Sunday, December 28, 2014

Elves On Shelves, Elves On Shelves — Children Who Surveil Themselves

The Elf on a Shelf™ is now a decade old, but I am only just now learning of it. Here's Kelly J. Baker at USC Annenberg's Religion Dispatches:

“I need to be good because of the elf that lives my room,” my five-year old explained.
“The what? Who lives where?” I ask.
“The elf that knows if I’m bad or good,” she replies.
 “There is no elf in your room,” I say.
“Yes, there is. He’s invisible,” she notes.
I sigh wearily.


Her imaginary elf is a version of The Elf on the Shelf ™, an androgynous, rosy-cheeked elf toy that monitors children as Christmas approaches. It is available in light or dark-skinned varieties. Accessories allow families to transform the elf into a boy or girl.

The elf emerged from The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition co-authored by mother and daughter, Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. The book alone has sold over six million copies since it was released in 2005. For $29.95, parents can purchase the book and toy to start a new tradition. The story presents a “scout elf,” who journeyed all the way from the North Pole to watch children to find out whether they are naughty or nice. The elf surveils children during the day to uncover bad behavior, then it returns to the North Pole every night to report back to jolly old St. Nick.


These elves are ubiquitous. They can be purchased from bookstores, Target, and online retailers. ...

Yep, it's a Christmas tradition, all right:
He knows when you've been sleeping,
He knows when you're awake;
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness' sake!
— "Santa Claus is coming to town", Coots and Gillespie, 1934
The EotS does not talk, but kids are encouraged by this "tradition" to talk to it, to tell it secrets, etc. I do not know if the commercial version of EotS contains a recording device or not, but with ever tinier technology, surely it's only a matter of time.

The kid is forbidden, however, to touch the EotS: it would interfere with the Elf's "magic." (That's the word in the story, certainly not my word.) Some parents move the elf around the house so that it appears in a different room every morning. This teaches children a valuable lesson for later in their intrusively surveilled American lives: Always look for the "bug" — is the mic in the A/C vent? hidden behind the toaster? in the freezer, well-positioned to hear the obese child going through items, looking for a snack? in the garage, near the home workshop to catch any stray cussing by the adolescents using it? looking over the passenger seat of the car the teen uses for dates, to "see"/"hear" any back-seat activity?

Here's a picture of the Elf:

(Sorry; the Elf is invisible (except when it isn't), remember? Otherwise, the child might think s/he is not under surveillance when s/he can't see the Elf.)

Using the EotS from birth through, say, the last year of middle school should be sufficient to acclimate the kid to a world of constant surveillance under all circumstances... ALL circumstances. The federal government's three-letter agencies appreciate every parent's assistance with their children.

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