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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

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