An Elf’s Story: Elf on the Shelf is Watching Me Watching Him

December 1st, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Working in the retail book business for so many years, I’ve seen my share of weird stuff. I’ve seen cookbooks written by Coolio. I’ve seen Twilight‘s popularity reach such an apex that we have a “Teen Paranormal Romance” section. Not only are there Nascar romance novels that come out two per month, but every year we get at least one Nascar Christmas romance novel. Still, few aspects are as head-scratching as the book/kit known as Elf on the Shelf.

Elf on the Shelf is deemed a new holiday tradition and makes enough money that they may not be kidding. When it first hit the scene, we underestimated it and sold out immediately. Over the past few years, we’ve sold hundreds of units. But what is Elf on the Shelf, you ask? Created by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, the kit comes with a smiling and leering toy elf. There’s a book that explains the backstory and has a space for you to write the elf’s chosen name. Rather than play up the idea that Santa is omnipotent and knows if you’ve been naughty or nice through his… crystal ball… or Professor Xavier telepathy or whatever it is, it’s shown that he gets the intel from his elves. This disturbing little creature vacantly stares at your children all day in the weeks leading up to Christmas and when nobody’s looking, he tells Santa what the score is. The kids are also meant to tell the elf what it is they want. The parent is supposed to move the elf around every day to give the illusion that he’s in some way sentient while the children are warned NOT to touch him else it might remove his magic powers. In other words, don’t touch it or you will realize this is a rickety sham.

The whole concept bewilders me because of the hoops one has to jump through to make it work. The Santa myth has just enough inventive magic and reasonable doubt that a kid can go for years without questioning it. I can’t really understand how most kids don’t call BS on this one if they’re old enough to even talk. The holes in logic are legion. If it’s only checking up on kids between the end of November to the end of December, does that mean you’re allowed to be a total bastard in July? If mom and dad just brought home Elf on the Shelf for the first time, how did this whole Santa thing work before this? What’s the point of having kids tell an inanimate object about what they want if the parents won’t hear it? Santa is at least represented as a talking human being at malls, which holds more water to the immersion than a doll that doesn’t even have joints.

And more than anything else, it’s creepy. Both in concept and appearance. I’ve even had a parent return the item a couple weeks ago because her children found it creepy. But you know what? I’m okay with that. I hold no ill will towards the product for the same reason I hold no ill will towards Twilight or Jeph Loeb comics or any other book I’m supposed to look down on. It’s the retail business. These little guys pay the bills for me and my extended family. Just existing doesn’t raise my ire.

It’s the promotional video that does it. Elf on the Shelf is such a big deal that during the holidays, we have a DVD player set up to hype it. The video lasts three and a half minutes, is annoying and changes tone in the audio enough times that it’s impossible to mentally redirect it into background noise. Just hearing that thing on loop again and again is enough to drive anyone insane after a couple hours. Make it a month during the most stressful time to work and you’re in even worse shape.

This year, the boxes feature an ad for Elf on the Shelf Presents An Elf’s Story, a brand new animated movie featured on CBS on the night of Black Friday while at the same time released on DVD and blu-ray. After all the mental trauma this thing’s caused, I knew somebody at the store had to sit down and sit through this. That man had to be me. And so, a couple days after it aired, I mentally prepared myself the way one does to clean the cat’s litter box when they know they’ve waited a couple days longer than they should have and I pressed play.

The thing to know is that I didn’t go into this set on hating it. I never do for these kind of reviews. I may set my standards low, but I’m open to being wrong. Plus I love Christmas specials in general. Unfortunately… this is not a very good Christmas special.

Read the rest of this entry �

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon