The topic of political correctness, especially in the context of representation of the marginalized, has become an especially controversial subject over the past decade. The questions of what is appropriate and what is offensive, and what images send what messages, have been hotly debated in schools, media, government, and community.
Yesterday a friend informed me of the latest (as far as I know) subject of scrutiny in the name of political correctness: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
We all know the beloved, classical Christmas film, but in case you've forgotten, here's a recap: Rudolph is a reindeer who, to the shame of his parents, was born with a nose that glows red. He is often the target of ridicule and exclusion due to his nose, until Santa realizes how useful it is for guiding his sleigh through a dark and foggy night. Rudolph is celebrated as the hero and we are left with the message that it is our differences, our perceived flaws, that make us truly special.
Seems innocent enough. But recently a debate about the film's intentions and message has been revived, bring this family-favorite under investigation. The claimed problem lies in Rudolph's identity as a "marginalized" character and the ways he may symbolize those with disabilities, specifically, or more generally any targeted minority group.
These claims lay base in the scenes which display "verbal abuse," persecution, and rejection of Rudolph on the basis of his physical difference, along with his eventual inclusion only after he is shown to be of service to others. People are arguing that such scenes parallel and symbolize the type of discrimination experienced by marginalized groups in today's society and perpetuate the attitudes that reduce people to their bodies and abilities.
Is there any legitimacy in these claims? Maybe so - Rudolph most definitely does become a victim of harassment and bullying due to a condition of his life which is totally out of his control. At the same time, though, is making these claims in response to a children's claymation about animals a bit of a reach? I would argue yes.
While there is value in monitoring the messages our media sends, especially media directed at children, we have to consider the context of the argument and its formation. In this case, a series of joking tweets was compiled into an article intended to entertain (HuffPost) , which was then picked up by social media outlets, and eventually by mainstream news outlets.
This progression shows how quickly our opinions and ideas about certain things are shaped and disseminated by the media. This sudden anti-Rudolph activism, which began as a mild joke on the slightly problematic undertones in the film quickly became a debate between the most extreme sectors of both liberals and conservatives,with each side claiming hate-speech or another "War on Christmas," respectively.
What we need is to take a step back and remember that this film, made for children, over 50 years ago, is not the real issue. While there may be some scenes that are a nod to a less aware time, and it can't hurt to explain to children that bullying and discrimination is never okay, even if you apologize for it later, the fact remains that this is an animated film.
Maybe it is best we focus this type of energy on bigger problems - think institutional and systematic oppression - rather than going to war over our favorite reindeer cartoon.