There are a lot of sickening traditions that the world has created and propagated--including but not limited to Honey Boo Boo, Aztec sacrifice, and the Byzantine ridiculousness Western democracies call tipping--but none are nearly as insidiously ingratiating than the Elf on the Shelf.
For those that don't know, the Elf on the Shelf franchise--for now that there is an actual animated movie it can be properly called a "franchise"--centers on the eponymous Elf. The elf, once purchased, is placed somewhere in the house, where he keeps an eye on the children; once they go to bed, the elf magics his way back to the North Pole to submit a report.
Actually, the elf is not so eponymous--an elf's "magic" is created when you name him. Now, if I were an elf and I was (inevitably) named Snutterkins or Honeyfluff the only magic I would be interested in would involve getting drunk and sneaking back before daybreak. You can't run a successful surveillance operation with any sort of seriousness when you are named by a five year old who eats crayon shavings for breakfast.
The fun-and-games part of it is the fact that parents are supposed to
hide the elf each night, and the kids are supposed to find it--but
whatever you do, don't touch it, because then the elf will lose his magic and not be able to report back to Santa.
Don't ask me why The Elf on the Shelf bothers me so much. Perhaps it's the blatant
outsourcing of parental responsibility to a fake mythical creature.
Maybe it's the glossing over of a century's worth of Santa Claus-related
tradition. Maybe it's the Big-Brother-esque nature of the concept. And
maybe it's the fact that in this shitty economy parents are more than
willing to shell out thirty American dollars for what amounts to a
dime-store children's book and some Malaysian-assembled felt.
(There is also a certain amount of irrational hatred of the fact that the book has, in large, imposing letters on its cover, "A Christmas Tradition," as if that's part of the marketing gimmick to get guilty parents to buy it. Anything that has to specifically be labeled as a "Tradition" probably isn't.)
And so it's marketed as a simple way to keep the kids in check. But here's the problem--there are a lot of logical fallacies in the elf's backstory. For instance, if the elf is hiding, how is he keeping surveillance on the kids? That seems to be a manifestly inefficient way of keeping tabs on the rugrats. Second, if the elf has the supposed magical ability to go to the North Pole and back in a night, why can't they all just "magic" it all from the North Pole, as Santa presumably has done for about a century and a half? And, finally, there is a fatal flaw in the elf mythos: if touching the elf means that he can't report back to Santa, why wouldn't a kid be bad, then touch the elf so he can't tell Santa? I mean now that the elf has been established as the conduit for Santa's information, the weak link is simply to touch the elf and Santa is none the wiser. Then a child can be bad and get presents.*
The thing that makes me the grumpiest, I think, is why this was necessary in the first place. I mean, c'mon: to believe that the original story about a fat man with a red velvet fetish and a dearth of razor blades delivering a world's worth of toys to good children and shafting the bad ones with market-price coal was completely unbelievable, but once an inanimate flap of cotton gets throw in the mix it all makes sense now. There was this burning, gaping hole in the story of Santa Claus that needed to be filled by Bumperfart the Elf. And thirty dollars, American.
*To be fair, it's possible that if Santa does not hear back from an elf at all that he will send a Rambo-esque rescue mission after him, but I doubt Saint Nick has time for that. That sounds more like an Easter bunny thing to me anyway.