The 1964 Rankin-Bass animated classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer has been my favorite Christmas special ever since I was a boy, sitting on our yellow shag carpet in my PJs, watching it on an old black-and-white TV. Seeing it again recently, though, I noticed something I hadn’t before: The whole special is kind of like a gay coming-out story.
Rudolph has this problem: He has a very shiny nose (you could even say it glows.) All of the other reindeer laugh and call him names, and Rudolph’s father, Donner, is horrified. (No son of his … etc.) Donner insists that Rudolph cover his nose with mud. Rudolph hates the mud, and feels like he’s living a lie, but at least he fits in. Problem is, he can’t seem to keep that nose out of sight, especially when he’s getting physical with his friend Fireball.
Meanwhile, Hermey, the perfectly coiffed elf, wants to be a dentist, but he can’t be because elves aren’t allowed to be dentists. They have to make toys. The two boys meet and discover they have a connection, and, realizing that they can’t be their true selves in this oppressive, small-town North Pole, the flamboyant reindeer and the elf with the oral fixation set off in search of a place where they belong. They find it in the Island of Misfit Toys, an ice floe ruled by a winged lion where other fabulous toys (e.g a Charlie-in-the-Box, and a doll with abandonment issues) who don’t quite behave or look like they’re “supposed to” can live together in peace and harmony. (Think West Hollywood).
But then, lo and behold, it turns out that all those haters at the North Pole need a little help from a flaming nose when the Xmas eve fog gets so thick that Santa can’t see well enough to take off. Suddenly, everyone realizes that being different can be kind of cool, and Rudolph’s kind of fun to have around, really. There’s even a hint that he’ll be allowed to marry another reindeer.
So what do you think, Christmas Popwatchers? Am I stretching the metaphor too far, or was this show eerily progressive for 1964?