And that's the whole point of the Elf on the Shelf, the bright-eyed, Kewpie-esque doll that millions of parents display around their homes in December as a reminder to children to behave. The elf, the story goes, is an agent reporting back to Santa Claus, and he's tasked with documenting any seasonal misdeeds for his jolly boss.
The elf also, a new paper argues, promotes acceptance of a surveillance state. An excerpt from co-authors Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin:
Children... 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.
Instead, the elf encourages children "to accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures." And though the little guy is not, as hoax-busting website Snopes assured the Internet this week, secretly a popular program instituted by the NSA, he still normalizes "dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures."
Of course, not everyone accepts the elf in the first place. Distrust is well documented in Amazon reviews, as Kate Tuttle wrote for us in 2012.
The word "narc" appears in several of these negative reviews (so does "creepy"), and it's what many of my friends brought up as well: Why inject a note of fear and suspicion into a season and a holiday that are meant to be about love, togetherness, and forgiveness?
Even the rhyming name evokes another surveillance term—eye in the sky—which refers to the ubiquity of surveillance cameras.