Talk about a Grinch! A C.W. Post professor contends in his self-published e-book, No More Bullies at the North Pole, that the 1964 TV film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer promotes bullying. He also points to incidents of sexism, favoritism, exclusion and hypocritical behavior in the holiday classic. That Rudolph, with his nose so bright, becomes a hero by leading Santa's reindeer on a foggy night is no matter to Professor George Giuliani, who claims that this isn't a cute little story; the rampant use of the word "misfit" aimed at Rudolph sends the wrong message to vulnerable children.
If the good professor is correct, I'm guilty of irreparable damage to my kids. And not only by subjecting them to Rudolph -- the movie and the song, a double whammy of emotional wreckage. When they were little, I exposed them to a running onslaught of destructive bedtime stories, fairy tales, poems and nursery rhymes -- most of which contained not only bullying, but also rampant violence and reckless malevolence.
Consider "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen. The homely main character is mercilessly ridiculed, not only by the other ducks, but by all the poultry in the barnyard. As if the chickens are so fly. But the worst part of the story is the end, because long after becoming a beautiful swan, he just couldn't shake his childhood nickname, and continues to this day to be known as "the ugly duckling."
For unmitigated violence, just remember "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." With her mother dead at childbirth, Snow's homicidal stepmother hires a hit man to lob off her head in the forest. You want to talk sexism? It's only after Snow promises to cook and clean their house that the dwarfs who find her allow her to stay. The rest is well known -- stepmom, still hell-bent on assassinating Snow White, poisons her with an apple (how the apple survived this PR crisis is beyond me!). The dwarfs are sad to see their cleaning girl dead, but promptly stuff her into a coffin and go about whistling while they work.
Hansel and Gretel's parents, near starvation, lure the kids into the forest to die, just so there's two less mouths in the house to feed! The siblings come upon a candy house inhabited by a cannibalistic witch who immediately sets about fattening them up so she can roast them in the oven for dinner. Sweet dreams, kids!
And since it's winter, let's go over another perennial favorite, Frosty the Snowman, who's dashing in a sporty top hat and pipe. One minute the children are frolicking about town with their newly humanized playman, the next the kids are sobbing into a messy puddle of melted snow.
After the next snowstorm, you can bet the kids are back at it, rolling out a freshly minted snowman. I'm no expert, but I know from experience that kids are resilient. And they learn from the adversity inherent in these stories. Cinderella taught my girls how to cope graciously with mean girls and that nothing good comes out of missing your curfew. From Little Red Riding Hood they learned to be wary of strangers, especially those claiming to be grandma. From loser Charlie Brown, emotionally tormented by Lucy, they picked up on compassion and that a freakish attachment to baby blankies is acceptable.
As for Rudolph, sure "...all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names" but he rose to the occasion. With his shiny nose so bright, he saved the day, schlepping Santa's sled around town. Gaining a new sense of value and self-worth, from that day forward -- no more crap from the caribou.
So with all due respect to Professor Giuliani -- bah humbug, sir. And please -- stop picking on Rudolph!
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This essay originally appeared in Newsday as an op-ed.