Elf on the Shelf: Santa’s Stalky Spy

Elf on the Shelf

“I have a SERIOUS problem: I can’t find Twinkletoes!! OMFG. Total panic”

Sucks to be you.

I have no problem admitting that I think Elf on the Shelf is creepy and I’m glad I never had to deal with it as a parent.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Elf on the Shelf – A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book about elves who are Santa’s spies. The book comes with a stuffed doll called a scout elf that ostensibly watches your child and flies back to Santa in the North Pole every night to report about their behavior. Every morning between Thanksgiving and Christmas finds the elf in a new position in the house. Like its cousin Flat Stanley the more original or outrageous the position the better.

The doll itself comes in male and female, light skinned and blue eyed, and dark skinned an brown eyed so you can take your ethnic pick of who you’d like to be tattling to Santa about your child’s every misstep. The Elf gets its magic from being adopted by a family and being named, an elf might lose its magic if it is touched by the children.

I first heard about Elf on the Shelf several years ago when I saw people posting pictures on Facebook of stuffed elves getting into mischief. It was mildly cute and I didn’t think much of it as I scrolled past. As the last few years have gone by more and more people started doing it, with their vignettes getting more and more elaborate, I thought about the whole phenomena. I came to the conclusion that I don’t care for Santa’s Stalky Spies.

My first problem with Elf on the Shelf is that I detest a marketing ploy being called a tradition. Seriously, when the book was released in 2005 the name was Elf on the Shelf – A Christmas Tradition. A tradition the day it was released? Wow. That’s something. Especially since it was a tradition that took a few years to catch on after first publication.

But, catch on it did, and are they ever marketing the hell out of the whole thing. Go to The Elf on the Shelf website and find the book and cheap toy doll on sale for $30. You can buy your elf various pieces of clothing like a $10 leather jacket, or a $7 football jersey. For $25 you can buy your elf a chef’s apron and get a cookie cutter thrown in. $20 will get you a new product for 2014 called Elf Pets: A Reindeer Tradition. That’s right you can buy a pet reindeer for your $30 stuffed elf.

The whole website is just pushing crap products on their entirely made-up Christmas tradition. That’s not entirely true, I admit. They’re also pushing crap on a completely different totally bullshit made up tradition: It’s called Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition. Yes, they’ve managed to whore out birthdays, too. They have a birthday Countdown Calendar and Birthday Tradition Game that sells for $40. The Countdown Calendar is an ersatz advent calendar that is supposed to have a trinket put in each pocket on every day for the four weeks leading up to the birthday girl or boy’s special day. That’s right – it’s not enough to have a birthday party and a big day to celebrate, the new tradition requires a month of tithing before you even get to the party. Don’t forget that for the big day you want to be sure to get the $25 kit to decorate a chair. See if you can put your arms around that. The new birthday tradition involves a month of gift giving and special decorations for the birthday boy or girl’s chair.

So, we’ve determined that Elf on any Shelf is nothing more than a sickening consortium designed to move product. It will come as no shock that there are videos, comic books, e-games, figurines and even a special edition 2014 Elf on the Shelf skirt. They have truly monetized their ‘tradition’.

But, that’s not what bothers me most about Elf on the damn Shelf. What bothers me about it is that it’s another way lie to your children about why they should behave. Don’t tell them that they should behave because it’s the right thing to do. Lie to them, and tell them that a small cheap toy is going to tell Santa if they’re having a bad day. Just over there, hiding in the African violets, is a nosy tattle-tale elf whose sole purpose in ‘life’ is to watch you and judge you all day long. Then, when you finally fall asleep it flies off to the North Pole to tell Santa how you measure up and whether or not you get a good score for the day. Blackmail parenting. Charming.

If you need a stuffed elf to help you get your kid to behave for one month a year you might want to rethink your parenting style. Not only that, the subtle message you’re sending a child is that if they don’t get everything they want for Christmas it’s because they just don’t measure up. If they’d been better, done more and tried harder they’d be getting everything on their list.

But beyond crass commercialism and unintentionally damaging messages is the idea that it’s normal to have someone watching your every move. You must always be on guard because you are always being watched.

But, for fun you can look at it like a conspiracy theorist does: The Elf represents our surveillance state in an insidious way: We’re only being watched for our own good, we’re told. If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear from the Elf’s report to the Big Fellow, who keeps the information far away in a place you have no access to. (Let’s not even talk about the metaphorical layer of bureaucracy the Elf represents.) Are we comfortable with a myth that desensitizes children to constant surveillance and lack of privacy? Are we also getting how this meant in jest?

Yes, of course, it’s harmless fun. I’ve no wish to get between you and your fun. Just give a thought to its larger implications about glorifying invasion of privacy and stalking in exchange for material goods.

If that seems far-fetched to you at least admit that this is a modern commercial construct masquerading as a tradition, and that the only thing its manufacturers care about is moving units. Just because you call it a tradition doesn’t make it so.

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