The Rudolph Incident: A Christmas Love Story
By now you've heard the controversy about "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" and how the classic Christmas holiday special on the CBS network is "Seriously Problematic." Well, it's not that I agree with the criticism, I'm saying that the criticism has finally caught up with me since I've been saying this for decades now. We learn an important lesson here, kids... don't forget that you are less than nobody if you're too outside social norms and your only hope is if the patriarchal dictator is able to find a way to exploit your special talents in a time of crisis!
That is... if you're looking at the story superficially.
"Rudolph" it's a story about a child born with a deformity that everyone loves to pick on. Even Santa Claus tells the child's parents to get rid of him. Outcast and shunned by everyone except his parents and the one girl who loves him, he leaves The North Pole to find his own place in the world. On his journey he encounters other nonconformists like an elf who wants to become a dentist, a prospector who went to Alaska to find gold but somehow got lost, and a bunch of "misfit toys." In this specials action-packed climax, it's this small group of society's least wanted returns who saves the day and Rudolph is reunited with the girl he left behind. Like a Christmas version of "Inglorious Bastards," or a Yule Time Beowulf, Rudolph is able to subdue and disarm the horrible beast that was one of the causes of dismay to Santa's village.
Because of the harsh weather conditions, "Christmas" is canceled. But at the last minute, the one thing that made Rudolph a social pariah makes him a new messiah and he is able to guide the sleigh through the horrible fog and make sure the children of the world get their presents on Christmas morning! Rudolph isn't the hero The North Pole wants, he's the hero The North Pole deserves.
Before the credits role, Rudolph is able to vanquish the other monster plaguing Santa's village - bigotry.
That to me was the most important lesson that I learned as a child and it's a lesson that is hammered home every time I see that special or I hear that song. The story of Rudolph tells me that if you are a social outcast because you're different than you need to work extra hard to become accepted by society. If you're born with a deformity and defect, or you have strange interests and beliefs the only way you'll ever find a place is if you find other "defective children" and band together with them.
But that's only half the lesson here...
Here's the part of the story that I think is most overlooked, the story of the woman who loved Rudolph - not in spite of his deformity but because of it. Clarice, the girl reindeer who loves him, is the only true heroine in the story, and she is perhaps this story's heart. She's the only one besides Rudolph's parents who love him in spite of what others say. She more than willing to stay with him and could have defied her parents' orders if Rudolph was allowed to make a living for the two of him.
Clarice's love for Rudolph is the most powerful love of all, in my opinion. It's the kind of love that I've experienced only once in my life, and it's the love that I cherish most of all. The love Clarice has for Rudolph is mirrored in the original Rocky movies, Clarice is the Adrian to Rudolph's Rocky Balboa! Even more so, her love is echoed by the love Mary had for George in "It's A Wonderful Life," it's not just George Bailey that saves Bedford Falls, it's her love for him that gives him the reason to fight for his town!
It's amazing what one woman can do for a man, the kind of power a woman like that can give a man who can accomplish almost anything. Without her, Rudolph has no reason to try to come home, and without that yearning to be with her, he would not have been there to save Christmas. Without her love for him, and his need to prove her faith for him is deserved, the following Christmas Morning would have been filled with the howling cries of heartbroken and disappointed children.
He didn't do it for "the children." He did it for her! "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" is the story of how ultimate love conquers institutionalized bigotry and hate.
It's not easy to say this, but it's the harsh behavior towards Rudolph that makes this story so powerful. The people who are troubled by pain Red-Nose endures is missing the point, he has to overcome that suffering to become the man with honor and distinction in the end. That's what puts the fire in his belly and gives him the angst to become so much more than what he would have been if he was a mere mortal reindeer. The obstacle isn't the story, it's the overcoming the obstacle through perseverance, friendship, and love that's the story. The pain and rejection he endures make his final triumphant return and inevitable victory so much sweeter.
History and literature is full of other examples of this "Hero's Journey," but this one has the bluntest of messages. The only way the freaks prevail is if we band together, bide our time while holding on to the people who love us, and become heroes when the occasion finally arises.
Yippee Ki Yay, and Merry Christmas.