Rudolph As Ideological War Machine Propaganda

15 Apr 2016

While the story of Rudolph dates back to 1939, it would be another decade before Gene Autry would turn it into a #1 radio hit. That's a fairly important timeline for this cultural phenomenon because, as far as WW2 goes, the U.S. was out of the picture until Pearl Harbor happened in late 1941. By 1949, though, when Rudolph dominated the airwaves, many of the Germanic names and images of the tune had, it can be argued, picked up massive cultural weight. Regardless of whether the lyrics referred to anything *German* in particular, one couldn't in 1949 simply utter phrases like "donner and blitzen" without conjuring at least a bit of a nightmarish spectre, no matter how children-oriented such phrases may have ostensibly been.

The most famous reindeer of all, of course, was Rudolph, a name from the Germanic Hrodulf, which embodied hrod "fame" and wulf "wolf" (source). So, the name has some rather sinister roots, is German and, lets face it, sounds a good bit like "Adolph." Not to suggest, of course, that there is full and perfect correlation between our nasally afflicted caribou and Hitler. But, in the creation of a song-world in which psychology is being administered, it's noteworthy.

In the early stanzas, Rudolph clearly isn't accepted by his peers, and wasn't welcomed by them socially. One could compare that to, say, Hitler's early ambitions to become an artist, and yet failing in that endeavor repeatedly -- even when, articstically, his paintings clearly had merit. See "Mother Mary with the Holy Child Jesus Christ", below, for example. Arguably, he was a fair painter. (I selected this one for the Christmas-appropriate subject matter, but you can search out many more.) But, again, I'm not so interested in pursuing a "Rudolph = Adolph" line of reasoning ... just stating some parallels.

What does particularly interest me, though, is the stanza where Santa becomes involved. He says, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?" So, here you have a situation where no one gives a flying fuck about Rudolph until there's something in it for them, and then he's suddenly a big hero. Notice, though, how this also subtly plays into the psychology of the day. Santa, in this scene is basically Uncle Sam -- a large, literally colorful figure who's in deep shit over a political problem of having to meet some arbitrary, self-imposed deadline via a mission no-doubt fraught with danger. So, he enlists help from the members of society who really couldn't care less about Santa or the other gung-ho reindeer. In fact, no where in the lyrics does Rudolph actively consent. Santa "asks", and then Rudolph *presumably* agrees. But, after the treatment he's already received, would such a reindeer acquiesce? Or would he tell Santa and the others to take a flying (literally) leap?

Which is basically a psychological representation of archaic arguments in favor of the draft -- the setup of a moral imperitive (it being Christmas, and the kids needing toys), the involuntary conscription of the human / animal resources needed to carry out a political mission, and the public relations / heroisation of it all -- the promise of glory "you'll go down in history" for one's sacrifice. This is what's going on, on a profound level of the human psyche, in 1949. When a society frames such things within the context of children's song and literature (and indeed validates such thinking, even unconsciously, by promoting the story to near-myth, #1 on the charts), the tale reflects the zeitgeist in ways that seem innocent and ephemeral yet linger for generations via subtle, hidden messaging that will surely be missed or not understood for ages.

Rudolph is an ideological programming tool meant to indoctrinate American children into the war-machine mentality -- and, like the very best propaganda, is also a whole lot of jolly fun. The irony of the Rudolphian message, though, is striking. Here we have a highly *unique*, unquestionably gifted, individual who is universally outcast by society and should rightly be disgusted with all of his peers, not to mention the no-doubt stifling constraints of a bloated leadership figure. This is an artist archetype, of sorts -- individuals with any number of worthy, noble, self-directed pursuits as possibilities ahead in life. Yet, they succumb and self-suppress these ambitions, taking their place within the ranks -- becoming a squadron leader in this case, sure, but nevertheless quite literally one of the herd.

Merry Christmas!! :-)
--JD

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