sympathy 4 the grinch
deck the halls with copaganda
To be honest: I was going to kind of bullshit this post, because it’s the end of the year and I’m really tired and kind of depressed. I was going to put in some filler about “the year in newsletter” and make some vague promises about posting more often (this is me, vaguely promising to post more often!) I was going to go kind of long on the intro.
But I don’t have to do that anymore, because on Tuesday night, I typed the words “arrest grinch” into my Facebook search bar.
Godddddddddddddddd okay let’s get into it.
This year, more police departments than I’m willing to dig up for free across staged Christmas videos/photo ops where they “arrested” “the Grinch,” uploaded those to their official social media accounts, and were rewarded with fluffy, uncritical holiday-themed coverage from local media sources.
The essential element of these photos, the almost non-negotiable piece of the puzzle, is that the Grinch must be retrained—most likely with handcuffs. He can be stepping into the back of a police cruiser or bent over its hood. He might be pictured standing meekly “down at the station,” or on his stomach, with his hands behind his back. If he’s not in cuffs, then he’s mugging for—what else?—a mug shot.
Okay. Don’t these have a dark sensual energy for something that objectively appeals to children???????? The ones with Santa are almost unspeakably perverted.
The Grinch arrest is an unsubtle illustration of what the police want the public to think they do all day: catch “bad guys.”
But these photos are also supposed to be funny, obviously. They’re right at home alongside cop internet comedy staples like “criminal fails” and Mugshot of the Week contests, and local news clip-generators like Christmas traffic stops, where cops pull people over just to give them gift cards. Part of the joke is the police subjugation of the sub-human and part of the joke is the pantomime violence—real sirens, real handcuffs, but we’re just kidding, because this is an area where we have no problem kidding around. Cop culture has no problem mocking the real people that police officers criminalize and kill, but the Grinch as an avatar makes for more festive news coverage.
The Grinch arrest thing has been around for a few years in a more one-off way, but 2021 is definitely the year with the most participation and on the most platforms—Facebook, mostly, with a smattering of tweets, Instagram videos and TikToks (of course). The coverage of these cop stunts is widespread and roughly uniform. (The only substantial coverage of this trend is this piece from John Dougherty about how the meme is an ugly misinterpretation of the moral of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is SO true.) Every other article or TV spot or radio segment looks more like New Mexico’s KQRE airing and reposting a ripped-from-social-media video of a cop entering a nursing home—mid-COVID surge—to film his shitty little internet skit.
It’s one of the neatest illustrations of copaganda (that doesn’t involve murder). It’s media decision-making and media action that directly contributes to the sociopolitical climate that police power thrives in by normalizing and defanging the violence of policing.
And, like Christmas itself, the whole cycle is predictable—festive cop social media stunts and the warm, fuzzy coverage they garner are a little piece of the American Christmas tradition. T’is the fucking season!
Questions, comments, corrections? (“You don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer” is not a correction.) Shoot me an email at email@example.com, send “business” “inquiries” to firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM me on Twitter.