Rudolph and Ableism: Run Run (Away) Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came out in 1964. It was definitely a product of the time with blatant sexism: "This is man's work". But, few people talk about its ableism (the subset of it against disfigured folks). 

Rudolph is constantly bullied by his peers and adults. Santa Claus, a supposed bastion of light and love, gets annoyed by Rudolph's nose and writes off a possible future of Rudolph on his team. His parents tell him to hide his disfigurement—partly to help him fit in but also not embarrass them.

People say the moral is to not tease people who are different because everyone has good qualities. I understand where they could get this idea as Rudolph's nose actually became a boon. I never saw it that way, though maybe Hermie's story arc could be interpreted as such.

Everyone was allowed to say and do whatever they wanted to Rudolph without repercussions. When he proved useful, he was supposed to gratefully fulfill a role to prove his worth and "keep his place" in their society. If Rudolph would have said "no" or demanded sincere apologies, he would be the jerk. The moral for me as a disabled kid:  People will mock/shun you until you prove useful, and you better let them use you without complaint because your acceptance by people is contingent on letting them take what they want.

Since Rudolph proved his worth, Santa Claus agrees to find homes for the misfit toys because he realizes there is worth in the "not typical". No one at the North Pole ever considered the "odd" could be awesome. It's nice that Rudolph paved the way to greater acceptance, but it bothered me so much that worth has to be demonstrated before the misfits were considered remotely equal... everyone else's worth is just assumed.

Have you ever considered Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from my angle?


  1. Rudolph is a deeply disturbing story about bullying and valuing people only if you find them useful. I think it only rose to popularity because of the stop motion work.

    1. They say it's about not bullying, but I don't see it. If the only reason not to bully someone in the future is because they will prove useful to you... not a great outlook.

      Congrats on your new book, by the way!

    2. Thanks!

      And, yes, it's totally about bullying. Even weirder to me as an educator is that the adult reindeer participate in and encourage bullying of a child. What the heck was wrong with Comet?