My family never practiced the “Elf on the Shelf” thing…and frankly, I don’t really understand the appeal…but a Washington Post article tackled an aspect of this recent tradition, that makes no small amount of sense, subversively.
For some, the Elf on the Shelf doll, with its doe-eyed gaze and cherubic face, has become a whimsical holiday tradition — one that helpfully reminds children to stay out of trouble in the lead-up to Christmas.
For others — like, say, digital technology professor Laura Pinto — the Elf on the Shelf is “a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and” [deep breath] “reify hegemonic power.”
If she’s right, in all likelihood she’s fighting a losing battle. The Elf on the Shelf book sold over 6 million copies and joined the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade last year, according to the Daily Mail.
“I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy,” Pinto told The Post. “It sounds humorous, but we argue that if a kid is okay with this bureaucratic elf spying on them in their home, it normalizes the idea of surveillance and in the future restrictions on our privacy might be more easily accepted.”
And more thought provoking [for me anyway]:
Elf on the Shelf presents a unique (and prescriptive) form of play that blurs the distinction between play time and real life. Children who participate in play with The Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day: they may not touch the doll, and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus. This is different from more conventional play with dolls, where children create play-worlds born of their imagination, moving dolls and determining interactions with other people and other dolls. Rather, the hands-off “play” demanded by the elf is limited to finding (but not touching!) The Elf on the Shelf every morning, and acquiescing to surveillance during waking hours under the elf’s watchful eye. The Elf on the Shelf controls all parameters of play, who can do and touch what, and ultimately attempts to dictate the child’s behavior outside of time used for play.
Does this Christmas gimmick dovetail with the enormous catalog of State intrusions that we’ve generally come to accept, if we even acknowledge them at all? Does this in any way help a larger effort to shape society in accepting constant surveillance, tracking and monitoring…or is the ‘Elf’ just good holiday fun?