Reading Past Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

One holiday classic I’ve always found so unsettling is Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

I attended Catholic school between the third and the fifth grade and with the exception of two Asian students, I was the only POC in our entire class. Let’s just say at 8 years old I received a crash course in racism and we’re going to leave it at that.

Each year we would watch the animated classic of Rudolph. There was always something disturbing about the story, until last year when I came to the epiphany that the tale is a metaphor for minority plight.

You see Rudolph represents the Other (insert minority of your choice). An individual who was born different from those in power. And rather than being respected as a peer, he was ridiculed, denigrated and kicked off the North Pole.

Where Santa was and why he didn’t “reign” the bigots in is beyond me?

I could also use the time to discuss that my affinity for Rudolph’s BFF Hermey should’ve been my first clue that I drove stick (perfect hair, different, a misfit, elf, oral fixation, cute blond), but that’s another discussion for another time.

We all know the story about the foggy Christmas Eve, Santa asked Rudolph to lead his sleigh and save Christmas with his bright red nose, Rudolph does so and he finally wins “love” from the other reindeers who accept him for the same thing he was discriminated against in the first place.

Two things come to mind for me.

Personally I would’ve told Santa which part of my red-nosed anatomy he and the others could kiss. And despite all of the hatred and humiliation, he would’ve been well within his rights to do so. I’ve discussed this before with others and in response I was told “he would need to get over it,” “stop being so sensitive.” Not unlike what was told to me and other blacks during the Prop 8 Fallout when the LGBTs were ready to continue throwing away valuable resources towards making gay marriage the END-ALL-BE-ALL issue and expecting blacks to fetch & step for them.

I think that’s part of the problem. Bigots and the privileged majority has gotten accustomed to marginalized people “rising above” and getting over it. Maybe Christmas should be canceled and kids are disappointed. At least that way people will learn that there are consequences to bigotry.

The other thing that comes to mind for me is I can’t help but wonder did the other reindeers accept Rudolph because they realized they were wrong or because they realized he could be of use to them? Because if that isn’t the minority metaphor, I don’t know what is.

You see when you’re the other, you get treated as a pariah until you prove yourself as an asset worthy of some modicum of respectability. You’re an icky colored unless you’re exceptional in sports, can dance and rap and sing, or your culture is features martial arts, anime and ninja. You’re a dirty perverted fag unless you offer excellent tips in being fabulous, do make-up, hair and can provide keen insight into fashion and style. Or if you’re willing to be the asexual girlfriend and confidant of your heterosexual female friend.

Or better yet, when you’re the Other, maybe you’ll get to be president if we’re desperate enough to sit our racism aside and as long as you meet all unreasonable expectations and play Santa Claus and be all things to all people within less than a year.

From Rudolph’s plight we learned that when you’re the Other, you’re treated as inferior only until you prove yourselves as actually being superior and an invaluable asset, then and only then, if you’re lucky will you get treated as an equal……maybe.

Funny the things we learn from cartoons.

4 thoughts on “Reading Past Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

  1. There’s a bit in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” where Michelle Monaghan talks about Rudolph being equivalent to a black kid named Reggie who can play basketball quite well.

  2. Yeah, that makes sense, and I haven’t thought of Rudolph this way before. I guess I used to think of it more like an ugly duckling/diamond in the rough story.

    There is also a universality in the Rudolph story, though, and I’m guessing it’s on purpose. Lots of kids can think of something about themselves that feels like Rudolph’s nose, and it certainly isn’t a terrible thing to look for a way in which something that marginalizes you might also be a source of strength.

    But yeah, I never really considered the trap of exceptionalism and service to the dominant culture imbedded in there.

  3. The version that stuck out most for me was the claymation one that had the Island of Misfit Toys on it. Even when I was a kid, I was like, “Fuck those prejudiced-assed reindeer! Those Misfit Toys are cooler anyway!”

    BTW, Aaron: aren’t you supposed to be writing something up for my other blog? /hint

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