If you don’t know what Elf on a Shelf it’s a toy that comes with a Christmas themed book. Here’s the sales pitch direct from the Elf’s official website. “When a family adopts a scout elf and gives it a name, the scout elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the scout elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun.”
While the kids sleep, the parents shift Elf’s position to prove that the scout really is reporting on their behaviour. So it’s just like the classic “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better be good” threat in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, except you could always count on Santa’s attention shifting off you while he checked up on the other billion children in the world. This time you have your very own private informant in your house. And his attention never wavers.
Elf on a Shelf is a tool of evil, a pointy-hatted assemblage of the very worst of modern society. Here are five reasons why that’s true.
1. It’s a Lie
No, not the fact that he “moves” each night. Actually that’s kind of cute. But if you really want to shift an inanimate object around your house to blackmail your children into behaving then I’d show them Poltergeist then rearrange the furniture while they sleep. Nothing sorts out troublesome brats like the threat of otherworldly evil. No, the lie is that this is a “tradition”. The Elf website opens with this boast – “It’s a fun-filled Christmas tradition that’s captured the hearts of children everywhere who welcome home one of Santa’s scout elves each holiday season.” So when did this ages-old tradition begin? 2005. 10 years is not a “tradition”. A “routine”, yes. A “practice”, okay. But a “tradition”? No. I can’t deny he’s inveigled himself into the public consciousness, becoming ubiquitous enough by 2012 to be included in the Macy’s Christmas Parade. Considering he’s the result of self-publishing, that’s quite an accomplishment.
But while Elf is an example of a “little company that could” he really isn’t “ritualistic” so much as “popular”. And considering that other things that have become prevalent in the past ten years include Justin Bieber and mass shootings, being popular isn’t necessarily a badge of honor.
2. Elf is a Spy
Claims that Elfie was an NSA spy have been debunked but some commentators do believe he is standardising spying including academics Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin who wrote about that issue in their Elf-themed paper Who’s The Boss: “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.” You can laugh that off as intelligentsia thinking too hard about something innocent but we’re already raising a generation of children who live their lives online, in public, their words and actions being recorded and saved, to be used against them by future employers and governments. Home is their last safe space. Or at least it was. Remember the telescreens in every home in Orwell’s 1984? Elf is just a surveillance camera in a jaunty hat. And he might not be broadcasting to the NSA but at some point some government will figure out he, or a similar toy, could do just that.
3. It’s All About the Money
Once upon a time parents could tell children that Santa, or his invisible elves, were watching. Cost: nothing. Now that same blackmail starts US$29:95 and that’s just for the book and the toy. But, of course, now there’s also a reindeer that comes with a medallion that helps “store the Christmas spirit necessary to make Santa’s sleigh soar”. I’m no Einstein but I don’t believe that’s scientifically accurate. Children have to adopt the deer and show it love and in this way “generate the merriment, wonder and joy necessary to help Santa fulfill his Christmas Eve mission”. So not only must they behave for that snoopy elf, they have to lavish attention on a stuffed toy or else Santa will be grounded. Way to heap expectations on your offspring, breeders. Oh, and Elf and Reindeer can’t go naked so you have to buy them clothes except clothes are for common people – they gets “Claus couture”.
4. It’s Not Just About Christmas Anymore
Not content with ruining Christmas the evil behind Elf also wants you to “invite” him to observe your child prior to family birthdays. Watch that little freak gobble up Easter next. Then Halloween. No candy for you!
5. Look at Him!
Those dead eyes with their creepy sideways leer, those smugly pursed lips, those rubbery limbs that are just aching to wrap around your neck and tighten until your body goes still. The internet is packed with images of inventive places that people have posed Elf and they’d be whimsical if not for the fact that they all star this unblinking psycho. It’s no wonder people have also taken to photographing him in shady and obscene settings – posing him grabbing knives, snorting cocaine, humping Barbie and Ken, and writing RED RUM on the bathroom mirror.
Actually, seeing this saccharine lie subverted is one good thing to come out of this entire money-grab and something his creators should be pleased with. Nothing says “omnipresent” quite so much as widespread ridicule.