Christmas Unwrapped: Concerning Claymation

At the risk of bursting your holiday bubble, I’m going to apply a feminist lens to some holiday favorites and pastimes for folks who celebrate the Christmas holiday. A few nights ago, I happened upon a Christmas special, where they showed the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Claymation. At first, I was so excited. I remember watching this and other Claymation movies as a kid. Settling in throughout December with popcorn, PJ’s and blankets to absorb timeless Christmas tales that my parents watched when they were kids. Fun, family-friendly activity…right?

But wait! This wasn’t the way I remembered it. Rudolph had some serious stuff all up in that tale. I’m guessing it’s not the only one either. Since this is the one I saw though, I’m going share a few observations. To start, the whole premise of rejecting, alienating, or punishing “non-conformity” hardly seems to reflect Christmas spirit, peace, or love. Hierarchical nature of the North Pole is pretty patriarchal. “Donner just became a proud papa,” “Santa can’t object to you now,” “No, this is man’s work,” and lining up for inspection by the higher ups! Don’t even get me started on the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s an institution of snowy oppression! Maybe this is all to be expected. Maybe it’s totally uncool. Rudolph’s parents demonstrate rejection right away, noting his “faults.” In many ways, the attempt to hide Rudy’s unique qualities reminds me of the rejection of LGBTQ youth. Maybe the biggest concern here is the endorsement of bullying and alienation by adult reindeer and even Santa!

Another point of feminist contention here is the representation of female characters. There are very few, for starters. The ones that are there are only supporting characters. Many show up as mother-figures or pretty love interests. That is, of course, everyone except for the elves. They all appear to be White, for starters. Male-bodied elves, obviously wearing blue or green, can have unique features. Some are tall, some are larger than others, some have glasses, and some have varying hair color! Oh my! All the “little lady elves” wear pink, have perfect blond hair, and slight bodies with cinched waists. Little girl deer don’t even get to participate in reindeer games. They giggle and watch from the sidelines.

An aspect of the movie that I think relates well to anti-sexual violence work is the incrimination of the Bumble. Retaliation (residency restrictions), removing teeth (castration), calling names and intimidation (“just desserts” in prison) when the Bumble is made vulnerable all remind me of the way our culture treats people who commit sexual violence. When journalists use words like “monster” or “predator” to describe these people, it does nothing to further the cause. For another example of bashing villains, check out the Grinch Song.

Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg; there’s plenty more to deconstruct. It feels like I’m just getting started on these timeless Christmas classics, but I’m going to check out for now, and ask you tune in for the next installment on deconstructing Christmas Carols. Warm wishes until then!