I’ve never been a fan of Elf on The Shelf, but this year my youngest absolutely loves it, and watching how it makes him smile makes me happy.
Now, how should I break the bad news to him that the Elf is really an “evil Orwellian spy” (I doubt a six-year-old knows what “Orwellian” means)?
I hate the Elf on the Shelf. I hate his evil, dead-eyed sidelong smile. I hate that he invades innocent children’s homes without compunction. I even hate his full name: “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” I hate how it sounds like it’s a threat, like, “I’m not just the Elf: I’m the Elf who will return every goddamn Christmas of your life, everybody. So GIVE ME A NAME AND DEAL WITH IT.” I hate how he seems to become more powerful with each passing year.
Have I mentioned I hate the Elf on the Shelf?
Once upon a time, long ago in 2005, a lady named Carol Aebersold self-published a book about her innocuous holiday tradition. It was the story of an elf who would appear in your home after Thanksgiving to quietly observe how well the family was behaving, report back to Santa at the North Pole each night and reappear somewhere else in the household the next day. Whimsical!
Today, the Elf is a best-selling, full-blown industry. He floated triumphantly this year at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he’s been all up in our faces ever since. And why not? He’s eminently marketable. Like American Girl dolls, or Cabbage Patch Kids in days of yore, part of the Elf’s allure is his customizable nature. There are girl elves and boy elves, blue-eyed elves and dark-skinned elves, all waiting to be “adopted.” Right, like I’m going to adopt a narc.
Part of why I dislike the Elf is the same reason I dislike Facebook’s privacy settings — he’s an Orwellian nightmare. Let’s teach our children that privacy is meaningless! I may have grown up with a Santa who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, but my Santa was never lurking around in my house, keeping tabs on me for weeks at a time. I don’t know, I just find the whole concept of an advent-long period of intense scrutiny by some judgmental little voyeur in a pointy hat creepy. Better than a Krampus, I guess, but still. Furthermore, the notion that the generosity of the season is not just contingent upon a child’s behavior, but that said behavior is being studied and judged by an independent auditor, is bizarre. And it reinforces the message to even very young children that the only reason to be good to each other is to get stuff. Isn’t teaching morality about teaching children to be nice even when no one is looking?