September 16, 2014

Why No Kids? Elf on the Shelf!

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

If you’re a parent in the US, you’re likely already acquainted with The Elf on the Shelf. If you’re childfree (or childless) you might have missed out on this latest holiday marketing bonanza with eerily Orwellian overtones. Consider the following…

The Elf on the Shelf… is the very special tool that helps Santa know who to put on the Naughty and Nice list… Santa sends his scout elves out to Elf Adoption Centers. Waiting for their families to bring them home, these patient elves hibernate until their family reads The Elf on the Shelf, gives their elf a very special name, and registers their adoption online. Once named, each scout elf will receive its Christmas magic… these scout elves are the eyes and ears of Santa Claus… the elf will always listen and relay messages back to Santa. Taking in all the day-to-day activities around the house… these scout elves take their job seriously… after the family goes to bed, the scout elf uses his magical Christmas powers to fly back to the North Pole. Once there, the elf will make his or her daily report to Santa… Before the family awakes each morning, their special scout elf will fly back… to hide in the freezer… the fireplace mantle or hang from the chandelier… (Elf on the Shelf > About Us)

Spooky, right?

On the one hand, I tip my hat to Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts who’s charm, vision, hustle and business savvy is inspiring. Bravo for transforming the publishing industry’s risk averse, survival-oriented error into an entrepreneurial success story!

The the elf story? I find it a little creepy.

Okay, when Aebersold recounts the back story, a family tradition which helps her defeat an almost paralyzing psychological defeat, I’m rooting for her. When mother and daughters team up to revitalize the magic of Christmas, I’m rooting for all three of them. And when they decide to self-publish The Elf on the Shelf because traditional publishers couldn’t quite grok the market value of a catchy product tied to the sellingest holiday of the year? I’m cheering for Aebersold, Bell and Pitts.

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

But then there’s a snag. Buy a spy? Infuse Christmas anticipation with selfconsciousness and anxiety posed by a sneaky, lurking voyeur? There’s something threatening and decidedly un-jolly about a tattletale with super powers sneaking around young children’s homes. A miniature Big Brother. Frankly this “tradition” feels a bit un-Christmas-like to me. But then again, I’m not a parent. I don’t need to threaten and bribe my tribe to behave or else…

And then there’s the potential for distorting this latter day Christmas tradition. Consider Stephen King tackling this Elf on the Shelf theme. Or Alfred Hitchcock. All sorts of terrifying Peeping Tom elf scenarios come to mind. Even the whole adoption center prologue creeps me out. Not only do elves have super powers once they are adopted, but until then they hibernate?!?! Like bears, I suppose, or rattlesnakes or laptop computers. Weird.

It turns out I’m not alone.

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…” I hate how he seems to become more powerful with each passing year. (Salon.com)

That’s Mary Elizabeth Williams (@embeedub), the author of Gimme Shelter and dauntless chronicler of her cancer crusade. Her article, “Santa’s evil Orwellian spy” nimbly sums up the equation.

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. (Salon.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving... (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving… (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Thank you, Ms. Williams. Christmas is supposed to be innocent and slightly goofy. Giggles and jelly bellies and flying reindeer. Christmas is about hope and forgiving and generosity and loving. Christmas is about family and intimacy. Not spying and tattling. Do we really need to infiltrate the last bastion of whimsical childhood naivety with this malicious, eavesdropping drone? Again, I defer to Ms. Williams:

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. (Salon.com)

If you’ve concluded that Williams and I are cynical, anti-Christmas Grinches (when it comes to Elf on the Shelf, though little else,) we’re in good company:

If you are unaware of the tradition of Elf on the Shelf, it is where parents get a creepy looking little elf doll and put him all over their house to act as their children’s parole officer. The Elf then flies to the North Pole each night to report to the big guy himself on whether the kids’ behavior is good enough to land them on the “nice” list. It is a genius idea for behavior modification through gratuitous lying. (Sweeneyville)

The elf creeps me out. I said it. I said what you might have been thinking. His smug grin and vintage eyes creep me out. He’s playing tricks and sneaking around our house. CREEPY. (whitehouseblackshutters.com)

Holy crap, y’all. It was working! I had accidentally implemented a moralistic police state in my own home… That got me thinking about the other 11 months of the year…. After much consideration I’ve decided to introduce another Big Brother-type helper to our family. (Rants from Mommyland)

Would it shock you to discover that our home is not and will not ever be a haven for this little Santa snitch? … It made me uncomfortable to wield the Santa weapon over my children’s head…. It makes already anxious children even more paranoid around this time of year… And this physical representation is placed in their home! It is there to scare them into submission every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas time. It invades the child’s one safe place where nothing will harm them, the place where they are encouraged (rightly so) by their parents to feel protected from all the ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ things out in the world, the place where they are loved unconditionally for who they are and not by what they can or cannot do nor for what they do or do not do. How can this sanctuary remain so when there is something sitting there on the shelf or mantel staring at them and judging each behavior every minute of each day from November 25th until December 25th? (Lunar Wisdom)

Enough. You get the point. Why no kids? Elf on the Shelf!

About virtualDavis

G.G. Davis, Jr. (aka virtualDavis) is a writer, storyteller, unabashed flâneur and eager-beaver uncle. Despite two whiz-bang nieces, two superstar nephews, and rewarding teaching/coaching stints at the American School of Paris and Santa Fe Preparatory School, he remains willingly, enthusiastically and happily childfree. His WNK posts are part of an ongoing attempt to understand why. Rosslyn Redux, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks, offers a more ironic twist on his childfree adventure. He also blogs at virtualDavis.com and EssexonLakeChamplain.com. Connect with G.G. Davis, Jr. via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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