Why 'Rudolph' Is a Lesson in Resiliency

Annimated puppets from Rudolph television special
Hermey the Elf and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are great role models for kids.

Rankin Bass / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

There's some controversy brewing over the 1964 animated holiday classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and both sides are a little silly.

First, let's look at how the controversy started.

On Nov. 27, CBS aired the holiday special that tells the story of two characters, a reindeer who doesn't fit in because of his glowing nose and Hermey the elf who doesn't fit in because he wants to be a dentist. They aren't accepted by others at the North Pole because they're different. Rudolph is kept out of the reindeer games by his peers and the coach, Comet. Hermey is chastised by a head elf for not being the "right" kind of elf.

Even Santa isn't nice to Rudolph. He tells Rudolph's parents — right in front of Rudolph, no less — if their son wants to make the sleigh team one day, his nose had better stop glowing. Not surprisingly, Rudolph and Hermey run away together.

At the risk of spoiling the ending for anyone who hasn't seen the special — which has been aired every Christmas season for the past 54 years — Rudolph and Hermey return and save Christmas, to everyone's relief.

But after CBS aired the special this year, people took to Twitter to express their shock — many of them jokingly — at all the awful behavior on display. The next day HuffPost rounded up some of the tweets and published "Viewers Noticed Some Very Disturbing Details in 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" along with a video on Facebook.

That's when things went off the rails. Conservative websites and news organizations pounced on it, with little awareness that what HuffPost had created was mostly tongue in cheek.

Rudolph the role model

Nothing HuffPost pointed out is inaccurate. Most of the adults, not to mention Santa and the reindeer boys, really were the worst.

I don't want to turn this into a liberal vs. conservative debate; I don't want to turn this into a debate at all. But I do want to point out that "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is on point about how adults sometimes treat kids. As a kid, I recognized that.

Comet, the mean coach, wasn't all that different from the basketball coach from the co-ed town league I joined in fourth grade. When he wasn't telling me I couldn't play in the games because I was a girl and not as good as the boys, he was ignoring me. The adults in "Rudolph" are no different than my fifth-grade reading teacher. The teacher said my name out loud on the first day of school and made it clear she had already made up her mind who I was because of an experience she'd had with one of my older siblings. The entire year, she didn't let me forget it.

Like most kids, I believed I was awkward and a misfit. I related to both Rudolph and Hermey. I felt their pain. I understood why they ran away. They weren't going to let anyone tell them they couldn't be themselves or that they couldn't be what they wanted to be. I found Rudolph and Hermey adventurous, brave, and inspiring.

Rudolph, along with his dentist friend, is a role model for kids who have to choose whether or not to let others decide who they are. Rudolph demonstrates resiliency, one of the most important traits we need to make it through life. I couldn't have explained all this as a kid, but year after year, I've been soaking in this lesson each holiday season.

Were many of the characters in Rudolph awful? Yes. But in any story, there has to be conflict, a problem that the protagonist has to overcome. Those characters who were "the worst" caused problems, but that doesn't make "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" problematic — it makes it an opportunity for kids to learn a valuable lesson.

In fact, most people don't see a problem with the 54-year-old special at all. A Hollywood Reporter survey, taken a few days before the special aired one year, found that "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the most beloved holiday movie, followed by "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and then "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."