Poor old Rudolph. Of all the anthropomorphic manifestations of ritual sun worship, he has to belong to the most fickle. That a reindeers’ fate in the social pecking order can be decided by something so trivial as who drives a sleigh once every 365 days is simply Santa propagating and encouraging mindless competition between the herd, encouraging them to fight between themselves purely so he can remain top dog.
I mean that’s all it took wasn’t it? One night Rudolf is the butt of every joke; kicked and taunted, bullied and jeered, shunned and cast out by reindeer society – an outsider, a freak. Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa rocks up, and before you can say ‘freak muzzle mutation’ Rudolf’s up top, guiding Santas sleigh that night just because his nose is bright. Suddenly, all the reindeers love him don’t they? Whooping and jumping, shouting out with glee, spouting stuff and nonsense about history.
Alpha Santa – that’s who he is; scheming and manipulating to assert dominance and control over his pack. It’d be easy to assume that one of the other reindeer – you know, one of the ones that used to laugh and call him names – was dominant, because they were asserting some dominance over Rudolf. But that’s not actually how packs, or groups, work. Contrary to what you might think the Alpha of any group isn’t usually the loudest, or the most cruel; that role goes to the most Beta of the betas.
An established alpha male is generally confident in their authority; they have already proved their position and don’t have the need to constantly assert as much through constant threat displays and signs of dominance. To do so would, in fact, be counter-productive, as it would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, as sign that the alpha doesn’t actually have faith in their own authority. No, it’s the betas who have to show signs of dominance, since they’re the ones that are vying for position. The betas are constantly in-fighting and slipping up and down the greasy ranks of the reindeer social hierarchy. And the ones who are closest to the top are the worst, since they’re the ones with the most to lose and are doing their best to challenge the alpha.
This is, of course, why Santa doesn’t kick any of his reindeer in the shins in any of the songs, why you never seem to see his reindeers cower from him in fear in the movies. No, Santa’s method of control is far more manipulative and scheming – he just encourages his clan to fight between themselves, meaning none have the energy or focus to challenge his supreme, total authority.
This isn’t just true of reindeers though – you can see it in your own friend groups, your family, your office politics, your kids playing in the playground. The one who everyone defers to, who everyone listens to, isn’t normally the loudest or the most bullish; control doesn’t come from something so simple as intimidation. The loudest, the most aggressive, is usually a beta somewhere fairly far up the pecking order, who has the most to lose from any lack of authority and so will defend their position out of desperation and fear – which is often difficult to discern from aggression and confidence, funnily enough.
This is where the scuffles happen and in a pack, this is the one to fear the most as they will go the farthest to make a demonstration out of any victim. When challenged by a pack of people, this is the one who will be doing all the gesturing, become the most violent and the one you have the most to fear from in a violent scenario.
This means that the top beta is the most likely to become violent, probably the first to begin an approach, but will always be looking to the alpha for approval for their actions, or the approval of the pack. If the top beta is attacking though, the rest are less likely to follow since, well. he ain’t top dog. If the beta gets beat down, then he’s just learnt a lesson. If the alpha gets involved in an assault, then you can expect the rest of the pack to weigh in too. It’s the difference between the beta in your friend group saying ‘right lets go’ and walking out of the door wiith nobody following him, because everybody is waiting to see what the real top dog, the quiet one, does. I’ll bet you even do this yourself without realising it. Unless you;re the one walking to the door on your own of course…
That’s why the reindeer used to laugh and call him names – fear, and dominance. Then, one foggy Christmas Eve one poor, picked on, mutant reindeer had enough, and fought back. A little known fact about the famous song is that Rudolf’s nose used to glow bright white – that red you can see? That’s reindeer blood.