Elf on the Shelf Reinforces Hegemonic Society

Elf on the ShelfEisenberg, Goodall and Trethewey (2010)[1] define hegemony as the ideological control that is maintained from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. This is demonstrated in a corporate environment, in which the culture is so embedded that it becomes second nature and implicit with employees, rather than explicitly stated by the Executive Leadership Team.

I can think of several ways in which Web 2.0 has created corporate-driven hegemonic realities for our personal and/or professional lives. Khaizuran Abd Jalil wrote a great article about the role social media has played in breaking the hegemonic dominance of the mass media. Jalil explains that social media has turned media on it’s head by allowing the public the be the owners of the information and report on issues that typically only the mass media reported on, (Jalil, 2010)[2]. I see this occur regularly with many influential bloggers. This is particularly relevant in today’s society as we move towards an age where we are more likely to get our news from our News Feed on Facebook than traditional media channels.

One example of this is when I worked for the Social Media department for an unnamed company who frequently “courted” travel bloggers because they know how influential their opinion is on the public. Whereas years ago this company wouldn’t even have a social media department, much less a strategy for wooing frequent travelers, today they have an entire division of their company devoted to this. This company holds Social Media conferences in which they offer free products and incentives to these influential bloggers in hopes that they will write good reviews on their site. This demonstrates that this company understands the importance of the less elite (travel bloggers) in their marketing strategy. Years ago this company would have only concerned themselves with mass media markets, such as travel magazines and newspapers. As Chris Atton states in News Cultures and New Social Movements, communications written by those in the trenches allow for a counter viewpoint to those held by the mass media, enable topics to be examined that are often untouched by mainstream media and allow society to have a platform for their voices (Atton, 2002)[3]. Web 2.0 has shifted this power into the hands of the people. However, one can debate the true power the travel bloggers have. Many have criticized travel bloggers for “selling out” to corporate powers by accepting free travel, rewards and products in exchange for writing positive reviews. In this sense one can even question the “reality” of seemingly “in the trenches“ reporting from everyday travelers.


The use of Web 2.0 technologies definitely reinforces certain ideologies and hegemonic practices. From a personal point of view, hegemony is played out in social media as the elite dictate the reality in which everyone else tries to live up to. I call it keeping up with the Jones’ 2.0. Years ago “Keeping up with the Jones’” revolved around your neighbors and those in your inner-circle. If your neighbor came home with a new Mercedes, all the sudden your Kia didn’t look so hot. Now, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we get to peek into the lives of those whom we typically wouldn’t communicate. Hegemony is played out in social media as the elite dictate the bar in which we all measure ourselves. For example, we may see a picture of a celebrity with a pair of Ugg boots and Dooney & Burke bag. Even though we aren’t in the same social circles, we not only want the Ugg boots and Dooney & Burke bag, we think that having those items are the norm.

Source: Ugglooks.com

Source: Ugglooks.com

Web 2.0 also reinforces forms of oppression. Facebook allows others to put forth the carefully crafted image that they want to portray. You only see the highlights of someone’s life, not the boring, ugly or mundane reality. For example, if your best friend from high school posts pictures from her vacations around the world seemingly every weekend, while you scrimp and save for a modest vacation once a year, this reinforces your viewpoint that life isn’t fair.

However, I argue that we willingly adopt and enforce these power ideologies. I feel as if Facebook is a big competition. Whether we compete for the most well-behaved kids, mommy of the year award or most “likes” on our status update, we all play into this model, reinforcing it’s success.

One way that we willingly adopt and reinforce the legitimate power of these structures and ideologies is through the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. For those who are not familiar with this popular concept that debuted in 2005, Elf on the Shelf is a magical elf that was sent from the North Pole to keep an eye on your children throughout the holiday season. Each night he flies back up to the North Pole and tells Santa if your child has been naughty or nice. When he returns in the morning, he hides in a new spot and creates mischief. When I first bought Elf on the Shelf for my kids in 2005, there was no social pressure around the use of the elfin creature. He simply would reappear the next morning in a new spot. Well, that was before the overachieving, Type A, sycophant moms took it too far.


Simply type “Elf on the Shelf” on Pinterest, Instagram, Vine or Twitter. Unfortunately I don’t even have to search for #elfontheshelf, as my Facebook News Feed is filled everyday by overachieving mommies posting pictures of what their mischievous little elf did the previous night. Start a marshmallow fight?? Get into your flour and spread it all over the kitchen? Coordinate a neighborhood wide candy cane hunt? Nothing is too messy, difficult or time consuming for this elf.

Elf on the Shelf

The parents who coordinate these ridiculous elf activities are reinforcing the hegemony by not only buying into this corporate moneymaking scheme (in addition to the $30 elf, you can buy elf skirts, toys and accessories) but they make it seem like the norm to create these over-the-top scenarios. Society actually willingly adopts and enforces the power of these hegemonic ideologies. Those who created Elf on the Shelf couldn’t have predicted how successful Elf on the Shelf has become. The process of Elf on the Shelf activities is created by the subordinate groups (parents) to please their children and is reinforced within social media channels. There are blogs, Pinterest Boards and Twitter Handles all devoted to Elf on the Shelf ideas. Other parents feel the pressure to participate and feel guilty that their elf haphazardly “hid” in the fruit bowl, while your neighbor’s elf created a snowflake paper daisy chain and decorated the living room.

Web 2.0 also allows others to resist these practices with Elf on the Shelf. Take for example author Jen, who writes the blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Her post Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies went viral in 2011 when she went on a rampage about how moms who take the mischievous activities of their elf too far are making life harder for the rest of us. The post received over two million hits, demonstrating that she’s not alone in her views. She says what every mother is thinking, “Like I have time, desire or resources to make this red carpet entrance for a doll. I can barely get him out of the box and prop him up on the shelf.  We haven’t even read the book yet this year and she wants me to literally roll out a red carpet for him.  When does she do laundry?  When does she work?  And most importantly, when does she sleep?” (Jen, 2011)[4]. The great thing about Web 2.0 is that it allows for opinions on every side of the issue. While many are following in the footsteps of the overachieving Elf on the Shelf parents, many are also able to voice their disgust with this practice in these same social media channels. I have to admit, I have not resisted the practice of Elf on the Shelf and I participate, Even though I’m by no means an overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mom, I did spell out “I love you” in Hershey kisses last night as my elf hid in the bag.

Elf on the Shelf

Why did I do this? One explanation may be that the hegemony ideological control has taken hold and I am actively pursuing the ideals created by organizational elites. I’m reinforcing cultural ideals about motherhood and raising a generation of kids who are indulged. Another explanation may be that I love the look on my daughter’s face when she finds “Johnny” our elf every morning and discovers what he’s done. Well, she’s seven years old and I only get a few more years of Santa, Elf on the Shelf and Christmas magic. All too soon I won’t have to worry about mischievous elves, so I’ll suffer from executing half-baked attempts at elf mischief for now.

Source: ilikepin.blogshubspot.com

Source: ilikepin.blogshubspot.com


John Markoff with the New York Times describes Web 3.0 as a web of connected data (2006)[5]. Web 3.0 marks a shift from the web acting as seamlessly connected applications to a term coined as “semantic web”, which is added meaning. For example, one would be able to ask a complex question, such as “What Graduate school is best for me if I want a degree in Communications, want to spend less than $1,000 per credit hour, take courses online, but also have a brick-and-mortar campus close to my home?” With Web 2.0 one would have to sift through many different websites to compile this information. Web 3.0 promises the ability to produce a solution based on complex requirements. In this sense, I predict that Web 3.0 will completely change the way we search and process information. Tim Leberecht (2013)[6] with Management Exchange argues that “big data” will never beat human intuition. He states that while big data provides us with the obvious measurements of how others use information it isn’t social or intuitive.

In conclusion, I think that Web 3.0 will create hegemonic practices by allowing more corporations to understand how consumers make purchases, as they will be able to see the complete picture of how, why and when consumers spend money. By doing this, they will be able to plant the seed for others in society to reinforce these norms by sharing. Just as we see in Web 2.0, the early adopters will have the most influence. Just as a hegemonic society is fostered today by our current Web 2.0 environment, I think this will continue thrive in the Web 3.0 world.

What do you think? How do you think that Web 3.0 will change hegemonic practices? Have you had experience with Elf on the Shelf? Do you think that this mischievous elf plays a role in our ideological control in society?



[1] Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall Jr., H. L., & Trethewey, A. (2010). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint (6th ed). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

[2] Jalil, K.A. (2010). Breaking Hegemonic dominance of the Mass Media: The Rise of Social Media. International Conference on Communication and Media 2010. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/1315258/Breaking_Hegemonic_dominance_of_the_Mass_Media_The_Rise_of_Social_Media

[3] Atton, C. (2002). News Cultures and New Social Movements: radical journalism and the mainstream media. Journalism Studies, 3(4). 491-505. DOI: 10.1080/1461670022000019209

[4] Jen (No Last Name Provided) (2011) Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies. People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Retrieved from: http://www.peopleiwanttopunchinthethroat.com/2012/12/over-achieving-elf-on-shelf-mommies.html

[5] Markoff, J. (2006, November 12). Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/business/12web.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


[6] Leberecht, T. (2013, June 20). Why Big Data Will Never Beat Human Intuition. Management Exchange. Retrieved from: http://www.managementexchange.com/blog/big-data-big-intuition


2 thoughts on “Elf on the Shelf Reinforces Hegemonic Society

  1. Stacy, excellent post! The Elf on the Shelf phenomenon is way over my head. I thought he was just supposed to sit on the shelf and be Santa’s eyes leading up to Christmas, not a naughty little imp. I also don’t understand why moms and dads voluntarily make giant messes in the name of the elf… they have to clean it up! If the elf must have extravagant experiences, then I like the idea of the elf doing good things and setting a good example.
    An interesting thought struck me while reading your post, though. The Elf on the Shelf and Santa are the Christmas Panopticon. Children never know when he is actually watching, they just have to assume he always is and behave appropriately.

  2. Since Elf of the Shelf was born in Atlanta, he’s a pretty big deal here. I love your take on the hegemony of the “over the top” Elf on the Shelf display movement. It’s the perfect example of the meeting of two ideologies–the super-Mommy and the industry dollar. So much of the pressure we feel in life to succeed is based on marketing messages designed to make us buy “happiness.”

    Really creative take on the assignment!

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