first in line to file a slander law suit against Montgomery Ward and General Electric, the companies that commissioned and sponsored the show in the first place! ;)

The Dalai Mama said...

Sleek: I think that post is brilliant. It truly is amazing that they made Santa into a complete jerk. If ever there was a person who ignorance would never touch, it would most certainly be Santa. When we listen to the Rudolph song in the car, the kids always ask why the reindeer made fun of Rudolph. They can't grasp why someone would not be nice to someone just because they look different. I have to tell them that it's just a story that someone made up, and that Santa and his reindeer would never act that way.

SleekPelt said...

dm: Thank you! You understand me! This is one of the many reasons I married you.

Eric said...

i guess you guys could be right, assuming that Santa is not real. Technically, one that is not real, cannot walk, speak, or give presents.


if santa is real, then we must distiguish if he is Man or something else.

Man is not immune from committing ignorant acts. Even Jesus had to do something stupid at some point in his life (oh crap...RD, i think I just trumped Sleek...he may not get presents...but I think I just bought a one-way ticket straight to Hell.)

Maybe I need to research this movie again. I don't recall Santa "ridiculing" Donner as much as being disappointed in his ability to sire a normal, productive, flying, reindeer.

But one of the reasons I love this story, is that it illustrates the process of evolution brilliantly. A mutant becomes necessary, and just when we think we got it figured out about how to get presents around the world, we get surprised by a glowing nose.

Melissavina said...

It's truly a twisted little story. Many of the old ones were. Have you seen the one about the blind kid at the nunnery? That one's freakin' warped.

Good points, Sleekpelt. This is why I come to you. You are always full of wisdom and insight.

Melissavina said...

I want to play the drinking game!!!

olives and more said...

Hey, I'm up for the drinking game.

DM & Sleek: You guys are going to make me cry...too sweet;)

SleekPelt said...

eric: Your comment about trumping me was hilarious. However, your memory of the show is way off. In fact, Rudolph had just finished outdoing all of the other reindeer in the flying department. Everyone was stoked about it, until his nose was revealed. That's when Santa approached Donner and said: "Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself. What a pity. He had a nice take-off, too." Santa was 100 percent unconcerned with Rudolph's performance and focused only on the nose. Finally, you make a fantastic point about evolution and mutation. Truly.

melissavina: I have not seen that one, no. Sounds like I need to though. And I visit you for the exact same reasons. You're totally invited to the drinking game on Saturday night.

olive: Game on!

Clash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clash said...

If Santa would have ordered Donner neutered to end the tainted DNA source, then you might have a case. Santa was obviously underweight at the time and needed a few empty carbohydrates to gain a truer perspective. It appears Santa and his legend have survived quite nicely even in the face of such smear campaigns.

We all need a few dysfunctional experiences in life and Santa gave the gift of tough love with a little smack down in the stocking. Back off the fat dude in the red suit.

Eric said...


on to the elves...i think your characterization of them as slaves is unfair...i believe the words you were looking for were "indentured servants."

in addition, I believe they were unionized...something is mentioned about it in the scene when the boss was coming down on the little guy that wanted to be a dentist...? help me out on this...

SleekPelt said...

clash: This is a truly engaging discussion we're having here, pal. Highly intellectual.

I've done a little web search, and I see that I'm not alone in my beliefs.

SleekPelt said...

I'm happy to say that I've found the entire episode of the stop-action classic. Just in case it's been a while since anyone has seen it.

Matthes said...

Well Sleek, thanks a lot. Great, just great. You have ruined my childhood show.

Merry F-ing X-mas buddy.

Zee said...

Awesome post. As usual, I'm a a little late. I loved the re-make of the special with Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman.

SleekPelt said...

matthes: Merry Christmas to you too, pal!

zee: Thanks! I haven't seen that one.