On Tuesday evening, I watched the 1964 TV show “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer” for the first time since I was 9 or 10 years old. What a time machine! For a few precious moments I was a foot shorter, my hair in tangles, wearing my scratchy pink pajamas, watching the tiny television in our basement apartment to the rhythmic creak of Mom’s rocking chair. I still love the Christmas season, and yes, I wear a Santa hat almost everywhere I go, but it took that flashback to remember just how giddy with excitement I used to be during the most magical time of the year.
The time machine took me other places, too. A time when bosses – Santa, the elf overseer, and Rudolph’s father, the lead reindeer Donner – were angry, isolated men whose wives nagged at them to eat and tried to smooth over the feathers they ruffled. A time when “good work” meant a factory job, being happy producing goods for no wages for the world. A time when only boys played sports or could get picked for Santa’s sleigh team. A time when only people of northern European ancestry were represented, even in fantasy stories.
But also a time when things were changing. Instead of raining more authoritarian abuse on their heads, Comet tells the reindeer fawns: “I’m here as your coach, but I’m also here to be your friend, right?” Not quite the note we’d hit today – I see our culture swinging back toward structured, safe authority figures as we learn the balance of compassionate leadership – but a positive step nonetheless. And the message that misfits, too, have their place, was a nice break from the monotonous Levittown mentality of the 1950s.
If I were to write a Dayton version of “Rudolph,” I’d make him the kid with the hippie hair and an artist’s vision who no one can quite understand. The Island of Misfit Toys? The latest Occupy encampment. Christmastown would be Stivers School for the Arts, of course, and Santa the president of the school board. As for the Abominable Snowman, instead of yanking out all his teeth and shoving him off a cliff, we’ll find out he was only chasing people and roaring because he had a bad cavity, and good old Hermey the Elf Dentist will save the day by figuring it out and helping him feel better.
Yeah, this version’s not likely to delight a nation of children for decades to come! So I’ll stick to my day job. Happily, the generation that grew up on Rudolph helped make it possible for me to be a freelance writer instead of a factory worker, and I’m free to play with both reindeer and misfits. Marvelous misfits like you! How would things look in your version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Daytonian”?