Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was always the highlight of my childhood Christmas season. I can still quote lines from the show every time I watch it. As a kid it was fun, but an odd thing has happened – the Rudolph special has become a not so subtly disguised statement of political and social liberalism. A visionary or prophetic statement of radical 21st Century humanism and libertine values.
Now as an adult I can watch Rudolph with a deep sense of nostalgia, but also see the social commentary that is embedded throughout the whole show. For 1964 it was predictably traditional (which is not a bad thing at all), but in other ways it reflected the growing interest in racial and gender equality and the coming crisis in the traditional family.
Basically, the story opens in a corporate town run by the schedule-driven Kris Kringle and his dominatrix wife, Mrs. Claus. Toys are produced by a unionless class of workers called elves. Flying reindeer are high profile, elite members of the Santa inner sanctum, but are still in servitude for life. One reindeer family, the Donners, are welcoming their first child. Mr. Donner is very proud it’s a boy because only boy reindeer can fly. However, Mr. and Mrs. Donner are both shocked at the flashing birth defect that will prevent Rudolph from being a fully accepted part of Christmas Town society. In a display of 1960’s forward thinking, they don’t institutionalize Rudolph, but decide to ‘mainstream’ him. (Note to readers: In the upcoming Fox TV remake of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Rudolph’s parents will be getting pre-natal genetic screening and opt for a late-term abortion instead. It will be a very short holiday special sponsored, not by Norelco electric razors, but Planned Parenthood.)
Fast forward a few months and Rudolph’s becoming a big boy. After attending his first testosterone-pumped all-buck flying practice, run by a reindeer that could be the twin of any sport-is-everything, belittling, jerk coach you had in high school, Rudolph is rejected and flees society and his loving, but clueless family. Donner, feeling pretty crappy about the turn of events, decides to go look for Rudolph. Which brings us to the greatest show bizness line ever uttered by a human or non-human. Mrs. Donner begs to go along, but he puts his hoof down and says, “No, this is man’s work” (obviously overlooking the minor, but relevant point that he isn’t a man!) And in true Gloria Steinem fashion, Ms. Donner and Rudolph’s hotty girlfriend Clarice, do what women have been doing for millenia – whatever the hell they want despite what men say.
Nowadays, the emphasis on Rudolph as social commentary has switched from uber-feminism to ‘gay is ok’ and it’s not just Hermey that is coming out of the closet – it’s Rudolph.
And in another ‘isn’t that special moment’, just take a look at what kind of message this gay father has to say about gay Rudolph and his elf friend. Puleeez! Doesn’t anyone remember that Rudolph had a girlfriend? Hello! Rudolph’s big boy hormones got him 30 feet in the air because Clarice said he was cute. He is a heterosexual reindeer. Period. But, I’ll concede the obviously gay dentist Hermey. I can be tolerant, but I draw the line at same-sex elf marriages, gay elf PSA’s, elf sensitivity training….