What Rudolph Teaches Us About Accepting Biological Diversity

 

downloadBy Jenny

I’ve spent some time this month thinking about our traditional Christmas stories and the truths they relay to us.  Somehow, even with these truths glaring at us through familiar and nostalgic stories and characters, our society is still blind to them in everyday life.  In particular, I have been thinking about my old childhood favorite, the 1964 rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.”  It’s been brought deeper into my consciousness this season due to the fact that my three-year-old is obsessed with it.  As I’ve listened to it over and over, I have realized how relevant this analogous story is to what is going on in our world even fifty years after its creation.

The main theme of the movie is the idea of allowing individuals to forge their own paths and be their true selves even if their otherness is scary to us.  In real life, I have found this to be a theme that causes controversy, angst, and revulsion.  Yet how many of us grew up on this and other stories that contain these themes.  It’s not as repulsive to accept such a concept if we’re talking about a red nose reindeer, as opposed to say a queer person.

It’s easy to sympathize with the story of Rudolph and to recognize the universal truths that are contained within his story.  How horrible that his parents were so afraid of what other people thought that they tried to cover up the thing that made Rudolph different!  Santa, being the leader, a character who is almost deified in our mythology, let all of this happen.  He made a mistake in not recognizing Rudolph for his true potential.  With good intentions, he encouraged Rudolph’s parents to cover his red nose so that he could have a chance at being one of Santa’s star reindeer.  He set the whole mindset for everyone, that a biological variation was grounds for not being on his team.  Comet ran the reindeer games, and upon finding Rudolph’s secret kicked him out of the reindeer tribe assuring that everyone else would shun him.

Many people sympathize with Rudolph, but they fail to recognize his story being played out in their own lives and culture.  Our own Mormon people have failed to see the harm we are causing our LGBT sisters and brothers as well as ourselves, as we have asked them to hide who they really are.  We treat our leaders as though they are above reproach, though they have failed to lead us correctly on this issue.  They have encouraged the wrong practices in regards to homosexuality, and have caused local leaders and members to ostracize, bully, and shun some of the most valuable members among us.

The story continues on with others who are ostracized from society.  Hermey feels confined within the narrow role he is supposed to play as an elf.  The misfit toys all have some deformity that makes them different, and therefore unacceptable for the specific function they are typically thought to fulfill.  Overshadowing it all is the abominable snowman, the grand embodiment of fear of the other.  It is the story of anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow worldview of cultures that have not successfully integrated otherness into their concept of wholeness.  It is the childless woman who is not fulfilling her proper role while she spends her time improving upon the world of science or medicine.  It is the story of the autistic child who might not behave in what society considers a “normal” way.  It is the story of Syrian refugees needing a home among people who don’t understand them and their culture.   In an ever changing world where a diversity of people, cultures, and ideals are merging, an inability to adapt leaves us with a team of reindeer that are all the same, no dentists among our elves, an island of misfit toys, and an enormous fear of an abominable “other.”

Feminists, intellectuals, biologically and culturally diverse people, liberals, these are the people I have met on my own journey to the island of misfit toys within my Mormon culture.  Rudolph’s journey to discover himself and his own potential without the judgment of others, leads him to his fellow outcast Hermey, leads him to the island of misfit toys, leads him to the abominable snowman, and leads him back home again.  He saves those who are closest to him, his family, the first ones who recognized their mistake and went in search of him.

The end of the story is wrapped up with a beautiful bow, and I hope, I can only hope that we will soon see the truth contained in its ending within our own culture.  Santa recognizes that Christmas can’t happen without Rudolph and his biologically diverse nose.  No one else can lead the sleigh through the fog.  Apologies are made and everyone can see how much they need Rudolph.  The head elf discovers that a dentist could be a good and useful thing.  The abominable snowman proves friendly and helpful when given a chance.  And because of Rudolph, the misfit toys are sent out into the world to prove that they can be loved and they can provide joy and goodness to the world just by being what they were created to be.  They are whole and complete as they are.  So is Rudolph, who because of his difference, not in spite of it, saves Christmas for everyone.

So, in real life, let’s see this truth for what it really is.  Let’s not mistake the hero of the story for a villain.  Let’s not bully, ostracize, or even fear people just because they are different.  Let’s think for ourselves and hold our leaders accountable for the mistakes they make, even if those mistakes are made with good intentions.  Let’s embrace biological and cultural diversity as one of the most beautiful aspects of human life.  Let’s recognize the wholeness in otherness, and not mistake it for brokenness. Let’s allow those who are different from us to use their differences to guide us through the fog of human unconsciousness.

Jenny

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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13 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    It’s surprising how different these movies from my childhood seem when I watch them as an adult. When I watched it again as a kid I was surprised at how MEAN everyone is to Rudolph! Even his parents! Even Santa! I like to think my culture and Church have moved forward toward tolerance and embracing diversity since 1964, and I think they have, broadly. But we still have far to go. And I don’t think we can simply depend on our leaders to get us there. This was so poignant: “We treat our leaders as though they are above reproach, though they have failed to lead us correctly on this issue.”

    I agree that fear is at the root of human failure to accept differences. I have sometimes thought the solution is to understand the reason for the fear, but I don’t think that anymore. Because fears are not always rational. It’s more important to acknowledge fear, and make our stories about moving through it, rather than eradicating it. Because getting rid of fear is probably impossible, whereas having courage is always possible.

  2. spunky says:

    I love this movie, and the baby New year movie, too- laughed because of his big ears. Like Emily U said, it is so strange to watch childhood favorites now as an adult and seem themes of sexism, racism, child abuse and general meanness. I also hope, like you, that we continue to seek for and see the wholeness in others. Thank you so much for this thoughtful essay on such a classic topic!

  3. EmilyCC says:

    This is my favorite line, “Let’s allow those who are different from us to use their differences to guide us through the fog of human unconsciousness.” I’ve learned so much from those who are not like me, and the healthiest communities I am involved with are the ones where diversity is encouraged. Thank you for this, Jenny.

  4. Rob Osborn says:

    I think it is wise to look at Rudolph as symbolizing Christ and not immorality.

    • kittywaymo says:

      Couldn’t have said it better than Ron.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, I think Rudolph also represents Christ who was mocked and cast out from among his own people. And Christ having perfect love and compassion for his fellow humans probably wouldn’t find it necessary to distinguish between himself and others who have been mocked and cast out. He said himself, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

    • Ziff says:

      Thanks for illustrating that you have utterly missed the point of this post, Rob.

  5. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this post, Jenny. I really like the connection. It’s too bad that it’s so common for us to pass these stories on but still fail to process what they’re saying.

  6. Genhy says:

    The First Presidency has promised that if those who experience SSA will be faithful and not commit major transgression in this life, all will be well in the next.
    So why would LDS be encouraging people to commit major transgression?

    • Ziff says:

      I don’t know. If I were gay, I would not find it very comforting to hear “it will all be fine when you’re dead.” It’s easy for straight people to downplay the sacrifice that’s being made, especially in the face of–let’s face it–an uncertain afterlife.

  7. Liz says:

    I think we far too often empathize with the hero in these stories rather than seeing ourselves in the villains, too. It makes me want to rewatch all of my Christmas favorites and try to see myself in all of the villains – how am I more like Scrooge than Bob Cratchit? The bully kid in “The Christmas Story” instead of Ralphie? The work-addicted father instead of Buddy the Elf? I think this is a useful exercise, not just for holiday films, but also for scripture stories, fables, and other instructive mediums. I love this post, Jenny!

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