Monday, December 05, 2011

Childhood Christmas classics

One of my favorite Christmas specials when I was a kid was "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Part of it was that I just liked the whole "animagic" stop-motion way of doing things (more recent updates - there's one of the Heat Miser and Cold Miser - that are CGI or some computer technique - don't have the same "homemade" feel and the same heart to them, I think).

And yeah, if you think of it, Rudolph's story is basically Dumbo's story (or maybe that's the other way around; Rudolph may have come first? I think he was invented in 1939 and Dumbo was a few years later?).

And yeah, I know a lot of people who are really uncomfortable with Santa not accepting Rudolph - I mean, of all the North Pole residents, you'd think Santa would be the one smart enough to see through the teasing of the other reindeer and see Rudolph's true worth. But you know? I realize now that I even accepted that as a child - because I had seen adults that I might otherwise look up to (like teachers at school) who could be short-sighted and not understand and sometimes even listen to the "mean" kids and take their side. And while it feels wrong, it's still something that has to be dealt with: sometimes grown-ups just aren't very, you know, grown up.

But there's some guy out there apparently who Rudolph is a bad influence. Because, I guess, the bullying reindeer weren't sent to Reindeer Juvie, and their coach (Comet? I think he was the coach) wasn't sent to endless HR seminars on Being More Tolerant NOW!

But you know? Even though Rudolph's story was hard and at times painful (especially for an unpopular kid like me: I could relate), ultimately, he did a couple of very good things:

1. He found friends. Hermie, the weird elf who wants to be a dentist, meets up with Rudolph and they decide that since they've both decided to be independent, they might as well be independent together. (Grown-up me, watching the special for the umpteenth time this year, giggled at the absurdity of that remark. But whatever). Hermie and Rudolph become friends.

Oh, and for that matter, Clarice: Clarice is better and smarter than any of those idiot young bucks. She likes Rudolph, she thinks he's cute, and she even prefers him after he gets rid of the fake nose he was wearing. Clarice can see the real Rudolph. True, she's perhaps not THAT much help in rescuing him....but I expect that she and Rudolph "kept company" and maybe even raised a few fawns in the future years, after the time when the special was set came to an end. And I'm betting Fireball and those other bucks who teased Rudolph were hanging out in the North Pole Singles Bar and Karaoke Lounge when Rudolph was happily at home with Clarice.

And then finally, Yukon Cornelius befriends the misfits. I'm not sure if that's because he's a misfit himself, or if that's just because he's Yukon Freaking Cornelius and he's cool that way.

But at any rate - rather than continuing to hang around the kids who abuse him, rather than continuing to be a victim, Rudolph goes out into the world to seek his fortune.

2. And then at the end, after everyone's rescued, and Hermie has shown his true bad-assery by removing the teeth of the Bumble that is threatening everybody, Rudolph totally saves the day! In fact, liabilities turn into assets: Hermie's crazy dream to become a dentist saves the entire reindeer family, and Rudolph's nose allows for delivery of the presents despite a giant fogbank.

Oh, I'm sure there are those who are rallying for the continued viewing of Rudolph As Victim would say "They're just EXPLOITING him!" but I prefer to think of it as "he showed them...they learned how wrong they were about him." I admit as a kid part of the reason I loved this story and loved Dumbo was at the end the put-upon protagonists triumphed...they showed up all their bullies, they proved how talented and cool they were to everyone. And, I assumed, they'd have a much better life after that - oh, maybe the bullies wouldn't want to be their friends (but hell, I didn't want to be friends with the kids who had bullied me) but at least they'd be mostly left alone. And at any rate, in the kid world, I suspect Rudolph is the best-known and best-loved of the reindeer. (And among kids who have seen the particular special, Hermie is probably among the favorite elves....though Buddy the Elf from the recent movie also offers some strong points there).

But here's the thing: I don't see Rudolph as a victim. I didn't, not even as a little kid. Because instead of going crying to someone in authority who would listen to him and then squash those other reindeer like bugs, Rudolph decided to go off and do his own thing - he went off and had adventures. And along the way, he found friends. Granted, his friends were maybe a little weird, but honestly? The friends I had in grade school were all kids who were a little weird and were outcasts from the "populars" clique.

Personally, I think showing someone being bullied, but ultimately overcoming it (And not overcoming it by going ape and shooting up the North Pole or something...which is another stereotype of the bullied kid) is preferable to turning the bullied kid into a total victim, who has to bring the force of law down on the bullies to make them shut up - to essentially say, "We will have a dictatorial system where there will be NO BULLYING." Because I don't think that's possible or realistic: better to teach the kids to cope with the everyday sort of bullying, and reserve the punishment for the bullies who are unusually cruel or who are physically violent.

Apparently a therapist-sort has re-written the story somehow. I hope it's not pretending that Rudolph never was bullied: pretending that the uglier parts of life don't exist doesn't seem very helpful to kids. Nor, would I think, having Rudolph run to, I don't know, the Burl Ives Snowman Guy and tattle on the bullies seems very helpful.

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