I’m sorry, but I’ve just heard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” one too many times. Have people actually listened to those lyrics?
You better watch out.
You better not cry.
You better not pout.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a threat. A threat made to children — and the screwed-up grownups they’ll become — that they’d better squelch their natural moods, which include negative thoughts and feelings, or else. Mental distress equals thoughtcrime. It’s a form of parenting I’ve always detested: the philosophy that says children’s behavior is of paramount concern, and whatever emotion is driving that behavior can safely be ignored. No need to, you know, talk to your kids to find out what’s making them cry and pout. Just use the carrot (gifts!) and the stick (coal!) to get them under control. And hey, if it prepares them to meekly accept authoritarian rule later in life — whether under a political regime or a supreme deity — so much the better.
He’s making a list and checking it twice.
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Yes. Just like the Gestapo.
He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good.
Lovely. It’s God, Big Brother, and Bentham’s Panopticon all dressed up in jingling sleigh bells.
So be good for goodness’ sake!
Excuse me? After all those veiled threats, the song dares to tell us to be good for the sake of being good? I’m sorry, but if you really, truly, sincerely are behaving well solely for goodness’ sake, then you’re a humanist with no need for magical or supernatural inducements — whatever box you check in the “religion” section on your census form. But if instead your behavior is guided mainly by fear of external — and eternal — punishment, you might want to look at your motives for being good, and see if they sit well with you. You just might be in thrall to the very worst aspects of religion, the kind where a supreme authority bribes you with Heaven and threatens you with Hell: notions that come sneaking into your children’s minds in the Trojan horse of this insidiously cheery song.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
RUN! Run for your lives!