The Case of the Grinch


Jim Carrey as the Grinch in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000) , Directed by Ron Howard (Universal).

Jim Carrey as the Grinch in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000) , Directed by Ron Howard (Universal).

Throughout this article, Christmas will be abbreviated as X-mas. This does not take the “Christ” out of Christmas, but merely abbreviates “Christ” with the Greek letter “chi”, a tradition that dates back to the Roman empire, and so should not offend anyone. The rest of the article is another matter.

In our family, there was a tradition of reading Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on X-mas. In the narrative, the character of the Grinch is the antagonist, but he is not the antagonist of a particular character or number of characters. Instead, he is the antagonist of an abstract concept. He is the antagonist of X-mas itself. In Platonic terms, he is the antagonist of X-mas-ness.

At the end of the narrative, of course, the Grinch loses completely, which is manifest in his transformation upon hearing the music from Whoville. In being transformed, the Grinch is ultimately absorbed into the Platonic Idea X-mas.

This is reminiscent of something Gore Vidal once said: A war is something that people do to one another. Terror is an abstract noun. So, a ‘war on terror’ is meaningless. It is like having a ‘war on dandruff’.

We see that at the level of a narrative, the Grinch is defeated by X-mas. Theodor Seuss Geise shows the Grinch’s defeat precisely by the Grinch’s transformation. This is fitting because, being an abstract noun, X-mas would be incapable of destroying the Grinch physically. 

One can imagine a more realistic ending to the Grinch narrative: a police detective from Whoville uses forensic evidence to ultimately capture the Grinch. The Grinch is surrounded by a SWAT team, and alternately either takes his own life, is killed by the SWAT team, or is imprisoned. Even though the Grinch loses in these endings,  X-mas does not win. The win would be credited to Whoville law enforhcement as represented in the character of the detective.

There is another possible narrative that is arguably the most interesting. In this narrative, the Grinch simply gets away and remains at large, to the terror of the townspeople of Whoville. Despite their best efforts, he outwits and harasses them at every turn. He steals X-mas every year until X-mas is ultimately destroyed.

If Dr. Seuss’ tale can be summed up in a moral point, it would be to say that X-mas can exist entirely independently of its capitalistic manifestations, so it is pointless to even attempt to subvert it.

A the level of a cultural reality, the story of the Grinch serves as an absolute reinforcement of X-mas. The Grinch himself becomes a symbol of X-mas. “The Grinch” is added to a whole genre of art that contributes to a messy ideology in which the dominant narratives have to do with Christ, on the one hand, and Santa Claus, on the other. The one is taken seriously in the culture, and the other is merely a diversion for children. One could imagine an alternate universe in which the tale of the Grinch were not only  one of the dominant narratives, but the one taken seriously.

In this alternate universe, parents would warn their children before bed: “We have all of the gifts ready, but we can only hope that the Grinch does not break in and steal them!”

If “The Grinch” is not a conservative work, it is in the very least neo-liberal, because it serves to reinforce the cultural phenomenon of X-mas, but it does so without reference to a religious ideology. In the same way that “The Grinch” transformed X-mas as a cultural reality in small way, the work of Dr. Seuss in general both reinforces and redefines the neo-liberal politic.

The arguments in favor of the Pre-Transformation Grinch (PrTG) are arguments that are critical of the cultural status quo and seek to promote a more fundamental cultural change. To embrace the PrTG is to take a step in the direction of Žižek, who would see a Capitalistic puppeteer behind the progress and development of American ideology in general and X-mas ideology, in particular. In this connection, one might point to a singular damning piece of evidence that is an unfortunate part of the opus of X-mas related art: the song “Christmas Shoes” by Newsong, to-which was added an ironic viral video directed by Ben Metz.

The song is a brutish argument in favor of X-mas with all of its trappings, and, if taken seriously and non-ironically, would fall squarely within a conservative politic.

In “Christmas Shoes”, the boy’s distress over his dying mother is expressed in his desire to make a purchase of shoes that he cannot afford. The economic transaction is front and center in the song to the point of describing money coming out of a wallet.

It is arguable that the proper response to this song is not sadness and sympathy, but disgust. One is of course not disgusted at the boy portrayed in the song, but the fact that the artist ties the boy’s love for his mother to an economic purchase, made all the more dire by the boy’s lack of money. It would make a world of difference for some if the brand of shoes were included in the song, but not for one who is simply critical of the capitalistic nature of X-mas.

Intellectualism is squarely in favor of the PrTG in the sense that intellectualism ought to serve as cultural counter-point. While it would be impossible for intellectualism to destroy X-mas, intellectualism could nevertheless win in the same way that X-mas wins over the Grinch in Geise’s narrative, namely, by transforming X-mas into an entirely non-X-mas-like event, in the way that many Jews eat Chinese food on X-mas. Whether or not that would be practically possible does not take away from it as a theoretical entity in a possible world. 

Theory aside, it is evident that X-mas is a cultural, physical, and capitalistic force with the power to bring people together and implicitly to violently rip them apart.