The Rudolph Controversy

North Pole bully?

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Christmas controversy. George Giuliani, a professor of special education at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University was on Fox News arguing that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and particularly the Rankin/Bass animated special portraying the story, promotes bullying. You can watch video of the segment and read a longer post about the issue here.

We all know that the story of Rudolph is about a reindeer who is visibly different from his peers and is ostracized because of that difference. He then (in the words of Giuliani) “does something extraordinary” with his unique feature and is accepted because of that feat, perhaps only because of that feat.

In this story, Rudolph is bullied by his peers. “They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games,” as the song says. Giuliani also points out that in the animated special, Comet (the reindeer father) and Santa Claus also contribute to the bullying by discouraging the other reindeer from playing with Rudolph.

Two possible lessons that could be learned from this tale?

1.) Even kids who are bullied because of their differences can overcome those obstacles to accomplish great things. You just have to believe in yourself.

-Or-

2.) It’s normal to tease kids who are different – kids will be kids – and when the bullied kid does something great, his peers will take notice and treat him better. You just have to learn to deal with the bullying.

I’m perfectly happy with the first lesson. The second, though, makes me feel icky. It’s true that bullying is a reality that many children (and adults) will face, and encouragement to just get through is certainly needed. But shouldn’t we as a society reject bullying behavior at every turn? 

After going over the song lyrics again, I don’t see adult bullies in the Rudolph story, so I don’t think I will go so far as to strike “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from my own list of songs for music therapy. I think the song still ends up being the story of someone whose own unique quality saves the day, rather than the story of someone with a disability being rejected then exploited for that disability. I might be less comfortable watching the animated special now, though.

What do you think? Did you know there was a controversy over this song? How do you feel now about sharing this story with your clients and loved ones?

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