So here’s the thing.
Nigh on about this time of year, I start seeing all this crap about ‘elf on a shelf’. The basic premise is that there’s this satanic doll that lives on a shelf in your house and it watches you with a keen Orwellian eye to your behaviour, and if you fuck something up, it reports back to Santa directly so that you don’t get your Christmas goodies. This hair-raising horror story was penned by self-published authors Carol Aebersold and daughter Chanda Bell in 2005, whose work should be right up there with William F. Blatty and Clive Barker. The marketing gimmick here is that you buy a book that tells the horrifying tale, and it’s packaged with a demonic toy that comes to life when you’re sleeping.
If you’re well-behaved, little Beelfzebub reports back to Santa Claus that you deserve all the heavily marketed, over-packaged crap you think you’ll be getting under the tree. If you’re a nasty little turd, though, Elfistopheles tells the Man in Red that you get nothin’. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Worse yet, your SISTER might get stuff and YOU WON’T because ol’ Lucelfer is basically a tattling little dink hole.
I wish I were kidding. I’m not. The idea that people will modify their behaviour based on the idea that someone is watching is not new. Decades of CCTV with no commensurate reduction in crime rates proves that the idea is a bad one, but it’s been around for a long time. In fact, it’s been around since upright-walking apes invented fiction.
This goes back to your basic story of religion. There is an entity who watches over your every move and judges whether your actions are good or bad. If you’re good, you get one consequence – like a place in the eternal afterlife where all the greatest achievers of your culture will also be hanging out. The upper crust of society, if you will. The warriors, the saints, and the virgins. But if you do the *wrong* things, you will suffer eternal torment. You will be separated from all you hold dear. From all you value. You may be burned in fire or drowned in a cold dark sea. You may be forced to walk the earth forever more, with none of your tribe able to recognize you and your name forgotten through all time.
Right here, this is the problem I’ve always had with the way religion is taught. The most important part of any religion isn’t about who the creator is. It isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t do. The most important part about religion is what it says about how you’re supposed to treat each other, and so far, I haven’t come across very many religions that tell us to treat each other like crap. But, I digress.
I don’t like the idea that the only thing keeping us on the straight and narrow is the idea that someone is watching over us to MAKE SURE we’re on the straight and narrow. A surveillance state doesn’t prevent crime, and it doesn’t stop people doing bad things. I don’t want the police watching my every move, even though I’m usually not doing anything wrong (and whatever’s on that tape of the bookstore parking lot is NOT ME, and even if it were, being topless in Canada is legal for women, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it). I don’t want the government watching me, I don’t want Jesus watching me, and I sure as hell don’t want some flappy-limbed elfubus sitting on a shelf taking notes about how many times I drop the eff bomb.
As a good friend of mine says, nobody needs ceiling Jesus watching us masturbate, and our kids sure as crap don’t need the thought that evil, plastic-faced toys are climbing down from their shelves at night and rummaging about in the house while we sleep, looking for reasons to ruin Christmas.
We should never equate gifts with good behaviour. We should expect good behaviour because that’s what people do. We give gifts because we’ve bought in to the commercialization of a semi-religious tradition, and we give gifts as an outward and visible sign of our love, reflected in the inward and invisible grace of feeling beholden to give people shit they don’t need and don’t have room for, in exchange for the guilt that whatever it was we got them wasn’t nearly as good as what they got us. Sure, some of us like giving gifts because we like thinking about the people we’re making things for, or buying things for. Sure, some of us buy gifts throughout the year and save them up, hidden away under the floorboards of the upstairs bedroom, only to pull them out, wrapped in layers of plastic, to wrap up the night before Christmas after most of the spiced punch has removed our ability to use tape responsibly. But some of us – most of us, drones that we are – trudge through malls that smell of fake pine and peppermint and the pressure to perform, to spend money we earned doing things we detest in order to please the people we most care about, who would most prefer to have us work less so we could spend more time with them instead of get them MORE Riders-themed shit from the outlet store.
Elf on a Shelf is a symptom of a much bigger problem, of course. And that is that we have gone from being the sort of people who celebrate holidays and vacations by being together simply, to the sort of people who teach our kids that if they want to get stuff at Christmas, they have to have good behaviour. But the bottom line here is that the Elf on the Shelf is the creepiest, evilest, most over-the-top Orwellian stuff to hit the market since nanny cams – at least nanny cams don’t mess with your kids’ psychological well-being. At least they don’t creep down from the shelf at night and steal all the bits of your kids’ souls that could have been used to understand the TRUE meaning of Christmas (which is that we should give each other presents because we want to make each other feel guilty, not because we have good behaviour) but instead are now being used to fuel Big Elf and corporate America.