“He’s Making a List, And Checking It Twice, Gonna Find Out…


… who’s naughty or nice.” Although “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” may seem like an innocent Christmas song, could there have been subtle motives to its creation. Last year, I read Mark Anthony Neal‘s post about the song that I found interesting. Here is a sample of it and you can read the rest here.


“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: 
Some Notes on Christmas and State Surveillance
by Mark Anthony Neal

It was one of those Hallmark Mahogany moments; we were all in the living room in front of the fireplace, the Christmas tree was lit, Christmas carols on the stereo as my youngest daughter played Mancala and my oldest finished up her homework. As The Temptations’ stellar version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” played in the background my oldest gave a curious look and blurted out, “Santa sounds like a stalker.” She was referring specifically to the lyric “he knows when you are sleeping/ he knows when you’re awake,/he knows when you’ve been bad or good/So be good for goodness sake. ” My daughter was on to something. Every holiday season millions of American embrace a seemingly innocuous symbol, that is in truth a powerful reminder of the reality of State surveillance in everyday life.

As citizens, we are practically trained to never fully interrogate the dominant symbols that circulate within American culture, including Santa Claus. I remember, as a child, wondering how Santa traveled down a chimney that my family—or anybody else in the South Bronx for that matter—did not possess. In my youthful nationalist days, it was easy to reject the idea that some “fat white man” would be honored for providing gifts that hardworking black women and men, like my parents sacrificed to provide for their families. These critiques largely spoke to the obvious cultural ramifications of Black Americans embracing symbols that did not reflect our heritage. The relative explosion of Ebony Santas and heritage consumables like Hallmark’s Mahogany greeting card line (even Kwanzaa essentials can be purchased at Pier 1) were blatant attempts to respond our need to see our heritage celebrated during the holiday season. But even this heightened sense of multicultural reflection get us further away from the more troubling aspects of Santa Claus.

The obvious critiques of capitalism and crass materialism aside, Santa Claus is but a user friendly symbol of the State’s capacity not only to engage in blatant forms of surveillance, but to essentially police behavior in the absence of actual surveillance. Indeed how many parents have exploited their children’s knowledge that Santa “knows when you are bad or good” as a means of reigning in bad behavior. When you consider the proliferation of Santa Claus imagery in popular media in the post World War II period, much of which targeted children, one gets an inkling of the ways that Americans are socialized at very ages to accept and expect certain forms of State surveillance. 

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