Holiday Malaise: The Horrors Of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”

Not even Jack Johnson can mellow out this frankly upsetting Christmas classic.

A bullied kid with high verbal acuity notices little offenses everywhere.  For me, the constant repetition of the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in school choirs, on the radio, at events, and in Christmas imagery, was one of those baffling phenomena that made me wonder if there was a single adult who really meant it when they said they “did not tolerate bullying.”

Just so you can see it laid out without the charming catchy music, I will summarize the story of the song:

Rudolph, a reindeer born with a large, shiny red nose, presumably the result of some sort of health-impairing birth defect (nuclear runoff?), is mercilessly mocked for his disfigurement by the other reindeer-children, and seems to lead a generally miserable life.  Then, one Christmas, the weather is bad, and Santa decides to exploit this crippled child’s disability, namely the unusual visibility of his nose.  The Japanese version of the song, according to this Tumblr post, interprets this moment as, “Rudolph was useful.”  The other reindeer, seemingly unaware of the irony of their situation, immediately switch from mocking Rudolph’s deformity to celebrating it.  Rudolph’s silence in the final verse implies his tacit acceptance of his peers’ hypocrisy.  Rudolph is so broken that he has become complicit in the system.

As you can see, the traditional association of the image of the swollen red nose with drunkenness is not the only thing that makes this an insane choice for a popular children’s song.  It also valorizes usefulness in a capitalist system above morality and assures children that they can get away with bullying anyone as long as they break his or her spirit first.

During my teenage years, sweet Jack Johnson made me very happy by applying a very mellow band-aid to this gaping wound in the psyche of our nation’s youth.  For his contribution to Brushfire Records’ 2008 holiday album This Warm December, Johnson decided to record the song with this additional verse:

But Rudolph, he didn’t go for that

He said, “I see through your silly games!

How can you look me in the face,

When only yesterday you called me names?”

That’s right, Rudolph!  Fight back!  But then there’s this clincher:

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.”

Way to apologize to your schoolmate for the deep psychological scarring you’ve caused him over the years.  “We’ll change our ways…as long as the adults are looking” is the oldest trick in the book.  I mean, come on!  That’s why [redacted] didn’t get expelled when they [redacted] and I [redacted].  A little career success and the contingent approval of one’s peers can’t erase something like that from your memory.

Anyway, here’s the song:

Merry fuckin’ Christmas, Rudolph.  You ever want to lead the revolution, give me a call.


Image via Classic Media


Daughter of a high school English teacher and an English professor, Evangeline is working on her PhD, also in English. She has one fat cat and a lot of feelings.
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