Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a 1964 Christmas stop motion animated television special produced by Videocraft International, Ltd. and currently distributed by Universal Television (Wikipedia).
For many, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a holiday classic that airs on CBS every year. It stirs fond memories of childhood for those who watch it. My first memory of watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was in 1970 when I was five years old. We’d gather around our 9″ Philco back and white television. Mom would provide snacks and we’d laugh and sing the songs about Rudolph and Herbie’s adventures. It was a fun movie and signaled the start of the holiday season of movies, cartoons, singing Christmas caroles and shopping.
However in recent years, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has triggered an entirely different discussion among viewers as many are realizing the undertones of bullying the holiday special depicts. Rudolph is different from other reindeer in that he has a red nose that glows. And instead of telling his buck that his red nose makes him unique and therefore something he should be proud to have, what does Rudolph’s dad Donner do? He hides his son’s nose in a large dirt fake snout that makes the reindeer sound congested when he speaks. And Donner isn’t the only adult advocating this type of behavior, the coach of the Reindeer games and even Santa Claus tear Rudolph down because of his nose. These adult figures set a bad example for the younger reindeer. The coach even encourages “From now on we won’t let Rudolph play in any of our reindeer games.”
Rudolph isn’t the only character bullied for being different. Herbie the elf prefers being a dentist to a toy maker and is treated badly by the head elf. Soon he and Rudolph find each other and decide to be “independent together.” When a huge storm almost forces Christmas to be canceled, Santa Claus realizes Rudolph’s red nose could light the way in the fog and asks the reindeer “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” So now Rudolph’s red nose is okay with Santa because he needs the reindeer to do something for him?
In watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it’s obvious a lot of bullying is going on from both the adults (reindeer, Santa Claus and head elf) and the younger reindeer. Rudolph is hurt and runs away. This is sad. The poor little reindeer can’t come to his parents as they are part of the problem hiding his nose as though they’re ashamed of him.
I think parents should continue to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with their children and talk about what is happening. It may help youngsters open up about their own issues of bullying if they relate to Rudolph or Herbie. In 1970 when I started watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my sister, there were no talks about the bullying and teasing themes. It was just a cute holiday special. But of course times were different and my childhood was not like most. I grew up in the inner city in an apartment project. Although we were extremely poor, I had a great childhood as my mom was an amazing woman. She was born in 1924 during segregation and discrimination and hated it. She taught her children at a young age about racism and honestly told us that some people would judge us for not looking like them. She encouraged diversity and wanted us to get to know different types of people in order to be well-rounded. For this, I’m grateful. Yes, we were teased for being different. We liked MGM classic movies and Masterpiece Theater. My classmates had no idea who Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn were and they only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The original 1977 Poldark was my favorite and as a teen, I had a crush on Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis). Like Rudolph, my twin sister Tracy and I were constantly teased and laughed at with no one wanting to play with us. But unlike Rudolph, we didn’t care. Probably because our mom supported us and loved who we were. I think what happens with a lot of parents is that they worry what other people think and how they will look to their friends and neighbors that they overlook how their kids are feeling. I liked that my mom never said “Go out and make friends.” She told us to be ourselves and if people wanted to be our friends, that was good but if they didn’t, that was okay too. Donner should have told Rudolph the same: Be yourself and be proud of who you are.
In conclusion, yes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer contains numerous examples of bullying. But should that stop parents from allowing their children to watch? In my opinion, no. It is not only a valuable lesson on bullying but one that teaches differences are good and make us who we are. And one of the biggest problems in the world today is the fear of discussing differences and things that make us uncomfortable. Sadly bullying and bigotry may never go away. But we can lessen their sting by preparing children to arm themselves with strength and knowledge to fight them.
At fifty-three years old, I watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every year and will continue to do so as it’s just a holiday classic for me. It’s a part of my childhood and a way to continue to connect with my mom who passed away in 2005. And I am a confident adult able to face life’s difficulties due being given a strong foundation by my mom which includes being proud of who I am. This is the best lesson we can take away from watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs Saturday, December 8 at 8/7c on CBS.
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