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Santa’s a Bully in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

Paul Kalis

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny nose. All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”

“No More Bullies at the North Pole,” a new self-published e-book by Dr. George Giuliani, professor of Special Education at LIU Post, examines the role of bullying in the 1964 animated television special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“About four years ago, I showed the program to my students, and I asked them to look for 10 negative signs,” said Giuliani. “They had never ever thought of it that way. These are graduate students who have seen it many times and never saw these negative signs. That’s when I realized I should write a book about it.”

In the TV program created by Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment, Rudolph, a reindeer at the North Pole, is born with a physical disability: his nose glows red. Because of this perceived impairment, Rudolph is excluded from Santa’s team of reindeer, the other reindeer are told not to play with him, and he is teased and bullied. He is also rejected by his father, Donner, one of the members of Santa’s team.

“What I am trying to do is, hopefully, get the kids listening to the story to think on their own,” said Giuliani. “We have in this country right now an epidemic. We have kids, unfortunately, committing suicide; it’s terrible. With the internet, you can bully an awful lot of people at the same time. That should never be. How do we change our culture? The best way to do it is to get into the hearts and minds of young children at a very early age. If the show was to be made today, I don’t think it would be allowed.”

Giuliani finds there are incidents of sexism, favoritism, exclusion and hypocritical behavior, among other negative behavior, in the program. For example, one of Santa’s elves, Hermey, is told he can’t follow his dream of becoming a dentist because elves are required to make toys. Toys that are not perfect are deemed “misfits” and are sent to live on an island away from everyone else. The word “misfit” is used a total of 27 times in the TV special.

In the end, Rudolph returns home after running away and is no longer mocked. The others are sympathetic towards him after the kidnapping of his family by the Abominable Snow Monster. It is when a blizzard prevents Santa from his journey that Rudolph’s gleaming nose is noticed, and he is asked to lead the sleigh.

“Now, Rudolph can do something worthwhile for Santa,” said Giuliani. “Santa now accepts him because he is going to do something very extraordinary. The message to kids is that we can mock you all we want, we can bully you all we want, and we are going to continue to do it, but we will accept you only if you can do something extraordinary. That’s total hypocrisy; that’s what Santa Claus was teaching.”

Rudolph was created in 1939 by Robert May, an advertising executive, who produced the poem, which was given away to children by Santa Claus at the retail store Montgomery Ward. Approximately 2.5 million Rudolph poems were distributed during the first year of its publication. In 1949, singer Gene Autry recorded a musical version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” composed by Johnny Marks.

“There are people in this country who feel that it’s an attack on Christmas and that my book is trying to destroy Rudolph,” said Giuliani. “I am not trying to destroy them at all. I had no idea that my book would be looked upon as a political book.”

“Santa Claus is a Christmas miracle that brings joy to all children of the world,” said freshman Radiology major Kristine Soto. “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but I think the majority of the world doesn’t think Santa’s a bully.”

“No More Bullies at the North Pole” has received national coverage. Giuliani spoke on “Fox & Friends” and ABC News. Newsday also published an article and two opinion pieces. The book, written as a guide for parents, teachers, and librarians, imagines a scenario where Mrs. Claus is able to point out the injustices at the North Pole to Santa and help him change his ways. Currently, the e-book is in the process of being re-edited. It will be available in print sometime this May or June. The book can be downloaded at his website

“Then, all the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history!”

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