Professor Says That The Elf On A Shelf Is Preparing Your Child To Live In A Police State (VIDEO)

The Elf on the Shelf is a huge commercial success. The clever doll and book set sells by the millions every year. The doll has even been turned into a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Dr. Laura Elizabeth Pinto, an associate professor at the University of Ontario, thinks that the doll is actually indoctrinating your child to be a perfect citizen in a full-blown police state.

In case you missed the Christmas phenomenon, here is a product description straight from the manufacturer’s website,

“The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition includes a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. 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. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their scout elf each morning.”

In other words, the doll is supposed to serve as a fun way to help parents make their children behave better during the holiday season.

In comes Dr. Pinto to explain how this little doll is actually something that could have come out of Orwell’s novel, 1984. Dr. Pinto and her co-author Selena Nemorin write,

“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.”

Dr. Pinto sees the toy as a modern version of the panopticon. The panopticon is a design for the perfect prison created by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The genius that makes the panopticon  so evil is that there is a tower in middle of the prison were a watchmen can view every cell in the prison. The prisoners themselves cannot see the security guard – meaning they have no idea when they are actually being watched. The uncertainty of not knowing when they are being watched makes it so the prisoners begin to police themselves. The idea of the panopticon has been a standard launching point for criticism against the modern judicial system (you should google Foucault after reading this article).

Later in the article the author’s write,

“While the elf may be part of a pre-Christmas game and might help manage children’s behaviors in the weeks leading up to the holiday, it also sets children up for dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures. Certainly, teachers and parents can incorporate critical pedagogies alongside the elf’s presence in children’s play worlds and social lives in “teachable moments” that cultivate children’s ability to identify, question, and resist power. How do children conceptualize being watched; do they perceive themselves to be engaging in performance, or is performativity a natural response to the elf’s presence.”

Here is the point where you should re-read the product description in the beginning of the article.

Much creepier than the first time, is it not?

Dr. Pinto told the Washington Post that she does not think that this is all some intentional conspiracy to normalize this type of behavior. She told the Post,

“I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy. 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.”

Dr. Pinto also told the Washington Post one tale she had received from a concerned parent about the toy,

“A mom e-mailed me and told me that the first day they read the elf book and put the elf out, her daughter woke up crying because she was being watched by the elf. They changed the game so it wouldn’t scare the child.”

The Elf on a Shelf also comes in a birthday edition and is being marketed towards classrooms. Hopefully parents and teachers take the critique of the toy seriously and use the author’s advice to incorporate aspects into the game that develop a healthy analysis of what it means to live in a surveillance state, and to question authorities power.