Monday, December 07, 2009

Bad messages in Christmas carols: Rudolph and Rand

Last year, by way of holiday cheer, I examined the vexed issue of means testing and the giving imperative as manifested in "Little Drummer Boy." To launch this season's festivities, let's look at "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and its Ayn-Randian implications.

To review:

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say
"Rudolph with your nose so bright
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then all the reindeer loved him*
And they shouted out with glee:
"Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
You'll go down in history!"
*Emphasis added.

First off: Notice how Santa lets his underlings bully Rudolph with impunity for an unspecified length of time and only intervenes when he wants something. Where was Santa all those months, even years, when Rudolph was getting his ass kicked on a daily basis? But now that it's foggy and Santa's headlights aren't working, it's all, Oh, Rudolph, you're so wonderful / talented / amazing, and it's high time you moved up in my organization.

And then notice: once he's singled out by the authority figure, suddenly "all the reindeer loved him." Perhaps this indicates that the other reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, et al) are a pack of mediocrities and followers who do only what they are told--while Rudolph is an individual. But it also seems that at the North Pole, love is purely a measure of one's usefulness in the Santasian service economy. Had Rudolph's nose not proven necessary on this foggy evening, after Santa has fallen down on the critical task of sled maintenance (shouldn't he have been prepared for poor visibility already? It's December, at the North Pole, for Chrissake)--the attacks on Rudolph would have proceeded indefinitely. So is the "love" of the bullying herd meant to be Rudolph's reward for putting up with the taunts of his peers? Is all right with the world at last? Is Rudolph now one of the crowd of his former tormenters, albeit a first among equals--who might join in (or lead) the hazing of the next funny-looking reindeer who comes down the pike?

The song does not specify. I believe we're meant to assume that Rudolph happily accepts the accolades, takes (and returns) the love as sincere, and guides the sleigh for the rest of his immortal life, even on clear nights. He forgives; but perhaps something has been lost in forgiveness--an opportunity to reassess the system in which he is now but a cog. Perhaps there ought to be a final verse in which Rudolph tells Santa, "You and your mob of antlered thugs can go wrap yourselves around a cellphone tower. I'm going to be a social worker!"

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