Health + Safety

Rudolph the Red-Nose ‘Bully Victim’ Reindeer

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The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” is typically remembered as a fun holiday story for kids about a cute little reindeer with a shiny nose and a happy ending. Well, it might not be so cute anymore.

George Giuliani, a special ed professor at Long Island University in New York, has written an alternative to the Christmas classic called “No More Bullies at the North Pole” and says the treatment Rudolph receives from jolly St. Nick and his merry band of reindeer is equivalent to bullying.

In the story, when Comet, the team coach, discovers that Rudolph’s nose glows, he banishes him from the team and tells the other reindeer to never let him join in any reindeer games, much like a bully. “What a terrible message to send to children,” Giuliani said.

And Santa is no better. He chastises Donner, Rudolph’s father, for having a red-nosed offspring and enforces policies at the North Pole that keep Hermey toiling away as an elf instead of allowing him to be the dentist he dreams of being. “The whole community of the North Pole is into exclusion, not inclusion. You even have an island of misfit toys. The word ‘misfit’ is used 27 times,” Giuliani said. Giuliani admits that he’s never been a fan of the Rudolph story, since hearing the Christmas carol at age 14 and thought, “What an awful song this is.”

In the cartoon, Hermey and Rudolph eventually run away together, an “unintended consequence of bullying,” Giuliani said. “Which is what’s going on in America today, with the worst tragedy of all being some commit suicide,” he added.

But even Rudolph’s happy ending doesn’t make the story better according to Giuliani. “The message to disabled children is we will not accept you as you are, but only if you can do something extraordinary,” he said. Herbert Nieburg, a Connecticut psychologist and bullying expert, agrees and also says that Rudolph’s story is a case of bullying, specifically “ostracism and exclusion.” By their standards, bullying is a recoccuring theme in holiday classics, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” when Charlie Brown is ridiculed for his scrawny Christmas tree, and in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in which Mr. Grinch himself tries to make everyone as miserable as he is. For parents who grew up with these classic Christmas cartoons, it’s no longer enough to sit and enjoy them with your children.

“Parents should have a conversation with their kids,” Nieburg said, “the main one being about difference. How do we work with people who are different? It’s not just having a red nose, it’s being gay, smart, athletic. Parents should talk constantly with kids about how we treat other people.”

Giuliani invites parents to read his book with their kids after watching Rudolph. The book, which can be downloaded at his website learningaboutbullying.com is about 10 of Santa’s policies that Mrs. Claus shows him are unfair or hurtful. It’s a book that reflects the times we live in.

“If Rudolph was coming out now, they would have a hard time selling it,” Giuliani said.