Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Truth About Rudolph

‘What’s wrong with sentimentality?’ someone asked me the other day. (We were reading Dickens at the time so you can probably work out where the question came from.) The trouble with sentimentality, I answered, is that it presents a simplified emotional response to a situation.

Of course all writing is to some extent a simplified description of reality; otherwise it would be reality. But there are degrees of simplification. At this time of year the sentimentality count goes right off the scale.

Take, for example, the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The song goes like this:

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games

Then one foggy Christmas night
Santa came to say,
‘Rudolph with your nose so bright.
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’

Then all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!’

Consider for a moment the difference between the first verse and the last. In the first verse Rudolph’s peers are laughing at him and calling him names. Then, simply because Santa chooses him to pull the sleigh, they don’t merely stop their unpleasant bullyting behaviour – suddenly they love Rudolph!

Is this likely? I don’t think so. Surely what would really have happened is that the other reindeer would have waited until Santa’s back was turned and then they would have kicked the shite out of Rudolph. Can’t you just hear them. ‘Think you’re so special, do you? Well here’s a Christmas present from us!’


Paul Lamb said...

I've thought about this very transformation myself too. My conclusion goes in a different direction though. Rudolph (and the other reindeer) don't have any intrinsic self worth. At least they don't see themselves that way. The other reindeer get their validation from being part of a homogenous group. Rudolph eventually gets his by being validated by Santa himself. To the others, Rudolph is nothing until he is made so by some authority's declaration.

I see this sort of thing happen all the time with popular writers. Writer X is not known for his stylistic achievements or his artistry but his sales. So when Writer X pens a "how to write" book, everyone immediately considers it gospel because "he must be doing something right." A best-selling author has received his validation from the higher authority of the market, never mind whether his writing has any intrinsic worth. The same sort of thing happens when some obscure writer's novel is made into a movie, perhaps the highest validation of a story's worth in the pop culture. Suddenly everyone has "discovered" this writer and finds his work "interesting" or "profound." This happened to the writer of Forrest Gump who was a bit annoyed that people were discovering him so late in his career. He'd had three or four novels published before then. He said he'd been there all along but only got "recognition" after the movie made him famous.

If I were Rudolph, I might have told them all to go solve their own problems.

Brian Keaney said...

So Rudolph was the first celebrity writer.

Derek said...

I think Rudolph would have ended up as a venison burger.