He sees when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake


Since it is the season, I’m re-posting a piece on the Elf on a Shelf:

I guess in retrospect, this almost seems too obvious of a connection. You should read the whole article (Elf on a Shelf as training children to live with panopticism), but here’s one excerpt:

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.


2 Responses to “He sees when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake”

  1. tanman1995 Says:

    This was a very interesting read! I have two nephews, the older of which is very familiar with Elf on the Shelf. There are actually a few different elves out and about for us, one for his house and one for my parents’ house for when he comes over. He’s always very excited to look for them each morning this time of year. I think that this year, however, it will be disconcerting to see him so excited for what is, as Prof. Pinto puts it, “normalizing the idea of surveillance”.

    At least he’s excited..?

  2. edurellblog Says:

    I think it’s interesting that there are multiple different layers to this; in addition to normalizing surveillance for children, this also calls into question the power dynamics within the family. As Foucault might have put it, power and pleasure are intricately linked, so it is curious that this method of power to ensure obedience (disguised as a game) might be easier for parents than direct enforcement of rules. What effect might the Elf on the Shelf have on parents, in addition to children?

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