How The Grinch Undermined Christmas (Capitalism’s Merriest Holiday)

Read the headlines recently and you’ll inevitably encounter this year’s threat to the holiday season. “Will The Supply Chain Shortage Ruin Christmas?” One can picture The Grinch’s cheshire grin growing over a discarded newspaper. But the problem isn’t COVID, or The Grinch, the only one who can see the season for what it really is. The problem is the focus on all the wrong things that reassure capitalism and irritate The Grinch to the point of evil.

During a time when we try to make things jolly, this headline isn’t jarring because it’s hyperbole but because we know it’s true. The supply chain shortage can actually ruin Christmas because Christmas isn’t in our hearts, it’s in our pockets. Scan the aisles of any store this time of year and it’s easy to believe that nearly half the nation views Christmas as secular. The holiday is less synonymous with the birth it’s meant to commemorate and more about the droppings we will receive from the glutinous man commanding reindeer to trudge mounds of gifts around the globe at his behest.

Christmas is the personification of consumerism draped in blinking lights and tied up with a red velvety bow, the merriest celebration of capitalism’s greatest need, the ultimate proliferation and consumption of stuff. Really, The Grinch doesn’t hate Christmas, he hates what the holiday lauds. Maybe the guy isn’t a creep, maybe he’s just anti-capitalist.

You’re a lean one, Mr. Grinch

The Grinch lives off the grid. He does not participate in the system, he doesn’t go shopping or on vacation, he doesn’t even have a mortgage. Instead, he lives alone in a cave on top of a mountain, entirely outside of the capitalist structure. He doesn’t generate waste, either. In the film version, he survives by collecting and repurposing trash from Whoville. When he decides to head to town to steal all the Who’s Christmas stuff, he doesn’t need to find a reindeer but makes one out of his dog and reuses old sacks to fill his sleigh.

If you’re paying close attention to the Dr. Seuss tale, it’s not necessarily the stuff that pisses of The Grinch, it’s the commotion. “They’d rush for their toys, and then, oh the noise!” High on his perch, The Grinch cannot see the plundering, crafting, and consumption, but he’s not safe from the shrieks and cheers of the industrial system at large, either.

We all know the rest. Down below in Whoville, The Grinch snatches up every speck of Christmas he can find, even if that means wrenching out the heart of sweet Cindy Lou Who and stomping on it. It’s when he returns to the mountaintop that The Grinch’s tale turns revolutionary.

The Unity of Community

Entirely expecting to hear nothing but weeping, The Grinch is confronted by singing. How? How could the Whos, a direct representation of the most capitalistic of Americans focused entirely on acquiring, still find a way to be joyful?

It’s within the need to sing that we can fathom hope not only for a Christmas without consumerism but a life without capitalism. Take away all the stuff and you’ve suddenly got a system deprived of the very thing that provides its life force. What we’ve got left is what we actually need to survive: each other. The Whos rejoice in the face of loss because they can foster a deep sense of community. This is what Marx refers to when discussing the tenets of communism. A community, leaning on and solely need each other. While vague, this is the ‘something more’ that The Grinch realizes Christmas is truly about. Sharing. Love. Survival is not only possible without things, but thriving is attainable when we put our focus on each other. This is how we undermine the consumerism that we know to be Christmas.

It’s not without noting, however, that when the The Grinch goes down into Whoville the final time, he returns all the presents and goes so far as to carve the Who’s turkey. If this guy disdains capitalism so much, then why does he give back the very thing which requires the system to function? Is it somehow better that the Whos know capitalism is ruinous to all aspects of life while still engaging in it than by being blind to it all?

In his 2017 article for HuffPost (which I discovered midway through writing this article- original idea it is not, apparently!) Cavan W. Concannon brings up an excellent point about what returning the presents means, and how a future without capitalism would actually come about.

It takes a radical act of violence, both Concannon and Marx acknowledge, to move out of the destructive system of capitalism. This is a children’s story after all, and how would it look if The Whos destroyed all of the gifts, not if The Grinch merely stole them? This violent act would signal a true dismantling of the system (and it probably wouldn’t sell very many books). Are we ready? Is Dr. Seuss merely planting a seed?

Concannon notes that “the hope for such an act lies in a community choosing to face its world with no illusions.” That’s pretty brave. Perhaps if we’re brave enough to undermine Christmas jut once, as the supply chain threatens, we can imagine a world without stuff, a world of community, a world without destruction.

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