4 Bad Lessons 'Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer' Teaches Kids
Christmas movies are supposed to be heartwarming parables that entertain us while simultaneously teaching us the invaluable tenet of selflessness. Christmas is not about presents, the Grinch teaches us, it's about being together. Christmas is not a time for selfishness, A Christmas Carol teaches us, it is a time to set right past wrongs. Christmas is not meaningless, A Charlie Brown Christmas teaches us, it is a day to reflect on the life of Jesus and be thankful we were not born hydrocephalic. But one Christmas movie doesn't want to teach you kindness or charity, or any of that crap; it only wants to teach you spite and how to commit hate crimes. It's called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and here's what it wants you to learn:
Lesson #4 Santa Claus Does Exist, and He is Sick of Your Crap.
All of Santa's little elves spend the whole year working, building toys for good little boys and girls. But spot-welding dirt-bikes for needy redneck children does not leave a lot of free time for the elves, so you can imagine they cherish what little they do get. And how do they spend this priceless free time? Why, penning a lovely ode to their kindly master, Santa Claus, of course! They toil away composing and practicing, and when they're all finished, they ask Santa if he'd like to come listen to a song they wrote for him. To which he replies that he's "busy, so they better make it quick."
Santa's probably just stressed. We all get stressed around the holidays. He gets a pass on that out of character rudeness. But something's still amiss here: All during the song, the conductor elf keeps turning around and shooting apprehensive looks at Santa, like he's expecting to feel the sting of a whip at any moment. It's easy to see why: All throughout the performance, Santa grows increasingly moody and unhappy, slumping in his chair and glowering at the singers.
"Yeah, great. Call me when you've learned Freebird."
After they've finished their heartfelt ode, the elves turn to Santa and ask hopefully: "How did you like it?" To which he brusquely responds, "Well, it needs work. I have to go,' then storms out and slams the door. That's like giving your dad a drawing to put up on the fridge, only to have him criticize your sense of perspective and ability to use color to evoke emotion.
But it turns out that was Santa's version of "polite." He doesn't actually think the song needs work, nor does he think it's the thought that counts. No, he actively and passionately hates the damn thing. When he hears the elves singing it again later - like some sort of pixie spiritual to dull the pain as they slave away on his production line - Santa has the following exchange with his wife:
And that's like giving your dad a drawing to put on the fridge, only to have him crumple it up, throw it in the trash can, then urinate in the trash while forbidding you to ever draw under his god damn roof again.
Lesson #3 Being Different Does Not Make You Special
In the movie, we learn that Rudolph's father is tragically ashamed of his own son. This is mainly because Santa has emotional problems and had previously informed him that a birth defect like Rudolph's nose would preclude the boy from ever being on his sleigh team - the sleigh team apparently being the Reindeer equivalent of JV football. Out of desperation, Rudolph's dad tries to cover up the defect.
The father grows more and more frustrated as the attempts to hide his son's nose fail, until finally Rudolph tells him that he doesn't want to cover his nose at all -- the defect doesn't bother him, you see, he's comfortable with who he is. And besides, the nose cover is painful and uncomfortable. Instead of learning a heartwarming lesson about respecting his boy's individuality, Rudolph's father grabs him and tells him coldly that "there are more important things than comfort - Self Respect." Then shoves the shame-cover back on his child's face.
The implication being that, if anything, it is Rudolph who's letting the family down by failing to feel the appropriate amount of shame at his own handicap. That's right: The reindeers in Santa's workshop follow the same brutal, emotionless code of conduct as the Spartans from 300. Rudolph should probably count himself lucky they didn't just leave him out for the wolves.
Lesson #2 Everybody Hates a Freak
Later, all of the younger reindeer are taking flying lessons, when surprise! It turns out that Rudolph is the best among them. When he lands, he is so joyful and proud that he playfully locks horns with his friend. Then, to his horror, his nose cover falls off. The kids begin making fun of him -- being children raised in an atmosphere of hate and intolerance and all. At this point in a normal movie, we might expect whatever adult authority figure is around to step in and give Rudolph a speech about believing in himself. Hey, sure enough, here comes the flying coach to take a look at all the ruckus. Upon seeing Rudolph, this is what he says:
He straight up screams in horror at Rudolph's horrible deformity, then ushers the other children away from him as quickly as possible. He then informs Rudolph that he is now forbidden from ever interacting with his former friends -- or indeed, any member of his species -- ever again.
At this point you might be thinking "so what? They're setting the coach up as the bad guy. Rudolph will show him up later." And you'd be wrong again. Every single adult reacts the same way, even Santa Claus:
See that? That's Santa Claus, the personification of Christmas, screaming at Rudolph's father, in front of everyone, telling him he should be ashamed of himself for birthing such an abomination.
If you're thinking this all sounds a lot like the setup for a metaphor condemning racism and segregation, well, you could be forgiven for that. The movie spends all this time exploring the complete revulsion, fear and hatred of the different, but it completely forgets to condemn it. Even though Rudolph eventually finds a place in society, none of the characters torturing him learn a damn thing. So the ultimate lesson on display here isn't "we're all the same, underneath, and some special people will understand that," as much as it is "everyone on Earth, up to and including your own parents, your teachers, and the personification of charity himself, just can't stand your fugly ass, so you should probably just die.
Jesus, is there some pre-existing superstition in Reindeer society that a red nose is the mark of the devil? Nope, it's not just Rudolph being condemned for his differences. In the same movie, we see the story of one elf who doesn't buy into the twisted elven Caste system. He doesn't want to build toys; he wants to be free. And his family, friends, co-workers and other elves despise him for it. So what does he want to do that's so despicable? Midget wrestling? Porn star? Nope: His dream is to be a dentist. This is what thinking for yourself earns you up at the North Pole.
"You sit back and reflect on how much we all hate you!"
"Jesus Christ, why won't you just kill yourself? What is it gonna take?!"
Lesson #1 There is no moral to the story.
And then comes the ending, and we all know what happens: Complete vindication. Rudolph's nose lights Santa's sleigh, everybody comes to accept him, he saves Christmas, and all is right. But pay attention to how it happens: They don't come to Rudolph, hat in hand, and realize that if only they'd accepted him earlier, they would never have been in this situation. They come to him reluctantly, like they're doing him a favor by being there, and only because they need a freak to help pull Santa's slave palanquin through the fog. Nobody's sorry for they treated him, or repentant for their harsh words, or even particularly respectful when they come to Rudolph:
"Someone get this mutant out of my face. I'm trying to make an announcement."
That's the happy ending: They finally found a use for him. There's your lesson, kids: Don't be born a freak, and if you are, try to make yourself useful anyway; maybe it will stop the beatings, or at least lessen their severity (probably not, though).
For more terrible lessons you didn't know you learned as a kid, check out 8 Important Lessons Learned from '80s Cartoons.