The Subtext of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

With all apologies to Charlie Brown and Linus’s “Yay, Jesus” speech, CBS aired my favorite holiday special last week, and I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in full for probably the 30th time in my life (there were a few lost years there where I turned away from God and lost the spirit of Christmas).

This time, though, I noticed a few hidden messages I hadn’t tapped into before. Now, others have claimed that Rudolph represents communism or the Red Scare (because of the red nose, you see), but I’m not buying it. There’s no chance a show debuting in 1964 would have risked carrying a pro-commie message.

So what is Rudolph really all about? Let’s take a look-see.

Things to consider as we all wait on our own personal Islands of Misfit Toys:

Santa Claus? Kind of a Dick.
Rudolph does not portray Santa in a heroic light, to put it mildly. When Rudolph is still a young reindeer, Santa scolds Donder (Rudolph’s father) that Rudolph will never make the sleigh team with that red nose of his. In front of Rudolph. So, essentially, Santa is not only a racist, but an inconsiderate racist at that. He’s also something of a boob — refusing to eat, deciding to cancel Christmas all too readily because of a bad weather report, passive-aggresively lashing out at his elves. Considering that Santa Claus is essentially a version of God for little kids, the show is making a case for a bumbling version of a spiteful Old Testament-style Creator.

Ladiez are Pretty Useless
A feminist screed Rudolph is not. The lady deer are depicted as support staff for the boys and men, who do all the hard work of reindeer games, flying the sleigh, and providing for their families. The only major female characters are: Rudolph’s mom, Rudolph’s girlfriend, and the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys who the writers put so little thought into that she doesn’t even have a defined defect. Other than being marginalized, the ladies are also portrayed as worthless. Late in the show, when Rudolph is missing, his female posse sets out to find him and help out. Uh, gals? Leave the adventuring to the male deer. They get trapped by the Abominable Snowmonster and get everyone in far more peril than they had been before. They almost get Rudolph (and themselves) killed and eaten, until (of course) Yukon Cornelius and Hermey the elf come to the rescue. Thanks for nothing, you stupid does.

Yukon and Hermey are Very Heavy Sleepers
While bunking on the Island of Misfit Toys, Yukon, Hermey and Rudolph share a bed. (It’s a big bed; and save your juvenile gay jokes, please.) In the middle of the night, Rudolph decides to sneak out so as not to endanger his friends with his red nose. In doing so, he climbs out of bed from between Yukon and Hermey, and walks out the door. Keep in mind that he is a reindeer. There has to be significant fuss and commotion involved with a deer climbing out from under the covers and getting out of a bed when surrounded by an elf and a giant human. Maybe Yukon and Hermey treated themselves to a little to much of the lion king’s secret scotch stash before hitting the hay.

Capitalism Shall Win the Day
Like I said, I don’t think Rudolph’s nose is a commentary on communism, but I do think Rudolph as a whole is supportive of capitalism. Let’s take a look at our pal, Yukon Cornelius. The old prospector is interested in two things and two things only: silver and gold, in some order. Yet rather than portray Yukon as a greedy, short-sighted, environment-destroying cad, Rudolph shows him to be a hero of the highest order. He’s loyal to his friends, defeats the big baddie with his might and brains, and then reforms the Snowmonster into a harmless, toothless (literally) lug. Hmm…sounds a lot like America.

Hermey is Straight
It’s all too easy to read “dentistry” as a kid-friendly substitute for “sex with dudes” in Hermey’s story arc, but such a reading only exposes our latent homophobia. Yes, Hermey is a little effeminate and his hairdo looks like something Carson from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would demand at his salon. But any claim that Hermey is gay is an insult to his genuine, touching friendship with Rudolph, and his legitimate passion for healing. He’s also clearly shown dancing with a lady elf at the end of the show, and rather enjoying himself.

Burl Ives > Bing Crosby
In the battle of all-time Christmas icons, Rudolph wins the day for the elfin Ives. His voicing of Sam the Snowman defeats both White Christmas and the David Bowie “Little Drummer Boy” duet for lasting contributions to the season. Also, Bing Crosby beat his kids with a bag of oranges.

Toy Story Owes Rudolph a Debt
After watching Rudolph, the Toy Story franchise’s entire conceit of anthropomorphic toys that have complicated relationships with the humans who own them comes into sharper relief after watching Charlie-in-the-Box, the cowboy that rides an ostrich, and the rest of the gang on the Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph wasn’t the first tale to give toys human emotions, but its story hews the closest to Woody and Buzz Lightyear’s.

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13 Comments

Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

13 responses to “The Subtext of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

  1. Howard Butler

    Apparently no one has ever noticed the quick scene near the end wherein Mrs. Claus is helping Santa gear up for the trip. Behind them is a huge world map showing weather patterns. Between their heads, where Cuba should be, there’s no Cuba. This movie came out 2 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, inexplicably, the letters of the alphabet are superimposed on the map. There’s an arrow through the letter ‘M’ pointing to the letter hidden behind Santa’s head (‘W’). Could this be to indicate the “Moscow-to-Washington hotline”, as it’s known (AKA “The Red Telephone”), which was established directly subsequent to the CMC? My 12 year-old son noticed this. I wouldn’t have caught it in a million years!

  2. amanda

    Does anyone notice that at the end of the movie when the elf is throwing the toys off the sleigh they throw the bird who can’t fly off the sleigh without an umbrella? He can’t fly! He only swims! I sure hope he landed in water!

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  5. I comment whenever I like a post on a site or I have something to contribute to the conversation.

    Usually it’s triggered by the sincerness communicated in the article I read. And on this post The Subtext of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer | Pop Culture Has AIDS. I was moved enough to post a commenta response ;) I actually do have 2 questions for you if you usually do not mind. Is it simply me or does it give the impression like some of these remarks look as if they are written by brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing at other places, I would like to keep up with you. Could you list all of your social sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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  11. “But any claim that Hermey is gay is an insult to his genuine, touching friendship with Rudolph…”

    Why? This confuses me as I’m pretty sure I made NO indication that Hermey wanted Rudolph in a sexual or romantic way, and I don’t believe I ever expressed that Hermey’s possible homosexuality negated any of his positive character traits? I was looking more at the LANGUAGE and dialogue used throughout the movie, and how I thought – in the end – it was a message promoting acceptance through its subtexts.

    I don’t expect everyone to fully agree with my theories and readings – that’s all subjective. But I really do not appreciate twisting my reading into being “homophobic” when my reading was the complete opposite, and I thought I made that clear in the blog. Thanks.

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