A new moral for Rudolph’s story


By Rekha Basu



It’s the holiday season, and some of you would prefer that columnists tone down the negativity, take a break from the criticizing and show some Christmas spirit. I get it: All the tough news, the bruising political attacks and the ugly aftermath can get discouraging. And what better season to mellow out than this one? Bring on the twinkling lights and the soothing carols — starting with that old feel-good, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in which the little guy wins the day.

Everyone loves the story of this little reindeer with a feature that makes him different. We don’t know why he has that fluorescent red nose; maybe a birth defect or an electrical shock. Maybe a Christmas light got permanently wedged under his nostrils while he was a reindeer baby. Anyway, it sets him apart from all his reindeer friends, with their cookie-cutter noses. But let’s be clear: They’re no friends. They ridicule Rudolph because he’s different, and because they’re a bunch of snot-nosed conformists who think that makes them better.

In fairness, they probably never met another reindeer that looked different. Maybe their parents raised them to fear differences, and so they tried to compensate by heckling the different one and never got corrected.

Maybe they’re just jealous. After all, their noses are only good for breathing and smelling, while Rudolph’s also acts as a light bulb. He could even read in the dark with it, when the parents say, “Lights out!” If anything, he should be the one laughing and calling the other reindeer losers! But Rudolph’s too classy to do that, and the bullies are evidently too clueless to see his advantage. Unfortunately, his silence doesn’t end the laughing and name-calling from the other side. It gets worse; those other reindeer also won’t let Rudolph join in their reindeer games. It’s blatant discrimination in violation of his civil rights.

You have to ask, where’s Santa in all this? Did he know Rudolph was being bullied? I know he can’t be everywhere all the time monitoring reindeer behavior, but he does manage to work his way down billions of chimneys around the world in one night. What if he had shared the job of reindeer management with Mrs. Claus, or put the elves in charge? Someone should have told those heckling reindeer to knock it off or they’d lose their sleigh-drawing privileges. But poor Rudolph was left out there to fend for himself.

It’s also possible those elves are themselves getting bullied, for their size and their ears and those little green dresses they wear. If so, they wouldn’t want to get in bad with the bullies by holding them accountable; they’d risk being targeted later. That’s the kind of thinking that drives collaborator elites to make nice with dictators or colonizers, to secure their own futures.

Yes, I know, the story has a happy ending. When Santa asks Rudolph “with your nose so bright” to guide his sleigh, he’s showing the bullies that their punching bag has advantages useful to the most popular guy on Christmas. But can you really say the reindeer now “love” Rudolph and celebrate his going down in history? Fat chance; they’re just being opportunists. What have they really learned? Where’s Rudolph’s apology?

The good news is that Hawaii-born musician Jack Johnson shares a different ending to the story, in which Rudolph gets empowered, and the other reindeer get the message. Here’s how his song describes what happens after the other song ends.

“Well Rudolph he didn’t go for that

He said ‘I see through your silly games.

How could you look me in the face

When only yesterday you called me names?’

Well all of the other reindeers, man,

Well they sure did feel ashamed:

‘Rudolph you know we’re sorry,

We’re truly gonna try to change.’”

So the story has many morals, beginning with the importance of parents and institutions teaching young reindeer to be accepting of all. What if a bystander reindeer had stepped in and helped Rudolph? In fact, instead of higher-ups resolving the situation individually, what if the decent reindeer started a grassroots movement, compelling the rogue ones to see the errors of their ways, make amends and join the movement? What if Rudolph went down in history not for his personal achievement, but for making things better for all future red-nosed and otherwise different reindeer?

It feels good to set aside politics in favor of fantasy for a while. Or maybe we get to write our own endings.

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By Rekha Basu

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at rbasu@dmreg.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at rbasu@dmreg.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.