Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Island of Misfit Toys

the King of the Jungle (Tanzania(?))
Recently, I changed my blogger moniker to Moonracer and that is not because of Moon Racer the transformer (who only appeared once in the animated series and then underwent a name change due to some trademark issues when she got to the toy stage).  Think small female warrior for that character.

No, the inspiration came from a book by Brad Thor (Full Black) where one of the characters (a spy who is also a dwarf) asked for Moonracer to be his code name because of King Moonracer on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Kudos to Brad Thor for a brilliant code name that suited the character (as an aside, the book is a good, fast read if you like spy novels).  The name resonated and when it come to blogging (since I am not building a brand here given that I've done just about everything wrong on that front), it seemed like a good choice -- at least for the time being.

Mama Love (Tanzania)
I am currently home on a rainy night that follows a period of excessively warm weather for this time of year.  For once, I remembered to hit record on the DVR and have just enjoyed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  A confession -- it is always a bit weird to watch this show in technicolor having grown up with it in black and white.   As the show started, I checked in on Wikipedia (I get the limitations on Wikipedia as a trusted source) but here are a couple of facts worth noting:
  • Rudolph first appeared in a coloring book created by Robert L. May for Montgomery Ward in 1939.    The store traditionally purchased and gave away coloring books for the holidays and commissioned this book as a cost-saving measure.  That first year, they gave away 2.4 million copies!
  • The television show first appeared in 1964 (I was five) and has been aired (in one form or another) annually since 1964 -- making it the longest running Christmas TV special -- EVER!
  • It's one of only four 1960s Christmas specials still being telecast -- the others being A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.  
One of a Kind ((not really) Tanzania)
Having done this bit of research -- I can only say that ALL these television shows must have imprinted on me when I was just a wee small child watching them for the first time.  How else to explain that they remain among my favorites?

As to those misfit toys -- the island was NOT in the coloring book.  It was introduced in the stop-motion television special and Wikipedia (in an article that is not well-verified) reports that the ending (where Santa  picks up the toys for distribution on that stormy night) was added after the first broadcast when the 1964 audience expressed its dislike that Rudolph had forgotten his promise to speak to Santa. 

The Rudolph tale, through adult eyes, is really a rather sad commentary on the value we put on conforming to some set of standards that society has put in place.  It showcases parents who don't accept their children for who they are, a patriarchal figure (Santa) who dismisses the young Rudolph as an aberration with no future on his sleigh, and a coach who leads the charge on ostracising Rudolph from participating in the reindeer games.  It's a short version of Lord of the Flies (another coming of age story with a much less happy ending for the main protagonist).

The Real King of the Jungle (Botswana)
Of the non-misfits, the only character with any courage to embrace someone who is different is that soft-eyed little doe with the long lashes, Clarice.  She tells Rudolph from the get go that she likes him and that she likes his nose!  Now that is very cool.  It is also very cool (albeit potentially catastrophic) that Rudolph and Hermey the elf who would be a dentist (also introduced for tv and also bullied by an adult -- the Head Elf) recognize that they ARE different and they set out to make their way in the world (OK, they were pursuing fame and fortune but that is another blog post).  Brave youngsters getting out of Dodge before Rudolph gets a nose job and the desire to be a dentist is verbally beaten out of Hermey.

Shadows (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Among their first stops is the Island of Misfit Toys which is governed by King Moonracer, a lion with wings.  The King spends his nights flying the world to rescue misfit toys so that may come to live on the island.  It is a forlorn lot of toys -- a bird that swims, a charlie in the box (instead of jack) -- all of whom are looking for just one child to love them.  the King's day job as governor of the island is determining who should live there (he rejects Rudolph and Hermey).

On the face of it, I think that the story resonates for me precisely because the misfits recognize who they are and they basically set out to create their own destiny.  I like the Moonracer character (obviously) -- he is a rescuer and a bit of a fair judge.  After hearing their case, he offers Hermey, Rudolph, and Yukon Cornelius, their traveling companion, a night on the island and plans to send them away in the morning.  This is a fair decision.  After all, they are not misfit toys and don't really fit with the reason the island exists.  i suppose that the three travelers would add to the diversity of the crew but let's face it Rudolph is an hour-long show and if Moonracer let them stay, there would be no embracing of diversity by the larger society and NO rescue of the misfit toys!  Sometimes you have to let a story be as it was intended to be.

So do I still love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer after watching it with the overly critical eyes of a middle-aged adult?  At the end of the day, yes.  It's a story about allowing yourself to be yourself and that doing that allows people to love you for who you are.  Does it make me sad that the story portrays a society that demands conformity rather than individuality.  for sure.  But the most riveting fiction is often about strong portrayals and a good story line.  And the best literature (or movie) puts a mirror up to reality and asks us to take a look at ourselves.

Finery (Tanzania)
As for me, I remarked to a friend who asked me where I had come up with this new blogger name that it had resonated in Brad Thor's book and it resonated with who I was as a child.  That period in my life where I struggled with the inner drive to be me (embrace what makes me different) and the external pressure to conform to some set of standards that society had for me.  These are not the standards that pertain to doing well in school or being well-behaved.  I aced those (hmm, the first one but not so much the second).  They are the standards that are most embodied in the cruelty of children -- maybe it's not having the right clothes or not being friends with the right people.  I struggled mightily with those standards -- finding individuals (instead of packs of individuals) who could be my friends around something two or a bare few of us loved and found entertaining. Finding people who liked themselves and who liked me -- just the way we were.   
And, in a nutshell, that is the essence of Moonracer.  He finds toys and provides a safe refuge.  He doesn't try and fix them -- he just leads them in hoping that being a bit different will, ultimately, OK.

Pretty advanced thinking for a lion with wings! 

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