The Most Adorable Infomercial You’ll Watch this Holiday Season

The Most Adorable Infomercial You’ll Watch this Holiday Season

Honestly, I’m a sucker for a good Christmas TV special.  From Rudolph’s morality play in otherness to dancing Ewoks, it’s hard to go wrong with a tale of magic, wonder, and merriment this time of year.  I was a bit surprised when An Elf’s Story rode shotgun for CBS’s slate of Christmas specials.

Based on the 2005 book Elf on the Shelf, the special profiles the adventure of scout elf who is adopted by a family, reports to Santa on their behavior, and teaches one special boy the magical gift of believing when he begins to doubt the existence of Santa–all in a tidy thirty minutes, minus commercials.

Here’s the kicker, though, the entire thing is a commercial.

My brother’s family–particularly his two kids–love Elf on the Shelf.  You can get the gist of how this works from the official website for the product.  It’s a charming game for kids to play while counting down the days to Christmas, but there’s something about this blatant hawking of a product in the guise of a cartoon that really upsets me.  Granted, Hasbro’s “The Hub” cable network and most Saturday morning cartoons for the last thirty years exist for this purpose alone.  Year after year, few will argue against the notion that Christmas has been taken over by capitalism.  We’re even at the point of Black Friday eating away at Thanksgiving.

If the Christmas message fails to inspire and you can stomach the commercialism of the cartoon, then maybe–just maybe–you’ll find the most inspiring part of the story is how it all came to be.  The story of Elf on the Shelf is really more about American entrepreneurial spirit than of Holiday Cheer. Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell wrote the story and, in absence of a major publishing house taking them on, self-published the book.  Fast forward six years, and they’re up for round two.  Inc. offers a fascinating tale on how Pitt convinced self-produced the feature and convinced CBS to air it, while underscoring that the company is one of the top 5,000 privately-held companies and earned just shy of $10 million in revenue in 2010.

Warms your heart, right? But Hank Stuever of The Washington Post’s lifestyle section offers this critique of such parental tactics of scaring kids in behaving this time of year:

Who can resist the holiday fun of scaring the children into good behavior? Ask any of history’s most efficient dictators — they’ll tell you. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the naughty-nice punishment paradigm. Where would this holiday be without its good old-fashioned behavioral paranoia? Charles Dickens may get all the credit for this, but do also consider George Orwell.

While you’re at it, spend a few minutes with Kandace Creel Falcón’s discussion of Elf on the Shelf in the context of Foucault’s panopticon, order, and race/gender politics.

There you have it.  Somewhere among Christmas and Capitalism, Fear and Faith, you have Elf on the Shelf.  If you’re inclined to outsource surveillance this Christmas to a Kewpie doll, Target is offering a complimentary $5 gift card with purchase of the box set this week.