Friday Flotsam: Class Values and Rudolph

1. Something many people forget or miss is the fact that different social classes or castes or what have you have different value structures. This isn’t the same as having different values as such: the same religion and the same moral ideals are liable to be preached across all classes. Rather, it’s a difference of emphasis and perspective, so that things that would, in an academic sense, be held by all to be good and just may be socially enforced in one stratum of society and ignored in another, or will manifest in different ways (C.S Lewis touched on this point in a number of his essays).

For instance, the middle class, city-dwelling or mercantile class would emphasize innovation, education, practicality, and hard-work, because these are the values that lead to success in that environment. Expanding the family enterprise, bringing in the daily custom, keeping customers happy, and so on means that the family thrives. On the other hand, the aristocracy would emphasize manners, courtesy, ‘impractical’ virtues (that is, ones that are liable to give you a disadvantage if your opponent is less honorable than you), loyalty, continuity, and so on. An aristocrat inherits his property, and generally does so because some ancestor did some service to the sovereign. Thus, the two most vital points are maintaining the good-will of the sovereign and passing on the legacy intact to the next generation.

2. This is obviously an oversimplification presented as an illustration. If you want to see this illustrated very well, see The Lord of the Rings and pay attention to the different ways the different characters think and react. Just as an example, note how the Gaffer describes Bilbo teaching Sam to read and write: “Meaning no harm, and I hope no harm will come of it.” Working class values include suspicion of anything that looks like ‘giving airs’ or showing dissatisfaction with the worker’s lot.

3. Anyway, I bring it up as a reminder to fellow writers: when considering how your characters think and what they value, remember to consider what their social class and position is and what that would likely mean for the question. If your hero is the son of a blacksmith, he had better have a very good reason for expressing the sentiment that it doesn’t matter where a man comes from provided he is a good man or that nothing is more important than education. Not that he can’t, but it requires something in his backstory or the story itself to have it make sense, because those are generally not working class values.

4. Another point in this regard; the fact that we live in a society that tries to ignore class distinctions means that these differences can be very easily used to manipulate people, as much of the population tries to cling to all different value structures at once. So if you want to push something immoral, stress practicality and ‘going along to get along’ (middle-class values). If you want to push something impractical, talk about moral obligations and national honor (aristocratic values). Jumping back and forth from different perspectives and trying to convince the population that they need to try to adhere to all of them at once can get you more or less whatever practical results you want.

5. Re-watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my niece and nephew for the first time in ages. Overall, I thought it actually holds up fairly well; the story-book tone of the proceedings helps to cover a multitude of sins, and Rudolph is a likable hero. Plus we have the added benefits of the strong personalities of Hermey and Yukon Cornelius (the latter of whom is probably the best character in the film). As I’ve argued before, in making ‘good characters’ the point is not necessarily to make them deep or multi-dimensional, but to make them ‘strong’, emphatic, strikingly themselves. Whether the audience feels that they are ‘realistic’ or not is less important than whether they remember them after the story is over. Hermey and Yukon, as well as Rudolph himself, are not ‘deep’ characters, but they have strong personalities and are fun to watch.

Biggest problem is everyone’s reaction to Rudolph’s nose seems way too overblown, with Santa even exclaiming that Donner ‘should be ashamed of himself’ for it. Why? Kids making fun of him on the playground is one thing, Santa Claus issuing moral condemnations for a glowing schnoz really doesn’t make any sense at all.

Likewise, the timeline seems all wrong, with Rudolph’s parents and girlfriend searching for him for so long that he grows up and then almost immediately knows to look for them in the abominable snowman’s cave and arrives just in time? Why would he even think to look there? But, like I say, things of that sort are somewhat mitigated by the story format, so it’s not too big a deal. The absurd cruelty is the biggest problem.

(And don’t try to pull the ‘people are like that in real life’ card. People – adults – are that cruel when there is some kind of reason behind it: a cultural prejudice, for instance, or moral judgment. Not necessarily a legitimate reason, but a reason. What, are glowing red noses a mark of the untermensch in reindeer society or something?

Hermey’s ostracization makes much more sense, as I can absolutely believe that elves would consider it just shy of blasphemy to not like making toys).

In any case, it’s a good film and I enjoyed it overall. Would certainly recommend.

6. By the way, did anyone else notice that there are only six other reindeer when Rudolph joins the team at the end? And that Donner conspicuously is standing off to one side and not being hitched up with the others? Maybe he and Comet get fired to take the fall for the red-nose debacle.

And has anyone ever figured out what was supposed to be wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys?

One thought on “Friday Flotsam: Class Values and Rudolph

  1. “And has anyone ever figured out what was supposed to be wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys?”

    I think her problem was she couldn’t recite the phrase she was programmed to recite. Either she was “mute” to children’s ears or she would say a phrase other than, “How do you do?” So it was not a cosmetic of necessary a physical blemish so much as she had wires crossed in her mind somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

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