I had a kindergarten class today. It was a relatively light day, as far as academics go. The afternoon was spent with a Christmas “play” (more like a recital, but they called it a play). The rest of the day was spent with Christmas books and a couple short movies. Almost none of them involved Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
This was a problem.
Because over and over again, in any picture book or movie that showed the reindeer without Rudolph, the same response occurred: “WHERE’S RUDOLPH?!?!?!?!?!” My options of explaining this were three:
(1) Rudolph is a registered property of some media rights company and so any story where Rudolph appears must therefore pay this company money. In an effort to make their product less expensive and therefore enjoyed by a larger number of people, writers and producers of Christmas material where Rudolph does not play an integral part will leave Rudolph out of it. This, of course, diminished the enjoyment of the story for kindergarteners everywhere. So tell your parents to write your congressman in opposition to future copyright extensions so that eventually Rudolph can be more widely enjoyed by children such as yourself.
Pros: Accurate and potentially motivating young people for political involvement.
Cons: None of them will understand what the heck I am talking about.
(2) Think of it as though there are multiple parallel dimensions. What takes place in one universe does not necessarily take place in others. For instance, in this story, there are talking bears and wolves. As we know, in our dimension, bears and wolves don’t talk (and are more likely to attack one another than be best buddies). So, while Rudolph may exist in the world of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, he does not necessarily exist in this world of talking bears or wolves or this other world where dogs talk to one another in various accents.
Pros: Concedes the possible existence of Rudolph and places the context of the story within the storybook worlds where they are being told.
Cons: None of them will understand what the heck I am talking about. Except the words “Rudolph doesn’t exist.” They will understand that part.
(3) Rudolph is dead.
Pros: Short and to the point.
Cons: Will make kindergarteners cry.
(4) This story takes place before Rudolph was the lead reindeer. Remember how, at the beginning of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer how Rudolph wasn’t a part of the sled team? This story is like that.
Pros: Does not foreclose existence of Rudolph (and therefore Santa), comparatively short and to the point with an example they may be able to understand.
Cons: Kids have an incomplete understanding of “before” and “after.” Plus, if for instance there are only two reindeer, they will wonder why only two were necessary at the time of the story but Rudolph was one of several. Coming up with an explanation of how union regulations requires the hiring of more reindeer, or how animal rights advocates insisted on it, would require a greater understanding of the real world than kindergarteners are likely to have.
I went with #4, though left out the part about union regulations and instead opted for an explanation that the story took place when there were less people (errr, bear-people) and therefore less presents required carrying and therefore fewer reindeer were required.
To get to a more serious point, this actually is indicative to me of the problem of indefinite copyrights. Rudolph has extended beyond something that some guy made up for Montgomery Ward and into a cultural icon. Not even a pop culture icon, but a through-and-through cultural one. I suppose we should count ourselves fortunate that Santa Claus himself wasn’t invented under the current copyright regime.
(To any kindergarteners reading this blog, that last part is a joke. Because, of course, nobody invented Santa Claus!)