I didn’t watch any Christmas shows this year. But on Christmas Eve, we somehow got on the topic of the show on Rudolph, the elf that wanted to be a dentist, the island of misfits, and the abominable snowman. We all agreed that the other reindeer were mean and somehow that’s overlooked in the story. After all, the other reindeer only let Rudolph play after he has shown that his “differentness” is actually useful to the community. If Santa hadn’t needed some extra light, I don’t think the reindeer would have ever let Rudolph join them.
The reason I find this interesting is that I think this show is so representative of our cultural mythology and reality. We like to believe that we are free to be whatever we want to be but the reality is that there’s incredible pressure to fit in. Being different is not acceptable unless the majority finds some value in being different and makes it acceptable.
We’re good with nerds that way, just look at any show that focuses on teenagers. How many story lines are based on nerdy kid doesn’t fit in, gets picked on, saves the day for a popular kid, and is redeemed in the eyes of the rest of the crowd? And people wonder why we have a “bully” problem in this country? If you don’t fit in, you’re considered fair game until somehow you do.
The bullies are never really punished. Okay, the over the edge ones do but never the popular individual who legitimizes the outsider. You can usually get a “sorry” out of them but that’s about it. The group continues to function as before, just the outsider is now included.
Think about how much our society actually reflects this myth. Teenagers who feel like outsiders are encouraged to make friends, join activities, get involved so that they fit in. We blame the outsider for not fitting in rather than the group that ostracizes him. And we assume that everyone really wants to fit in so once they are part of the group, the group doesn’t have to change.
I’m sure many think it’s perfectly natural and would never consider why did Santa allow Rudolph to be treated in such a way. After all, he didn’t even know about Rudolph and even Rudolph’s father was embarrassed by him. This isn’t Santa’s fault, he was the one who actually recognized him, right?
But then I think about another very popular Christmas story, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim never has to prove himself to Scrooge by discovering a way to make coal burn more efficiently or reuniting him with his lost love. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen it so I’m probably getting some of the details wrong.) Instead, Scrooge is essentially punished by the three ghosts of Christmas for his actions. He suffers torment and realizes the error of his ways. The outsiders don’t have to do a thing to be accepted by Scrooge, there was nothing wrong with them to begin with.
Unfortunately, this message isn’t as strong as it might be since Scrooge is such an unlikable character. We all know that there is something wrong with him (greed) so of course he will have to change. In his own way, he’s deviated from society’s expectations and reforms to join the group.
Ultimately, we as a society don’t know what to do with people who don’t fit in or don’t want to fit in. For someone to go her own way suggests that the way the group is going might not be the best way. It’s kind of like hazing or some other rite of passage. You’re finally accepted by the group and you expect everyone else to have to suffer the same as you to join the group. But then you see this person who’s not even interested in your group. What’s worst is that even if you drop the hazing, the person still doesn’t want to join.
So what does that mean? Absolutely nothing if you joined the group because it was what you wanted to do rather than what was expected. But how many of us have joined groups without really considering the reasons why? No one likes to be taken for a fool and if you actually examined your reasons for following the crowd, you might end up feeling foolish. So it’s much easier to find something wrong with the individuals who don’t join the group than confront your own reasons for joining the group. After all, these individuals are, by definition, different.
Why do I care about any of this? Because I’m a homeschooler and there is nothing wrong with me. I’m really not interested in playing the reindeer games and if Santa needed me, I would help but I still wouldn’t join the games. If you like playing reindeer games, great, most reindeer do. Just remember, you don’t have to play reindeer games to contribute to the community.