The Elf on the Shelf, a popular children’s book and toy, has become such a phenomenon that the character got its very own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year. The Elf book tells the seemingly harmless story of “scout elves” who hide around the house to find out who’s being naughty and nice. But some believe that there are more sinister forces at work.
Laura Pinto, a digital technology professor, believes that the plush toy elf that parents are encouraged to hide around the house is a sort of gateway drug that slowly makes children become comfortable with surveillance. The book has sold more than 6 million copies. Pinto tells the Washington Post that the trojan horse toy is:
a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify hegemonic power.
In other words, kids grow up being comfortable with always being watched. Then when their all grown up and big brother starts installing a camera in their toilet, they’ll be all like, “yeah whatever.” *poop*
Pinto is an academic, and she actually has some fairly solid concerns that she outlines in her paper on the subject. Pinto says:
The whole thing with panopticonism under the Jeremy Bentham structure, is that you never quite knew if you were being watched or not and that forced you into behaving in a certain way. The elf is the same way.
So, Pinto is really saying that the danger comes from a societal structure that teaches self-censorship and discipline through fear of the possibility that someone might be watching. Got it.
Now look at this photo of an elf that a Texas Sheriff is using to terrify his citizens and weep for the future.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 15, 2014