Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose — and the story of how he leveraged it for social gain has earned him thousands of social media haters.
Immediately after WCBS / 2 and other stations nationwide aired the holiday classic on Nov. 27, a flurry of unhappy viewers started tweeting. The next day, The Huffington Post’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Actually Sucks” video hit Twitter and has since netted about 5.7 million views and 20,000-plus comments.
My fellow social liberals say the story of this ostracized reindeer sends out a bad message to children that’s filled with racism, bullying and homophobia. Rudolph’s father is a misogynist. His coach is abusive. Santa’s behavior as an employer is actionable. Rudolph is accepted in the end, if only for his halogen-like headlight.
This 54-year-old gay New Yorker respectfully disagrees. Growing up as a pudgy and sensitive preteen who loved jazz, silent movies and collecting vintage radios, I was Rudolph’s kindred spirit. The boys who watched the Mets and wiped out on their BMXs didn’t let me play in their reindeer games, either. But when I watched Rudolph, I knew that for whatever reason I was picked last or teased, somehow, I would turn my own red nose around. Recently, I read that the story’s author, Robert L. May, was a painfully shy child. It didn’t surprise me because Rudolph is, in current parlance, a victim’s story.
As the controversy over the 1964 TV special snowballed online and off, irate voices from the left and right mobilized. Whoopi Goldberg dismissed the haters on “The View,” as did Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter. The latter has used this controversy to prove “Liberalism is a disease,” and he remains my ideological enemy. But we’re strange bedfellows now, albeit for different reasons, and Rudolph can add a new skill to his resume: “Created an awkward moment of cultural consensus among thousands of otherwise sociopolitical foes.”
Yes, we should critique some creative works retroactively. Many books, movies, and television shows have been cast aside, with good reason, as cultural standards evolve. (Have you watched the original and aggressively racist 1930s “Our Gang” comedies lately, if ever?) But in this case, earnest social justice warriors fail to appreciate a literary metaphor and a teachable moment. Rudolph’s shiny red deformity becomes an icon of strength, while he remains the same inside and out. This great lesson is probably why Rudolph is one of two childhood books I still have. The other is “Dumbo.” Go figure.
Detractors, step away from the reindeer. Tweet in protest to politicians and others hawking clear and dangerous anti-inclusion agendas. Let’s not turn a classic story of finding identity and purpose into a reminder of what’s wrong with our increasingly dogmatic national conversation. Parents, seize this teachable moment to discuss some of the characters’ unacceptable words and actions, while also emphasizing the narrative’s larger and enduring message about discovering your identity and self-worth.
As for you, Rudolph, keep making those winter skies safe for everyone — and ignore the tweets. You’ve got this.
Ron Bel Bruno is a Manhattan-based technology and lifestyle writer.