Christmas Songbook Day 10: “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft

Alternate title for this post: “Sympathy for the Grinch (Hoo, hoo)”

Let’s be honest: Grinches aren’t always born; sometimes they’re made.

In college, I used to say that this was one of my favorite Christmas songs. I think that was just my 20-year-old edginess coming to the fore. I did always enjoy the Grinch TV special, though. But this year, as I heard this track while driving somewhere, I was struck with an alarming realization.

The song’s lyrics are bitingly cruel, such that anyone on the receiving end of such a barrage is almost assured to turn to villainy.

Consider what the Grinch is called by the narrator during this theme: a mean one, a heel, cuddly as a cactus, charming as an eel, bad banana (with a greasy black peel), monster, heartless, brain full of spiders, soul of garlic, untouchable, foul, ugly termite-ridden smile, disposition of a sea-sick crocodile but less desirable, rotter, king of sinful sots, dead/rotten heart, disgusting and poisonous, foul, nasty, stinky, gunk in the soul, stink-stank-stunk.

The Grinch is laid low by this litany BEFORE HE DOES ANYTHING BAD in the special. When we first see him, the Grinch isn’t harming anyone. He’s just an introvert, a somewhat-cynical hermit, living with a devoted and (by all appearances) well-cared-for pet. He just wants to be left alone. But the Whos fill the valley with their noise-noise-noise, and the sad, lonely, unwanted Grinch finally snaps.

I would propose, dear reader, that while the Grinch is clearly guilty of B/E and burglary, he is not a violent offender but rather the victim of a constant barrage of emotional mistreatment by both his thoughtless neighbors and a heartless narrator who seeks to prejudice the opinion of the TV special’s audience with an opening song that is not just well-poisoning but outright slanderous.

We assume that the Grinch is all these things that the narrator describes because we are conditioned to trust the omnipresent, all-knowing baritone voice in our heads telling us what the characters are thinking.

But can we trust this narrator? Hmm? More importantly, SHOULD we?

These are the hard questions we need to ask, friends.

In the meantime, I have just one final statement: JUSTICE FOR THE GRINCH! DOWN WITH NARRATIVE TYRANNY!

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Nevertheless, Sixpence None the Richer’s version of this track is a banger, so here ya go:

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