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Media Consumption Whimsy Writing Life

It’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Season

The stop-motion animated Rudolph story I grew up watching debuted on 6 December, 1964, or so says the internet. That makes this a timely post.

Every year I’m reminded how much the internet loves to hate on poor Rudolph (the TV edition) for being a tacky tale with its roots in advertising and a plot packed with of cruel, psychologically damaging life lessons. I’ve seen essays criticizing the show for being:

  • capitalist propaganda promoting consumerism & conformity
  • socialist propaganda promoting social justice and the death of Traditional Values ™
  • sexist, ableist propaganda that insists the only human value is usefulness.
  • pro-queer propaganda encouraging people to tear down social and family norms.

Those are pretty heavy messages to pull from a half-hour story about flying reindeer who transport a magic sleigh everywhere in the world overnight once a year. They’re also wildly contradictory. The think pieces only seem to agree on one point: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t a story children should watch or hear or read because they will internalize horrible ideas.

I disagree with all the nay-sayers despite agreeing with many of their individual points.

Yes, Rudolph is problematic. There’s little pop culture from that era that isn’t uncomfortable on on axis or another. Star Trek TOS holds up better than I thought, better than ST:TNG tbh. Despite being radically progressive for its time it still contains plenty of cringeworthy moments. BUT I DIGRESS.

Most stories in the 60’s that received wide distribution, especially visual stories, were landmines jam-packed full of sexist, ableist, utilitarian, Puritan messaging. To expect a commerical kid’s show to be an exception is asking a bit much.

And it’s a bit much to insist it was deliberate. Some creators did have an agenda. People were rejecting the (bogus)”traditions” which had been taught as Forever History during the post WW2 years. The grip of Boomer Mythology–the deliberate social engineering & history erasure movement undertaken by Social Leaders terrified of various marginalized groups–was already slipping.The idea of combatting dissent by doubling down is not exactly new.

But a lot of the bad storytelling came from writers putting their mundane unexamined biases & prejudices front and center of their stories. Take another Rankin-Bass “classic,” The Little Drummer Boy. It’s another one I loved as a little kid. Outsider orphan finds a place to belong after suffering & adventures? Plus magic animal companions? Should be great to revisit, right?

Ugh, no. it is unwatchable as an adult. Every last element of it is offensive and cringeworthy in the extreme. The plot is saturated with exoticism, egregious bigotry, and the worst excesses of Christian preachiness. The characters are racist caricatures, the dialogue is unbearable.

Rudolph, in contrast, holds up. It hits some of the same beats as The Little Drummer Boy (and they’re story beats that show up in my own work often enough for me to recognize my affinity for them, by the way) but it dodges the worst cultural baggage.

Oh, there are problematic elements a-plenty, from blind promotion of social & sexual norms and assumptions of what people should want to make their lives fulfilling, to a villain whose fate is to become a literally toothless minion of another character. Just to name a few.

But the basic premise — a protagonist achieving self-acceptance & pride in what others insist is a flaw, a plot that ends with them with stepping up to make sure things are better for those who come after, including and uplifting differences instead of bullying & rejecting others in turn? That theme still shines through the clunky parts.

For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

(In case you’ve never watched it, here’s my details-omitted plot summary of Rudolph. Child gets mocked and rejected for being different, gets no support from the adults in his life & leaves home to make his own way. Finds out he isn’t alone in being misunderstood & unwanted and makes friends. He matures, forgives the people who drove him off (in the process finding out they regretted their cruelty) rescues them from peril, returns home, and finds he is needed for the very traits people once mocked — so he makes his help contingent on ALL the rejects being included & people being accepted as they are.)

And the one trope that will ALWAYS suck me into a story is “Misfit outsider collects a band of fellow rejects and eventually save their haters despite being mistrusted and undervalued”

Rudolph’s story just reaches right in and curls up in my heart. So imma keep watching & loving it every year. And maybe accidentally writing it over and over into my fiction.

Anyway, that’s it. That’s the post.

But for your entertainment, here be a sampling of the “Rudolph Is Awful” material. Some of it is published as “parody,” some is wholly serious, and this is only a SMALL smattering of the Deep Dive Overthinking Analysis availble for the low, low cost of a few searches & far too many hours spent slogging through the prose.

https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/holiday/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-sparks-debate-over-bullying-bigotry/dn4rYh8ctjxqhl4PuhPv2I/

https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/12/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-is-your-latest-problematic-fave.html

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/19/christmas-shows-deep-questions-rudolph-charlie-brown-grinch-column/2688932001/

Categories
3. Other Things Whimsy Writing Life

Random thinky-thought

I’m testing out a new approach to my work/life balance: ranking comfort & happiness higher than Greater Productivity.

It feels strangely subversive, even radical, to take care of myself first, to rest when I’m exhausted, to do what feels good, even if that means not doing a thing.

“No pain, no gain,” is the mantra of the modern world, and our culture shouts, “You Are What You Make/Do/Consume” from every platform. “How much have you made?” is the standard metric for measuring value.

It’s HARD to stop treating time like it’s a commodity to be spent, to stop asking “what have I got to show for it?” as a measure of an activity’s value.

All those lessons on The Intrinsic Value Of Hard Work I absorbed growing up? They’re not easy to set aside.
But I’m trying.
Because…I kinda like it.

Also, there’s the part where my joints are enforcing the slowdown by flat-out REFUSING TO FUNCTION if I push them too hard, so there’s that.

The shoulders and wrists and hips and suchlike gotta last me a few more decades, so if protecting them means I write less, lift & haul less, DO less, then well…then I will practice enjoying what I can do with ‘unproductive’ time. There’s a lot I can do. “Stay active but be more careful” covers a lot of ground.

And yes, I’m aware of how lucky I am to be in a position where I can choose to do less and still continue to eat, have a roof overhead etc. Yeah. Gratitude is a thing too.

Anyway. It was on my mind, now it’s on the blog.

Until later.

Categories
Writing Life

Inside my head

  • You know  what happens when I am a Good Homeowner and schedule regular maintenance? I discover our heater has a cracked heat exchanger, that’s what. The old one lasted 26 years, so I have no complaints. And it explains the weird behavior of the CO detector last winter. (A couple of times on super-cold days it would beep once, then stop.  Now I know it was catching the exhaust seeping back from the exchanger and saying, “HEY, I SMELL CARBON MONOXIDE…no, wait,  it’s gone now, never mind.”)
  • So, anyway, we’re getting a new heater soon. (Apparently some people wait for the crack to get big and immediately dangerous. Yikes. Nope. Not me. I like breathing.) The AC unit is just as old and didn’t do a good job this summer, so we’re budgeting to replace that too. We could plug in electric heaters and not freeze but Spouseman will melt in a Chicagoland summer without cooling. So that’s the latest big deal.
  •  Anyone analyzing cable television shows by their advertising would conclude that the main audience is, “people with diabetes and/or cancer, people who care passionately about condiments, and people who need cheap car insurance and expensive security systems.”
  • The latest in searches:
    • bubble wrap invention date
    • single item narcissism
    • pumpkin size varieties
  •  Media update!
    • Book: Kingdom of Ash by Sarah Maas. It’s the big sprawly, conclusion to the long, long, looooong classic fantasy saga. It would be easy to list out a dozen things about the series that rub me entirely the wrong way, and a half dozen more that make me wince…but…I liked it anyhow.
    • View: Jurassic World. Um. I enjoyed the dinosaurs, but ugh. It’s one excuse after another for major CGI battle & chase scenes, with gratuitous gore. (Keep in mind I don’t mind gore qua gore. In this movie it was jarring in the wrong way.) Oh! OH!  And  “diversity characters” who are walking weak stereotypes? Awful. Worse than the ridiculously thin villains.  Did I mention I enjoyed the dinosaurs?
    • ViewOcean’s 8. Fun, basic, heist movie. The callbacks to Ocean’s 11 and 13 were super too. I kept thinking Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock were the same person in different wigs, but that’s not a flaw in the movie, that’s my brain’s little issue with face recognition.
  •  Random cat pic:

    This is the earliest pic of Scooter I have in the blog archive. Enjoy.

  • No Context WIP snippet:

    The tenth time the dog sprang to his feet and alerted to a blank spot on the wall, Deena lost her patience. “Seriously, Bazel? What is your issue?”

    And someone answered in a deep, pleasant drawl, “He has good instincts. So do you, grand-daughter.”

And that’s all the all there is for this time.

Categories
Writing Life

Inside my head

  • I heard an owl the night before last, and again last night. I was indoors. The owl (need I say?) was not. The call was clearly audible for several minutes. Creepy as hell, also pretty cool. It was a Great Horned Owl, for those wondering. Yes, I looked up the call online. I resisted the urge to play back the recording outside to see if the owl would answer.
  • I’m having more trouble than usual with mistaking words for other words containing the same/similar letters. With fantasy names and geography (Nirmana versus Rimarn, to make up an example) this is merely distracting.  With regular words in non-fiction reading, the results can bring reading progress to a screeching halt as  my brain tries to process what the word “pickle” is doing in an article about city planning. (not making that one up.) Brains are weird.
  • The latest in random searches:
    • blackberry plant genus
    • plot of Pericles
    • historical men’s sock styles
  • Dream geography: I visited the beach town for the first time in a while. There’s an old-fashioned park by the door motel, and a beach hidden behind huge dunes, with huge breakers and a permanent monstrous storm about to hit, and lots of little shops always boarding up their windows. This time there I got to pet lots of cats.
  • ::deep breath:: Did a second pass on reading the editorial letter and browsing line edits, still thinking through possible changes. I feel like a kitten rolling in a large ball of string. Happy, excited…and more than a little daunted by the task of untangling it all. I can do it.  The question is, can I do it in time to release in February? Here’s hoping.
  • Must-share site of the moment –>Gods In Color  This site is packed with amazing info about historical research into Greek & Roman sculpture. Discovered it in a New Yorker article, “The Myth of Whiteness In Classical Sculpture. SO COOL.
  •  Random cat pic:

    Scooter is still spending his days in this spot.

  • I watch Law & Order reruns as a kind of brain-free decompression It lets me keep police/legal fiction tropes and themes readily available for writing my cozy mystery while resting the wording part of my mind. It ran so long it’s a fascinating snapshot of American social development through pop culture. It’s  freaky and painful to see the evolution of so many harmful crime myths  over that twenty-year run.
  •  Speaking of pop culture…media update!
    • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. My only regret: I have to wait AGES for the next one to come out.  First-person present tense. Two things I do not usually enjoy, but which worked beautifully for the protagonist and the world.
    • At last I have finished the Inheritance trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. I started it ages ago, but had to set it aside until I could embrace new characters in the second book.  I was ready, and I gobbled down the remaining two books super-fast.
    •  Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire because I knew it would be delicious and crunchy and satisfying, and it was.
  • Miracle Water infomercials disturb me on so many, many levels. From its usurpation and warping of Christian faith into commercial product (far from a new thing, always horrific in every incarnation) to its reliance on magical thinking, survivorship bias and other logical fallacies, they are sad and scary.

That’s all the all there is for now.