He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!
Constant surveillance of your activities, judging everything you do, a police state headed by an amply-proportioned old man. North Korea in 2005. Also Santa Claus. He sneaks through your house at night and takes the food that you leave out.
He’s making a list, checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naught or nice
Not only does he know what you’re doing at all times, he acts on that information. If you stay on his good side, you will receive patronage. If not, he will publicly shame you. While everyone else is celebrating their presents, you have nothing but a lump of coal–useful in the 19th century, but not much good any more. And whenever anyone asks you what benefaction the Supreme Leader bestowed upon you, you have to fess up to your ignominious gift.
You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why
No dissent will be tolerated, all complaints will be punished. You do not have the right to free speech and expression; unacceptable comments will result in censure. Be afraid–look out, he is coming, coming to dispense punishment on your body and soul.
Okay, okay, I’m kidding. Sort of. It’s a holiday song that we probably shouldn’t take too seriously. But there are some pretty clear totalitarian messages (they’re too strong to be undertones). Santa is pretty clearly keeping tabs on us, and I’m not a fan of surveillance.
Another problematic aspect of this song is the moral message. Don’t be “good” because you should, or treat people properly because that’s the way you would want to be treated–do it to get STUFF. That’s not a strategy that will lead to harmonious human relations. If people (kids) are told they should only behave well to get free things, and they internalize that process, then good luck getting them to behave morally without a carrot.
Christmas in America isn’t mainly about the birth of Jesus. And it’s less and less about giving gifts to people about whom one cares. It’s more and more about buying STUFF. iPhones, flatscreen TVs, game consoles, clothes, etc. With a small part of overeating and watching college bowl games tacked on. In a sense, this is good for the economy: it relies on demand for stuff, so if more people buy more stuff that increases incentives for hiring and/or productivity increases (let’s be honest, it’s more of the latter).
At the same time, the festival of capitalism and consumerism leaves me, at least, wanting something different. It’s a very individualistic holiday, and it brings out some of the worst traits of Americans: fighting other people for cheap electronics. I’ll have more about this in the coming weeks, but I think there’s a link between teaching kids to obey so that the Supreme Leader will magically grant them an XBOX One™ and adults brawling for sale items.