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Identity and the Island of Misfit Toys

Slightly belated post as I meant to post this just before Christmas. Oh well, here it is anyways.

When I was a kid one of the stalwarts of the holiday season were stop-motion animations- Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In spite of their kitsch at least one night in December I would sit and lose myself in a world where Santa really did try to bring every child something, where the Abominable Snowman was actually a Bumble and they bounced just as Yukon Cornelius said. As an adult I can look back and see where concepts were idealized and commercialized to promote the contemporary music scene of the mid-20th century.
However, I can also see where these shows helped to define a very particular element of human identity for me. To this day I refer to this level of interaction as the “Island of Misfit Toys” when describing the concept. This comes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Rudolph ended up on the Island because he wasn’t accepted by the other reindeer during their reindeer games. In essence, he was ostracized by much of his kin group due to his now-famous nose. Before saving Santa’s gift delivery operation, though, Rudolph makes his way to the Island of Misfit Toys. Being noticeably different Rudolph befriends the inhabitants of the Island. He becomes sure in himself and his own capabilities during the course of development of these relationships. When he returns to the North Pole he is more confident- even if his kin does not accept him he knows he has friends that already do, and will. By the time the fog rolls in he is ready to assume the role of lead at the front of Santa’s sleigh.
The Island of Misfit Toys helps to illustrate the imperfections inherent to humanity- the unique elements that make people individuals even when they are in a group. What makes the Misfits stick together was location- the Island- and social similarity- not conforming to their kin group’s norms. Although not always physically related a relationship very similar to kinship bound the Misfits- one of adopted affiliation. These are the relationships developed and maintained by individuals in a manner very similar to those of kin. For Rudolph the Misfits became, in effect, the kin group he chose. His friends understood his capabilities better than his natal kin.
We each belong to at least one Island of Misfit Toys and some are larger groups than others. They provide a network of support necessary for humans to negotiate the social world, a place to belong as part of a group while still being able to be a distinct individual. Everyone is a misfit to someone else. No one is perfect. If people were the world would be a very boring place indeed. Be good to your Island, Reader, this holiday season. They are the family you get to choose.

From my Isle of Misfit Toys to your,
Dr D Knight
Viking Specialist at Large


Manuscript Submission

I must apologize, Reader, the past few months have been very busy. As a grader November is full of biological anthropology essays and primate observation reports. Its always a few weeks of long days but its decent work at least. Normally I just grade and occasionally tutor in November- this year that changed. I set up an online presence and concerted design push for the new Lodi Theater Company and their charity production of A Christmas Carol Radio Hour. The show went brilliantly and will be available online for listening on Stone Soup Radio. I’m not a performer personally as I only brave the anxiety derived from an introvert doing public speaking for Vikings. I do have a lot of creative and talented friends, though, that have more time to express themselves if I help them to be more organized.

The other major project that has been occupying my time has been the editing for my first book. I finished it a few days ago- the hardcopy is on its way to Pen and Sword Books now. It feels decidedly odd to not have ulcer-inducing-end-of-graduate-school-editing worries. Don’t get me wrong- book editing causes stress too, but my Isle of Misfit Toys never directly experienced what graduate school did in my case. Anyways, Viking Nations: The Development of Medieval North Atlantic Identities is off and won’t be back until its time for indexing.
And now I get caught up on holiday preparations. I prefer to make things where I can- added social nostalgic value and all. Instead of my desk and coffee table being covered by editing papers they are now covered in baked goods and candies. My furry children keep wandering around the house with their noses in the air.

Now that the major projects are completed for the immediate future I’m hoping to be more regular posting.