In the spirit of the holiday, I leave you with excerpts from the 1 December 2014 piece “Who’s the Boss? The Elf on the Shelf and the normalization of surveillance” by Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin via the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:
[…] The Elf on the Shelf is a wildly popular, Christmas-themed book that comes with a doll to reinforce the story in home and school settings. … [T]his article … explore[s] theoretical and conceptual concerns about the popularity and widespread educational use of The Elf on the Shelf in light of the contemporary literature on play and panoptic surveillance. […]
What is troubling is what The Elf on the Shelf represents and normalizes: anecdotal evidence reveals that children perform an identity that is not only for caretakers, but for an external authority (The Elf on the Shelf), similar to the dynamic between citizen and authority in the context of the surveillance state. Further to this, The Elf on the Shelf website offers teacher resources, integrating into both home and school not only the brand but also tacit acceptance of being monitored and always being on one’s best behaviour–without question. […]
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. … 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. […]
In conclusion, get yourself a benevolent Mensch on a Bench instead!
You can read more about dolls, even “Canadian ‘Maplelea’ Girl Dolls: The Commodification of Difference,” in Doll Studies: The Many Meanings of Girls’ Toys and Play (Mediated Youth) (edited by Miriam Forman-Brunell and Jennifer Dawn Whitney) available in the new year.
Yeah, shameless book plug!