Not that I didn’t have an excellent excuse to be watching it the other day. Yes, an excellent excuse indeed.
All I wanted to do was get in an hour’s worth of spinning on my stationary trainer. That’s all. Just a little workout, tone up my fitness, loosen up my legs, shake off the cobwebs from what has been a pretty rough patch of winter weather. The last few weeks of snow, ice, and cold temperatures have meant one thing: no riding.
But, as anybody knows who has spent more than thirty minutes on a stationary bike, the time just crawls by as you pedal to nowhere. You really need a distraction if you want to remain sane, so it was perfectly rational for me to troop down to the family room and set up my bike and trainer in front of the television. Any one of you out there has probably done the exact same thing hundreds of times.
There weren’t any ball games on, and I didn’t want to spin through some boring cooking show so, being the Christmas season and all, I settled on a bit of light holiday fare: “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It looked pretty harmless, so I hopped on the trainer, clicked in, and started to spin.
Being stuck indoors for a long time can do funny things to a person, so it’s hardly a surprise that I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this show before. Something about it seemed awfully familiar. First of all, there were no flashy visual effects or snappy Japanese-style animation. This was too old and too low budget for that.
No, what we had here were puppets.
Elf puppets and reindeer puppets, and a jocular singing snowman puppet with the voice of Burl Ives, a famous, rather rotund, folk singer from the early 1960’s.
Then it hit me. Reindeer. Burl Ives. Oh good lord, I remember this show.
It all came back in an instant, like a Bad Cartoon Flashback. Suddenly it’s 1967, and I’m six years old, curled up in my pajamas in front of the family television at Christmas-time, watching Rudolph and Santa and the singing snowman and…and…
And I found that, after more than 30 years, I was still really pissed-off at the way that the other puppets wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
I should probably backtrack a bit here for those of you who weren’t exposed to “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” as a small and impressionable child. Let me explain. On the surface, “Rudolph” looks like any one of a number of treacle-sweet Christmas Spectaculars that the three major television networks used to pump out every year like so much stool softener. Legions of singing elves? Check. Dancing snowflakes? Check. Toys for all of the good little girls and boys? Check.
A mutant glowing reindeer with low self-esteem? Check.
Yes, a mutant glowing reindeer. You can forget the happy banality of a show like “Sesame Street” or the serene trippiness of “Teletubbies;” what we have here is children’s television that relies upon a more “traditional” formula to entertain: good old-fashioned Grimm Fairy-tale-style psychosocial cruelty. The result is a story that is just so off-kilter, just so dysfunctional, just so weird for a happy Christmas Special that even back in 1964, when the show first aired, the reviewers at “TV Guide” were scratching their heads trying to figure out just what the hell was going on:
“Fantasy Hour â€“ Children: Burl Ives dons the suit of Sam the Snowman to narrate this animated fantasy of the reindeer born with a glowing red nose. Rudolph, not to be outdone by humans, develops a complex about his incongruity, and this is heightened when the other reindeer ban him for their social gatherings â€“ until a blizzard threatens to cancel Christmas.”
Ho, ho, ho. A “complex about his incongruity”? Let’s not beat around the bush here: I suspect that even a stuffed reindeer puppet with a poorly-wired light bulb for a nose would quickly recognize that life is not turning out according to plan when Santa Claus â€“ yes, Santa Claus, the one guy on the planet who is supposed to love everybody â€“ decides to have your furry butt run out of town on a rail for being a freak.
Let the kids spend a magical television hour with Rudolph and you’d better have the child psychologist on speed-dial.
You might also want to have an EMT on call as well, because at this point all thoughts of me just sitting in front of the television and just spinning easily went out the window. Okay, I know that I’m really not supposed to watch too much television because, well, I tend to get a little, um, excited. A little too wrapped up in the story, if you catch my meaning. I’m watching that fat Santa asshole and his arctic elf freak show treat poor Rudolph like…like….well, like a stuffed reindeer puppet with a red nose. I hardly got past the opening credits before I really started spinning the cranks, working hard, sweating like a pig on crack, pushing a huge gear and jacking my cardio up waaay past my target heart rate, triggering the alarm on my heart rate monitor.
Damn…you…Santa…you…candy…cane…eating…. (*wheeze*)… BASTARD.
Oh, you know the story. Shunned by his family and neighbors, ostracized by Santa, Rudolph is banished from the North Pole and left to wander the frozen tundra, a sad and broken reindeer with a glowing red nose. Yes, banished by Dear Santa, not the generous and caring Chris Kringle beloved by all, but the Fuhrer of the North Pole. An irritable control freak who rules the workshop at the North Pole with an iron fist. An evil, kinky, twisted Santa shacked up in the frozen wilderness with a heavy-set woman who indulges his fetish for dressing in red velvet and black leather boots while he enslaves a race of small toy craftsmen in his sweatshop above the Arctic Circle.
That Santa. The dude who just couldn’t tolerate a flying reindeer who was different.
Towards the end of this truly magical hour of family television it looks like Rudolph’s best chance retrieve a small shred of his dignity and strike a blow for glowing reindeer everywhere presents itself on Christmas Eve when Santa needs his help. An impenetrable blizzard has rolled in, and Santa really, really needs his little buddy with the antlers and the glowing nose â€“ you know, the one that he has just sentenced to a lonely, nomadic life wandering a godforsaken arctic wasteland and dodging packs of reindeer-eating yetis â€“ to come back and pull his sleigh full of toys through the murk.
Ho, ho, ho right back at you Santa.
As I pedaled along, eyes glued to the screen, I could almost see the thought balloons float by in the evil Santa puppet’s sawdust brain as he pondered his predicament: “Hmmm…. No Rudolph means no Santa delivering toys. No Santa delivering toys means unhappy children. Unhappy children mean…”
Unhappy children mean a big problem for Santa.
Indeed, Santa knows all too well what would happen if he ever failed to come through with the goods on Christmas Eve. By daybreak most of the world’s major capitals would be in flames, put to the torch by roving mobs of surly, disappointed youngsters. The United Nations would be forced to call an emergency session. Rome, London, Stockholm, and Moscow would all be reduced to smoking rubble for the want of a few toys. And then, having done their worst, the evil Santa puppet knows what would happen next. Having had its fill of destroying most of western civilization, the angry, torch-wielding mob of disappointed children would then come for him.
Which in my book would be freakin’ cool, except that it doesn’t happen that way in the story.
No, what happens next is supposed to be a beautiful example of the Magic of Christmas. Rudolph returns to the North Pole, happy elves sing and dance while the Fat Guy slithers up and makes nice, hoping that Rudolph will forget all about that whole Santa-sponsored social outcast thing in exchange for the “privilege” of hauling an overloaded sleigh around the globe. The climax comes when Santa asks that immortal question: “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
What an asshole.
Having let this holiday injustice fester for over thirty years, I sure wasn’t about stand by now and let Rudolph â€“ noble, guileless, brainless, Rudolph â€“ be manipulated by the evil Santa puppet any longer.
No, I was determined that it would be different this time.
I was really working the bike now, sprinting like a madman, heart rate pegged, smoke coming off of the rear tire, bike and trainer bouncing across the basement floor as I thundered to Rudolph’s rescue like the Eighth Cavalry. The Evil Santa’s question hung in the air, waiting for a response. Before Rudolph could once again prove to all reindeer-kind that he has zero self-esteem, I lunged out of the saddle, shoved the bike forward across an imaginary finish line and shouted at the top of my lungs, “NOOOO RUDOLPH! DON’T DO IT! DON’T PULL HIS SLED! HE’S JUST USING YOU FOR YOUR NOSE! HE JUST WANTS YOUR NOSE! KICK HIS ASS, RUDOLPH! KICK HIS FAT LITTLE ELF ASS!”
And then I collapsed in a sweaty heap on the carpet, victorious. Finally, reindeer puppet justice had been served.
Cue Burl and the elves. Roll the credits.
After regaining consciousness, I untangled myself from the wreckage that once was my bicycle and toweled off. I spent the rest of the afternoon tisking and tutting to myself about the dangers of too much television and once again getting drawn into the whole Rudolph Saga. I vowed to stay away from any electronic devices for the rest of the holiday season.
But, you know, my heart rate data for that session was pretty spectacular, and I could use another interval work out. Hey, I see right here in the TV Guide that one of my favorites, Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” is on Channel 5 this Thursday. And, boy, that Grinch sure does piss me off…