Cristin Stickles (with the best Twitter handle ever @ThtsWhatSheRead), the Children’s & Young Adult Buyer at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan, recently wrote about the very terrifying reality of Elf on the Shelf for BookRiot.
We’ve covered the dark underbelly of Christmas that is represented in this Elf on the Shelf; the implications of its promoting a snitching culture, the racial unrest it leads to, and the overall creepiness of it all. Stickles tackles these issues and more as she examines how this new holiday tradition “is a psychological weapon that perpetuates a culture of fear among children. Still worse, it makes parents active participants in the destruction of childhood wonder.”
She has also reached that point in the holiday retail world where, well, she’s gone a little crazy. It’s a normal condition, quite commonly found in anyone within the general retail working community this time of year, but usually reaches a more virulent and aggressive state among booksellers. That’s science.
Let’s not forget that this whole rant started while she was repeatedly circling a display using her retail Jedi powers to discover what book was missing. A book was missing, a book is always missing, and a true bookseller will always sense a disturbance within their displays.
The best booksellers out there are Jedis, they have to be; have you ever watched a bookseller explain to someone on Christmas Eve that the particular book they’re looking for is out of stock and no, it can’t be ordered in time? Did that customer then destroy the galaxy? Nope. Jedi Bookseller Mind Trick. It’s a thing.
Now that we’ve gotten completely off topic, and apparently tried to establish that the Elf on the Shelf are Stormtroopers and Santa is actually Emperor Palpatine (you have invited that evil into your homes people and only have yourselves to blame), you should go read Stickles’ original post and try, deep down, to remember that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about little snitching backstabbing elves, but a good, old-fashioned year round fear (respect) of your parents.
But, if you haven’t had several meltdowns and completely given up yet like I have, and you’re still out there shopping on Christmas Eve, at least do yourself a favor and just take what they give you.
Looking for a coffee-table pop-up book on late 19th century Japanese warships and you’re given a wonders of the world bargain book? Take it. Need a new charging cable for your Zune? Wait, what? Really? Had your heart set on picking up the bluray of “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” and you know it’s out because you saw it on Amazon—no! It’s pre-order! It just came out in theaters, why do you not understand how the world works? Take that copy of “the Wiz” the salesperson is trying to stab you in the face with and go away.
Those retail employees are one clueless customer away from falling to the Dark Side, and as someone who personally witnessed two Target employees earlier this week have a full-on lightsaber duel in the middle of the electronics section, a Retail Jedi who has given into the hate is not someone you want to mess with.
A Look Into the Dark Underbelly of a Holiday Phenomenon
Let me put you at ease regarding your purchase: I don’t think you’re a racist.
But I do think you’re wasting $29.95.
It’s a stupid purchase, this magical little creature. And creepy. Look at it. Really. I want you to look into his dead little eyes. Sitting there like he owns the place. He won’t even look you in the eye will he? Always off to the side, the shady little bastard, until you look away and then! Goddamnit, just out of the corner of your eye, just as you looked away, or were distracted. Maybe as you were dozing off, there it was: he moved. You swear his eyes moved. It must have been. It must have been because he’s watching you and he’s watching your children. He’s always watching. When you go to bed he goes through your underwear drawer and rifles through your wallet, he raids the liquor cabinet. He watches you sleep. You have invited him into your home. There is no escape. He is… the Elf on the Shelf.
It never gets old. I will say that about the Elf or at least what I think of as our Elf tradition. This treasured tradition is the pure discomfort on their faces when they have to ask this question. They really feel bad. They feel like they’re doing something wrong. You can tell the ones; they have an Elf on the Shelf box in their hands but they’re not looking at it. It’s held low in front of them and their eyes are watching the other customers around them. They feel genuinely guilty about the question they’re going to ask me. It’s adorable.
It’s known professionally as Elf Guilt*, but I’m here to tell you not to be ashamed. You have nothing to apologize for. I’m here to tell you it’s OK.
Say it with me, “It is OK.”
* * *
“Um, hi, excuse me. You… you work here, right?” the customer asks in a hushed tone, after she motions me a few feet away from the rest of the customers milling around the customer service counter. Sometimes there’s a little wave, quick enough so no one sees the gesture, but enough to get me to move away from the crowd.
“Yes,” I respond simply.
After all, I have a name tag on. I have books in my hand. Also, you just watched me help six other customers while answering the phone and trying not to trip over a cane some old man inexplicably left in the store. I shouldn’t have to answer this question. Why would I be doing this if I didn’t work here? But I answer.
“Do you…” she holds up an Elf on the Shelf box, her trembling hands keeping the flap closed tight, completely oblivious to the fact the top of the box is transparent, “do you have… a white one?”
I look at her a moment, the faintest of smirks tugs at my lips. I remain silent just long enough that she shuffles her feet and looks way. I can’t help it. I work retail during the holidays. That’s a special kind of hell and some days, this is all I have.
“Of course,” I say finally, breaking into my customer service smile, “right over here.”
By the way, there are elves everywhere. Te seconds of you opening your eyes between the front doors and the service desk could have avoided this situation entirely. There’s a mountain of Elf boxes in the front windows. There’s another mountain two steps inside the front door. I can see a third mountain from the service desk. That’s how many of these things we get in. We built a mountain. No, we built several mountains. One store made their pile of elf boxes into the shape of a twelve feet tall Christmas tree. Mount Elferest up front is one of at least six places those little bastards are on display. I can see two of those locations from where we’re standing.
Yeah, lady, we got elves. All right, you toe the ground and act embarrassed. I’ll take you over to them. And don’t worry, we have plenty of whiteys for you.
* * *
You do know there’s nothing wrong with wanting a white Elf, don’t you? I mean, you’re white and your kids are white. So, it’s OK. That’s why there are light-skinned and dark-skinned ones. Because it’s OK. It’s OK to want a light- or dark-skinned elf for the same reason that we have boy elves and girl elves.
Shit, you could buy a skirt and slap that on an old boy elf you have because you’re cheap or want to teach your kid a lesson about sexual identity. Buy a skirt and a football jersey, you filthy liberal. You’re already scarring your child by bringing the damn thing into your house, why not tear down those gender biases while you’re at it? On second thought, you probably don’t even need the skirt to raise a few questions….
It’s a brave new world people, and you shouldn’t feel trapped in your choice of terrifying behavior modification merchandise. I want you to feel free to buy whatever color elf you want, in any gender and with any stupid designer accessory brought to you exclusively by the Claus Couture Collection. Yeah, that exists. There are ugly sweaters, felt skirts, leather skirts, bomber jackets, football jerseys. Take your pick, you sick bastard.
So to all of you suburban housewives with your self-indulgent guilt fixations who need to buy a creepy, poorly made doll that looks like it stepped out of the 1970s in a futile attempt to control your spoiled child’s behavior, I just want to say, it’s OK to want a white Elf on the Shelf. Don’t be ashamed. You don’t need to act like a Cold War spy dead-dropping nuclear secrets just to ask where all the white dolls are at. No one who might overhear you asking cares that you want a white doll. No one cares that you’re an elf racist. I’m just kidding; you’re not an elf racist. Because that’s not a thing.
Unless you think the dark-skinned elf is going to steal your stuff after you go to bed. Then we have a problem on multiple levels.
*It’s not known professionally or otherwise as Elf Guilt. I just made that up. Feel free to use it.