I was a sheltered child.
My parents never let me play video games, or watch violent movies. Unlike other comic book fans my age, I didn’t grow up watching Batman and Spiderman. Batman and Spiderman were most kids first introduction to true altruism.
Mine was Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
Yes, a red-nosed stop-motion reindeer was my first example of a true hero.
I watch the Rankin-Bass special every year. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed the deeper messages in the narrative. Rudolph’s nose reveal reminds me of a coming out, and the things that Rudolph’s parents and Santa (if you haven’t seen this movie, Santa is a bit of a dick) say to Rudolph are things that were said to me as a mentally ill person and a bisexual person. Some examples of this are:
Rudolph: It’s not very comfortable!
Donner: There are more important things than comfort: self respect! Santa can’t object to you now.
Santa Claus: Great bouncing icebergs.
Donner: Ah, I’m sure it’ll stop as soon as he grows up, Santa.
Santa Claus: Well, let’s hope so, if he wants to make the sleigh team someday.
Head Elf: Why weren’t you at elf practice?
Hermey: Just fixing these dolls’ teeth.
Head Elf: Just fixing…? Now listen: we have dolls that cry, talk, walk, blink and run a temperature. We don’t need any chewing dolls!
Hermey: But I just thought I’d find a way to – to fit in.
Head Elf: You’ll never fit in! Now you come to elf practice, learn how to wiggle your ears, chuckle warmly, go “Hee-Hee” and “Ho-Ho”, and important stuff like that. A dentist! Good grief!
And of course, the misfit song:
We may be different from the rest
Who decides the test
Of what is really best?
We’re a couple of misfits
We’re a couple of misfits
What’s the matter with misfits?
That’s where we fit in!
Clearly, Rudolph doesn’t have an easy life. He has to hide who he is every day because who he is makes other people uncomfortable. He deals with the verbal abuse from Santa and the other reindeer, and the shame of his father.
But Rudolph never takes revenge. He never contemplates revenge on the other reindeer or his family. He goes out and finds his own life, and his own friends. With current media so saturated with the revenge narrative, this stands out as powerful, though not necessarily heroic.
Where Rudolph’s heroism really shows is when he is called upon to help by the very people who hurt him. His parents get captured by the Abominable Snowman and Rudolph doesn’t hesitate to risk his own life when he sees them in peril. Then, when a storm hits and Santa can’t fly his sleigh, he asks Rudolph to help him guide the sleigh. Santa arguably treated Rudolph the cruelest for the longest, and once again, Rudolph doesn’t hesitate to help him.
Rudolph is a hero not only for the Christmas season, but for all year round. He doesn’t use violence to solve his problems—he uses kindness. When he’s angry, he runs away instead of fighting. He forgives everyone who did him wrong, and goes the extra mile to actually help those people. Wow.
The Christians in the audience will notice that the last bit especially sounds pretty familiar. And I think that’s the right kind of thing to show young kids who aren’t old enough to really understand why most conventional heroes use violence. It’s also a message that needs to be absorbed by adults. I’ve talked before about how revenge doesn’t do a lot of good, but the media hasn’t gotten the memo yet. This little reindeer does something so easily that we all have trouble with. He forgives.
He’s not the hero we need, but he’s the hero that we deserve.