Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared on network television in 1964, and I have watched it with delight nearly every year since 1969. It has always been my favorite of the yearly
children's Christmas specials. Somehow, the program really resonated with me.
Hmm, why might that be?
We know what makes Rudolph different. He has a magical, glowing nose. Sure, maybe there is something slightly phallic about that glowing red knob he tries so hard to conceal, but basically Rudolph is just differently abled than the other reindeer. It is disturbing that his "non-conformity," as the snowman narrator labels it, makes him the subject of such overt ridicule, but we've all been on playgrounds. We know what horrid little brutes kids are.
Hermey, the misfit elf, on the other hand, appears to have several strikes against him. Only one is ever clearly stated in the course of the program: Hermey doesn't find making toys to be particularly satisfying. He wants to be a dentist, you see.
"I'm just not happy in my work, I guess" he says, when the portly toy factory manager upbraids him for his lackluster toy output. This honest comment from Hermey is met with derision and tittering scorn by the other elves. (Believe me, Hermey, I've been there.)
What no one ever mentions, however, it that Hermey is apparently of a different race then the elves. He appears to be a human of remarkably diminutive stature, much like Prince. As we all know, short stature alone does not make one an elf. Even when I was a child, I wondered what the deal was with Hermey. I noted that he does not sport pointed pointy ears. He also has a more svelte physique that his more rotund coworkers.
The viewer is left to wonder--is Hermey's work really not up to snuff, or is he perhaps a victim of institutionalized racism? Hmm.
But then, there's something else about Hermey, isn't there?
You know what I mean. He speaks in a subtly lisping, high-pitched voice that even school age children understand as the mark of a sissy. And what about the lovingly styled blond tresses? I wore my bangs like that for year in graduate school, and I know how hard it is to keep that rakish flip in place. (Granted, the humidity at the North Pole is much lower than in New Jersey, so Hermey had advantages that were denied me.) Hermey is also the only "elf" who has livened up his jaunty cap with a splash of hot pink. We know what it means when precious blond boys wear pink don't we?
Hermey isn't the only likely invert we encounter in Rudolph. On the "(Fire?) Island of Misfit Toys", for example, we meet a rouged-up jack-in-the-box named, of all things, Charlie. Rather than just stop at the courthouse to have his name legally changed, Charlie (who speaks like a mincing Charles Nelson Riley on helium) has enough internalized self-hatred to consign himself to snowy exile along with the choo-choo with square wheels, the pistol that shoots jam, a polka-dot elephant, and a cowboy that rides an ostrich. (Don't worry pardner, sometimes cowboys ride a whole lot of things they're not supposed to.)
So this year, when you sit down with a triple-strength gin and tonic to watch Rudolph triumph over adversity and body fascism, keep an eye on Hermey. Maybe this is the Christmas that he and Charlie-in-the-box hook up in the broom closet while the elves are loading the sleigh.
Thinking deep thoughts so you won't have to,