The newly remastered Rudolph is on. It's gorgeous, and it tells the story of the evils of socially constructed disablism. But, damned, it sure is disturbing.
First, Donner's initial reaction on seeing his son's physical difference is to demand that Rudolph wear a cosmetic prosthetic. When Santa (Santa!) sees the "deformity," he attacks Donner for siring defective offspring and warns that even a prosthetic doesn't cut it with him.
Months go by, and we see nerdy elf Herbie being ostracized for his atypical behavior. Is Herbie an Aspie? Whatever, he sure doesn't "fit in."
Meanwhile, the other reindeer boys discover that Rudolph has a unusual nose. At this, they heap abuse on Rudolph. And these bullies are egged on to do it by the adults. Once again Santa, who acknowledges Rudolph's physical prowess in jumping, again abuses Donner for having a son with a difference, and Rudolph is sent packing.
So far, the only ones who accept Rudolph for who he is are his mother and Clarisse, the girl he is smitten with. Not being vicious bigots appears to be the role of the females in Christmastown, for they certainly aren't welcome as workers or even as students.
Rudolph and Herbie find each other, and mutually decide to make a break for it. Along the way to where they don't know, they run into Yukon Cornelius who, despite some odd behavior, is brimming over with acceptance and good advice. The triumvirate travel together, in search of treasure, or, more exactly, in search of searching for treasure. The Abominable Snowmonster notices Rudolph and begins following them. This is unfortunate, because Rudolph has taken his society's devaluation of him to heart, and decides to save his friends by putting himself in danger.
So, what do we have so far? A North Pole society hallmarked by disablism and misogyny, with Satan Claus--I mean "Santa"--enforcing this rigid conformity while demanding a cheery demeanor and obeisance from his subjects. Fortunately, this is a morality play in which the virtues demonstrated by the second class citizens end up saving the day. A guilt-ridden Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice, and Rudolph's friends all set out independently to find Rudolph, who had managed to find his way home on his own just fine. When they all end up in danger of being Abominable Chow, Rudolph's misfit friends show up in the nick of time to save them all. And then Rudolph saves Christmas by functioning as a fog light, enabling the newly socially conscientious Santa to embark on a mission of social inclusion. So, uh. Yay?
What if turned out that Rudolph couldn't actually save the day? What if he had just been different but not "special?" Being different was enough reason for Herbie to be unwelcome, and his horrible difference was to want a professional career. If Rudolph had been a lousy jumper, if he had had a snotty nose instead of a glowing one, would Santa have continued his exclusionary regime? I know I am not the only who came away from the show as child with a profound distrust of Santa.
Oh well. At least, Christmastown doesn't have a Jenny Craig.
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