Donner is sexist, and Santa’s kind of a dick

I first noticed that one of my favorite Christmas shows, Rankin/Bass’ ”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” was a tad sexist back in college.

It was around the time I was experimenting more with my writing, and had just written a tongue-in-cheek essay about how Dorothy Gale was evil, and the Wizard of Oz was really about a collectivist plot to take over America.  It was 1984, after all.

I’ll never forget my writing teacher – God how I loathed that man – scrawling in the margin of my paper in a manner that suggested he’d taken personal offense at my bastardization of one of his favorites: “It’s just a story about a girl.”

No… really?

But I was only half kidding about Rudolph.

Santa’s a dirty bastard

The show is sexist as hell, and I also wasn’t terribly thrilled about how it portrayed Santa.  Sure, Donner is a dick.  But his job is carrying the sleigh – it doesn’t really matter if he’s a nice guy, or deer.  But depicting Santa as some self-centered, slave-laboring, disability-hating bastard – even if  his character grows by the end of the film (though only just barely) – just seemed wrong in retrospect.

rudolph-nose

“Rudolph” was my favorite Christmas show of all time. It was “the” depiction of Santa, probably even more so than “Snow Miser and Heat Miser” Santa (who was also a bit of a whiner).  But when you look back on Rudolph-Santa as an adult, you come to realize that if this Santa were the real Santa, he’d give himself coal.

Let’s start with Santa meeting the new-born Rudolph for the first time and see his nose aglow:

santa-rudolph

Santa: Great bouncing icebergs.

Donner: Well I’m sure it will stop as soon as he grows up, Santa.

Santa: Well let’s hope so if he wants to make the sleigh team someday.

Not a real profile in courage for Santa or dad on this one.

Later on, Donner and Mrs. Donner (as they call her – the shows creators couldn’t even be bothered to give the mother of Rudolph a name) smack a fake black nose on Rudolph’s face. This exchange follows:

Rudolph: It’s not very comfortable.

Donner: There are more important things in life than comfort: Self respect. Santa can’t object to you now.

Oh, wanna bet?

rudolph-1

Rudolph joins in the Reindeer Games, and the inevitable happens.  The faux nose falls off, and Rudolph is off shining again.  And what does Santa have to say about it?

Santa: Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Again, I get that Santa grows by the end of the tale.  Because let’s face it, Santa only grew because they were facing the mother of all snowstorms, and not-so-jolly Nick realized that if he stuck by his petty prejudices, Christmas was ruined.  That’s hardly an epiphany about prejudice – I’ll let the queer guide my sleigh tonight only because if I don’t, a year’s worth of work is ruined.  The selflessness, it burns.

But regardless of whether you think Santa’s personal growth is real, this isn’t a story about Santa growing as a person.  Santa doesn’t need to grow. HE’S SANTA.

It’s as if Rankin/Bass rewrote “Harry Potter,” and Harry starts the book as a sexist jerk, while Dumbledore diddles with little boys.  But they both grow by the end, so it’s okay.

The lead good-guy characters in a children’s tale aren’t supposed to start off as sexist bigots (and end up still sexist). And while I can excuse Donner being a jerk (Donner is b-list anyway), I can’t excuse Santa.

Walmart in Elfland

Hell, Santa is practically running his own Walmart in elfland, with all the rules about who gets what job.  In SantaMart, job picks you. And of course, the elves have to work Christmas.

But that doesn’t stop them from learning a song just for Santa, “We are Santa’s elves.” And it’s a cute song.  But what does Santa say when the elves have finished singing for him? Nothing.  Mrs. Claus applauds, while Santa simply says, “Hmm. Well, it needs work. I have to go.”

hermie-shop

Now, when Santa finally comes around and realizes that he’s messed up, it’s still only his self-interest talking.  Rudolph has already run away, and mom and dad and Rudolph’s new quasi-girlfriend Clarice set off to find him.  Rudolph returns home, a good year has passed, and he finds no one there – but Santa.

What does Santa say?  That everyone is missing and he’s very worried… BECAUSE CHRISTMAS EVE IS ONLY TWO DAYS AWAY.

Santa isn’t worried that a man, his wife, and a one-year old reindeer girl are missing.  No, Santa is worried that their disappearance might hurt his bottom-line.

Then there’s the sexism

At least by the end of the show everyone gets over their fear of reindeers with disabilities.  But the sexism?  Not so much.

First off, girl reindeers don’t play reindeer games, and they don’t get to ever dream of pulling Santa’s sleigh (unless another billion children are about to miss Christmas. and Santa’s only option is to slum it by asking Clarice for help).

Then there was Donner’s minor epiphany when he realizes he has to go out looking for his son, who ran away and is now missing at the ripe age of one week:

Narrator: Now you can bet old Donner felt pretty bad about the way he had treated Rudolph.  And he knew that the only thing to do was to go out and look for his little buck. Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, naturally.  But Donner said no, this is man’s work.

Ah, man’s work.

Of course, that didn’t stop mom and Clarice, god bless ‘em, from heading out on their own anyway.  Though Clarice’s blow for feminism almost gets her eaten by the abominable snowman – message received, little girl.

clarice

Then Yukon Cornelius comes to rescue, slays abominable while perishing himself (or so we think), and what does the narrator inform us?

Well they are all very sad at the loss of their friend, but realize that the best thing to do is to get the women back to Christmas town.

Yes, the vulnerable women. Then again, Santa wouldn’t have cared a lick about getting the women home at all – they don’t pull sleighs.

Again, I’m half kidding, but only just.  The “get the women back to Christmas town” line is pretty awful, though it is indicative of when the show was made, 1964.  And I guess things could be worse.  Our Christmas story could be about Santa and “six to eight black men” beating kids with sticks.


(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • sandiego1969

    Please don’t forget sexist…Santa has a dick so those without must hate.

    PS Brit Hume said femenized not feminine atmosphere in America. What Hillary calls equality the country calls venom.

  • AnthonyLook

    Santa must also be a RACIST and a CLASSIST, he gives the best presents to rich and White kids and often in real life ignores kids of color and those that are poor.

  • BigGuy

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yup. I had a refrigerator box spaceship for a long time, until the rain turned it to mush. ;-)

  • http://poodyheads.wordpress.com/ Daddy Bear

    My theory, and this has worked well with zorbear, is: put the present in a box that is big enough to make something out of — it doesn’t matter how big the present is, since it’s the box the kid’s gonna play with anyway…

    :-D

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’ve always felt that one of the best presents someone can give a kid — boy or girl — is something like Legos or Kinex or Tinker Toys (I wonder if they even have these anymore…) — anything to spark the imagination of a child.

    I can’t say I’m terribly crazy about the “buy this box, build this one thing” approach they’ve been heading towards in recent decades with the Legos, but then again, I’ve never seen that stop a kid from building something completely different out of the pieces anyway.

  • vickif

    It’s not the Sears Tower anymore, it’s the Willis Tower. There better not be anything that these 2 rich men can get through. They are the most evil of men and deserve having the trapdoor open under them.

  • vickif

    My 38 year old son has loved legos sine his first set back when he was a little boy. Nowadays he and his father buy the new legos sets-those big sets, they even have the Sidney Opera house, and many Star War sets,. you should see how nice they look. Our apartment is decorated with many of the Christmas sets. and he breaks them down every January and rebuilds them for the holidays.

  • phein39

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the Frasier Crane character’s rant about Rudolph from Cheers:
    WOODY BOYD

    You know, Rudolph is my favourite guy in the Christmas song.

    SAM MALONE

    Yeah.

    DR. FRASIER CRANE

    Apparently then Woody, you’re unaware that the story of “Rudolph the
    Red-Nosed Reindeer” is one of the most unrealistic and therefore
    potentially damaging in all of children’s music. It gives them a
    horribly distorted view of reality.

    WOODY BOYD

    Yeah, but you got to admit, it’s easy to whistle.

    DR. FRASIER CRANE

    No, I’m serious. First the other reindeer tease and then ostracise him.
    And then when his abnormality proves of service, they use him.

    DR. FRASIER CRANE

    [Sam and Woody are speechless] But then do they allow him to play in their stupid reindeer games?

    SAM MALONE, WOODY BOYD

    Yes.

    DR. FRASIER CRANE

    Oh, no, I know how the song goes. In fact, not only do Donner, Blitzen,
    et al, not love him and laugh out loud with glee, but they doubly
    despise the bulbous-nosed little wimp.

    DR. FRASIER CRANE

    [Frasier gets up] Well, I’ve got to be off. Happy Holidays! [Frasier leaves, Sam and Woody are shocked]

  • emjayay

    A cigarette, really? Everyone knows Santa smokes a pipe, and the smoke encircles his head like a wreath.

    Except a few years ago I was shopping for a book of the famous poem and wanted one with red fuzz like the one we had when I was a kid. I found one, it wasn’t expensive, and the artwork was sort of Swedish Modern. The pipe smoking verse was gone.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Me too. I had no fondness for dolls.

    I even inherited a hand-me-down Erector Set with the finger-mangling AC-powered electric motor. But I loved Legos and constantly kept trying to build a viable Star Trek shuttle out of them. Back then, they only had the blocks, so the nacelle pylons were a total bear.

  • Indigo

    Yes to the comments below. All that sexism and paternalistic capitalism and condescension to underlings and more is the 1964 I remember alright. I was an undergraduate junior at a college for well behaved young ladies and gentlemen. (As were most colleges and many universities in those days). Amazing how it all resonates with the manner of today’s Corporate Lords who rule over us.

  • Monoceros Forth

    It was mostly Lego and Meccano for me when I was growing up, I admit.

  • emjayay

    I guess that explains the recently very popular megachurch prosperity gospel.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Such attitudes, I can tell you, did not go down well in my family.

    Which only made me more determined. ;-)

  • emjayay

    Funny of course, but do you realize how much little kids like the Thomas the Tank Engine Brio Chuggington Wooden trains with wooden tracks? And how much parents spend on that stuff?
    Of course Santa’s workshop can’t have a bunch of robots putting together circuit boards or Asian elves soldering.
    Also, in the film there is a jet airliner model on the workshop table.

  • emjayay

    Why you little proto-feminist you.

  • AnitaMann

    Love to see your analysis of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” with the best penguin-friend named “Topper,” and the LSD-inspired awakening of the future Mrs. Claus.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Indeed — she’s clearly trying to kill him. ;-)

  • http://americablog.com magster

    Mrs. Claus does lace his meal with butter and heavy cream, then gives him a post-meal cigarette…

  • fletcher

    Jesus once said that it was more possible to put a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. So the Koch Brothers are building a sewing needle twice the size of the Sears Tower so they can fly a camel through the larger-than-life eye in a helicopter. I’m sure St. Peter will have a long slide-splitting laugh before he springs the trapdoor under those two.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yep. And as with Rudolph, nobody appreciated Hermey until he performed a useful task — namely de-toothing the Abominable Snowman.

    Up until then, it was “How dare you desire a career other than working in Santa’s slave labor factory! Heresy!”

    I almost wonder (half facetiously) if the writers didn’t throw out ideas like, “Suppose Hermey wants to be a florist or hair-dresser?” Rejoinder: “Nah, that’d be too obvious.”

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Progressive for 1964? Not really, no.

    Even as very young kid, I remember asking my parents, “Why can’t the girl reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh?” There are literally no positive female role models. Other than Mrs. Claus who seems to want to cause Santa to have a coronary (and who wouldn’t? he’s such a d-nozzle most of the time), none of the females do anything other than mope about helplessly.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Hey John: It’s just a kid’s story! ;-)

    Nah, just kidding. Even at the ripe age of four years old, I knew there was something seriously f’d up about the Rankin Bass ‘Rudolph’ story. It took even more years before I was able to articulated it, at which point I realized the whole thing was sheer awfulness from end to end.

    Elf slave labor. An absolutely callous slave master in the form of Santa. Casual sexism. An almost Objectivist attitude, that if you’re not useful in some way, you might as well put yourself onto an ice floe and go die. And hey, let’s not forget the Isle of Misfit Toys. (Y’know, that Charlie-in-the-Box sounded awfully fey, too…)

    And her we are more than four decades later and you’ve just gone through the full litany. Thank you.

    As an antidote, I offer Robot Chicken’s take on it, “Santa’s Drug Operation.”

    http://video.adultswim.com/robot-chicken/santas-drug-operation.html

  • cole3244

    most if not all of our fairy tales are based on some kind of prejudice or bias against someone or some group, that’s the way the majority impose their will on a minority and keep the majority in line with the intolerance of the day.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yes, I meant to get into the gay allegory running the whole length of the show.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I adore Crow T. Robot’s take on it… I’ll have to watch that episode soon again, too. Love MST3K.

  • milli2

    Exactly! I always felt bad for him and the way he was treated.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yes, I still love it too. And wonder whether for 1964 this was downright progressive. Let’s face it, the womenfolk were told to stay home and they went out anyway to find Rudolph. (And almost got eaten by a monster for their folly, but still…)

  • perljammer

    Not necessarily; depends on age. From Wikipedia: “In the Scandinavian populations, old males’ antlers fall off in December, young males’ fall off in the early spring, and females’ fall
    off in the summer.”

  • Whitewitch

    I knew I like the Wizard of Oz for reasons my inner being only understood. Thank you for this.

  • emjayay

    The message of Jesus was very progressive for the times and still has a lot to say today. Oddly, Christianists completely ignore all that and much prefer all the tall tales and rules from unevolved ignorant ancient cultures from before the Greeks even invented logic and critical thinking. Even though a big part of Jesus’ message was that that stuff was over.

  • emjayay

    Some comments stolen from imdb:
    “…yes, the outdated and patronizing gender roles of the story are hard to take in this day and age. When I showed this to university friends one winter, both the men and the women booed the line about protecting the ‘womenfolk ‘ ” .

    “Why is everyone at the North Pole such a dick?”

    “But Rudolph’s not the only victim. Hermey finds himself the new social outcast for wanting to be a gay dentist. I realize this is the ’60s, but that’s messed up. Mrs. Claus (ball-breaker extraordinaire) brow-beats her husband into staying fat for Christmas. Donner’s a misogynist douche who keeps the wife at home (‘NO! This is man’s work!’).”

    “… what is up with that whole homophobic/racist/conformity theme running throughout the whole story? Kids, don’t be a “misfit,” until other people find your difference useful and exploit it. Exactly what are the Christmas values in this special – kindness, generosity, acceptance? Nope.”

    “Santa treats the elves badly during their singing, hates freak reindeers and mocks his nagging wife. He actively encouraged discrimination and was self-centered. Santa declares Rudolph unfit. Santa is a selfish greedy old man only concerned with what he can exploit here. It’s disturbing.”

    “When Rudolph is welcomed back, it is not because everyone suddenly realizes they were jerks to him. It is explicitly because his “deformity” is now useful. There is no shame felt by anyone who mistreated him and no half-hearted apologizes. It’s just isn’t right.”

    “…it bothers me to see Santa — a man who evaluates “naughty vs. nice,” and should know better — rejecting Rudolph at the beginning of the story. He essentially dismisses Rudolph as “not worthy” because of his nose, despite his superior jumping skill. Even Rudolph’s dad participates in this bigotry and persecution.”

    “Then, when they find a way that they can “use” Rudolph’s nose for their own convenience, everyone (including Santa, or course) falls over themselves to get his cooperation. There’s a VERY quick apology — but no real sign of remorse. If not for the fog, Rudolph would still be a disliked outcast. Rudolph is very forgiving. They’re lucky he doesn’t go postal.”

    “What kind of self respecting reindeer forgives the entire south pole after a 5 second apology for dumping on him because of his handicap?”
    So John you aren’t the only one. However, even some of the same commenters love it anyway, and recognize the intended message of people with differences being OK. It was 1964 after all. A lot of water over the bridge since then.

  • Monoceros Forth

    I feel compelled to quote this observation from a while back on how Santa’s Workshop never actually makes anything that children actually play with these days:

    “A Christmas Editorial” by Crow T. Robot….What’s the big deal with Santa’s elves anyway? What happens to all those dumb, wooden trains and horses and cars? No kid ever gets ‘em! These are the kind of toys Grandma drags out at Christmas to decorate the house…which smells like her feet no matter how much “Essence of Yuletide” light-bulb ring oil she uses…but I digress. No, these are the real misfit toys. They end up in Marshall Field’s window displays or FAO Schwarz catalogs or overpriced little gift shops in Vermont and Door County, Wisconsin. My message is for the elves: gentlemen, what is the problem? Why don’t we ever see you in front of a circuit board loading microchips into a Segavision with your little wooden hammers? Elf labor short? The good people at Macao are eager to take your prototypes and turn them into a hundred thousand knockoffs! Elves and Santa: take an example from the Keeblers. Now there’s some fairies who know how to market! In closing…step out of the legend days, fellas, and join the century of the Pacific. Oh, and Merry Christmas. The end.

  • emjayay

    Female reindeer have antlers.

  • maria

    The Oz books have a lot more… like transgender. In the second book in the series by L. Frank Baum, “The Marvelous Land of Oz” much of the adventure centers around the boy Tip who at the end of the tale turns into the beautiful Princess Ozma. And there is sexism in the form of General Jinjur and her all-girl amry who in one tale take over Oz and force all the men to do women’s chores… until her army is routed by a swarm of mice that cause the ladies to jump up on chairs shrieking “EEeek!”

    But my favorite Oz character is the Patchwork Girl of Oz who may be the most optimistic female character in children’s literature. Essentially created to give the Scarecrow a girlfriend, this overgrown rag doll believes a girl can do anything and by believing in herself does… even walking through a wall. She did that while holding the Scarecrow’s hand, but because he didn’t believe hard enough, while Patchwork seeped through the brick wall, the Scarecrow merely smacked into its surface.

  • zerosumgame0005

    you mean he’s white?

    /sarc

  • Craig Musselman

    UM…christmas antlers mean the deer are female. All of them. So the entire story is wrong.

  • keirmeister

    John, this was a fun read; but I’m SHOCKED you didn’t mention the dog whistle surrounding Hermey, the blond Austin Scarlett looking, dentist-wannabe elf.

    Dentistry? That’s not masculine…not as masculine as wanting to slave away on an assembly line! And let’s be honest, Hermey wasn’t being shunned because he wanted to persue dentistry. Hermey looked different (more fey), spoke differently, and behaved differently.

    Hermey was gay! That’s why they shunned him! The whole dentist thing was just code for homphobia!

  • phred

    You’ve never heard the theory that the Wizard of Oz is an allegory of the populist movement of the 19th century? See http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/362/is-em-the-wizard-of-oz-em-a-satire-of-the-french-revolution

  • Monoceros Forth

    Remember the ultimate lesson of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer folks: looking different from all the others is OK so long as you are useful in some way. Also remember that Rudolph started out as a promotional gimmick for Montgomery Ward department stores.

  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    Santa a dick? What do you expect from and old white guy who exploits size-challenged people and makes reindeer haul his fat ass and a bunch of toys all over the globe in physics-defying time?

    Has he ever once given any of the reindeer one of the many cookies people leave out for him? Nooo!

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Maybe Santa’s closeted and he needs some anal action bad.

  • lantoniou

    I “live blog” Rudolph on FB and enjoy tweaking it for the retro-values and strange messages. Santa IS a dick in it, and so it almost every other adult. And when you slap a leftist/feminist/queer lens over it all – tongue firmly in cheek – the story lends itself to some pretty harsh – or colorful – interpretations. Like,
    of course Hermy is genderqueer; denied an identity of his own, he dyes
    his wavy hair and strives for any career out of the juvenile
    manufacturing industry. Cosmetic dentistry is obviously a good choice
    for him! The North Pole could use both a team of social workers from Family Services to keep an eye on abused and neglected reindeer bucks and does (Santa sure isn’t, and their families seem content to turn them over to abusive coaches for “games” of dubious value) and some lawyers to enforce Title 9. And as for Yukon and his, uh, relationship with Mr. Native North Pole “Abominable” Snow Monster, between the lumberjack/explorer garb, the search for decorative trinkets and the whole “tooth removal” episode, the kinky gay underculture here just leaps from subtext to in-your-face. The only question is whether Hermy or Rudolph himself will be the first to open an LGBTREO* Center at the lavender palace of King Moonraiser. (*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Reindeer, Elf, Other)

  • ronbo

    Bumbles bounce!

    If you want to avoid a full on heart-attack, do NOT take a look at a Bible! Each version has it’s own spin; but, it’s chock full of 4,000 year old sexism, bigotry and just plain non-sense (and a good dose of hippy-liberal). Fantastic Sams would be verboten to remain properly pious.

    To piss off the Republicans, you might want to pen a dichotomizing book about the ultimate Progressive and damn dated hypocrisy.

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