(about abnormalities, normalcy, Christmas, xenophobia, and hope)
At Comfest I often see a particular guy with a nauseating warty skin condition; throughout the year in Goodale Park and our neighborhood there are several people who flail their arms and shout to no one in particular; still others have a variety of “abnormalities” or “deformities”, or they pull their meals out of the dumpsters. They are “different from us”, not “normal”, and most of us find that uncomfortable; we wish they’d disappear into another part of the city. We often marginalize them by looking away, and by changing direction when they approach us on the sidewalk.
Although these people will never be completely accepted by the majority (who by their sheer numbers define what people should act like, look like, care about, and do), every Christmas we make a disingenuous promise that they will be. This promise is boldly presented in the Rankin-Bass Claymation classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and is reinforced with each singing of the Rudolph song.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.
Most people believe that at the North Pole Rudolph was first considered a misfit, and then through a turn of events and a turning of hearts was finally accepted by his peers. This is partly true; he was clearly considered to be a misfit.
CONDEMNATION BY THE “NORMALS”:
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
This is typical behavior (for most of us) toward those who are different from us, and I am no exception. Everything and everyone who is “like me” is in some sense an affirmation of me (or, at least my Ego). I conversely feel threatened (on some level) by those who are “not like me.” I don’t call them names; I just don’t call them anything.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say,
“Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Santa exploits Rudolph, only “accepting” him as a means to fulfill his immediate needs. He doesn’t even really accept Rudolph. He just needs Rudolph’s nose. “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” might more accurately be written, “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t IT guide my sleigh tonight?” Santa moves rhetorically from Rudolph’s nose to Rudolph, creating a false impression that Santa views him as an individual. By jumping right into how he can utilize Rudolph’s deformity, though, Santa reveals that he actually thinks, “Hey, his schnoz can solve my problems!”
What I want Santa to say is, “Rudolph, it’s foggy out, and I realized that your nose can guide the sleigh and save Christmas. But I’ve learned something from this, too. I’ve learned that everyone is useful and worthwhile in many ways. It just happens that I can use this particular quality today, but I see beyond that. Rudolph, with all of your great personal qualities, seeing you as a misfit was my loss.” Santa is already supposed to know all of that.
FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS:
Then how the reindeer loved him (etc.)
The reindeer’s relationship with Rudolph changes only when Santa endorses him, confirming his usefulness. When an external authority deems an unnatural condition to be desirable, the fickle among us queue up to become best friends. If Rudolph’s nose hadn’t been bright enough for Santa’s needs, he never would have been accepted. Remember Forrest Gump and Rain Man? Like Rudolph, both were “accepted” when their quirks became useful. I bet if we find that the mentally ill can presage downturns in the stock market, they’ll suddenly appear to be accepted, too.
The truth is that we all fall short of “normal” (that mythical ideal that is forever a moving target), whether it’s because we don’t care about college football, don’t watch television, or live with some form of depression. So beware, someone might find out that you have an abnormality that isn’t exploitable.
It seems odd that Santa would mock the misfits at the North Pole since he is himself quite an oddity, living with his wife on a barren icescape with thousands of elves. But exploitative behavior is certainly no stranger to a man whose elves build toys for all the children on our planet each year. Since Santa’s workshop at the North Pole is clearly a hotbed of xenophobia, it is perhaps predictable that the polar opposite, Antarctica, celebrates great collaboration, notably between international scientists.
Maybe it’s because scientists are such swell people. Or maybe there really is something to that “polar opposite” thing. I bet they never make fun of anyone down there.
The Sesquipedalian Dumpster Diver