BIG ELF IS WATCHING YOU

Have you ever been in prison?

 

been behind bars

 

 

Wait – never mind that question.

Have you heard of The Elf on the Shelf?

You probably have.

Seeing though Christmas was just last month and all.

Still, if you haven‘t or you just don‘t give a damn about Christmas, it’s this guy:

 

elf on the shelf

 

The Elf on the Shelf is not a new thing. It’s been around for awhile.

The point (or if we want to get philosophical, the telos) of the Elf on the Shelf is simple: as anyone with even a basic knowledge of the philosophy of gift giving according to Santa Claus knows, children are taught by their parents that the number and quantity of Christmas gifts necessarily depends on them behaving like “good little boys and girls”.

But every parent is also well aware of the fact that the natural disposition of children (think: Hobbes’ state of nature) makes it nearly impossible for children to behave like rational, autonomously legislating human beings at all times.

This can interfere with a child’s plans for ultimate Christmas morning gift getting.

 

THE INEVITABLE GIFT FOR EVERY CHILD WHO PREFERS HEDONISM OVER KANT

THE INEVITABLE GIFT FOR EVERY CHILD WHO PREFERS HEDONISM OVER KANT

 

 

So, if a parent wants their child to receive gifts from St. Nick, a parent has to guarantee that their precious bundle of joy remains a good boy or girl, even when there is no threat of physical punishment.

 

 HOW GOOD ARE WE IF OUR COMPLIANCE IS COERCED, ANYWAY?

HOW GOOD ARE WE IF OUR COMPLIANCE IS COERCED, ANYWAY?

 

The threat of injury to one’s buttocks is usually enough to thwart all but the worst of bad children.

Here’s where the Elf on the Shelf comes in…..

 

believe in santa

 

 

If you haven’t noticed, it seems that Santa’s little recon-minded helper has been around much more than usual.
You can blame the crimson-clad imp’s ubiquitousness on the internet.

The problem that some folks have with the Elf on the Shelf isn’t the debate over matters of taste or even about accusations that the Elf is just another example of the over-commercialization of Christmas.

 

elf on the shelf dick in a box

 

 

That’s not a problem at all.
However, you can say that the problem with the Elf on the Shelf is something a little more, well… ominous.

The problem with the Elf on the Shelf, some say, is that the damn thing is everywhere.

A simple Google image search for “elf on the shelf” will yield you humorous (and slightly risqué) Elf on the Shelf photos like this:

 

elf on the shelf with barbies

 
elf on the shelf shave

 
elf on the shelf is bad

 

Pretty funny images, right?

Alright, I know. They’re not.

But bear with me a bit, will ya?

 

Now, there are those who think that the Elf on the Shelf is an annoying as hell harmless prank. Still, there are those that believe that the “harmless” holiday pranks associated with the Elf on the Shelf hides a deeper, sinister purpose.

 

harmless

 

 

You see, instead of associating the Elf on the Shelf with humorous images like this:

 

 

elf on the shelf spells reddum

 

We should associate the Elf on the Shelf with images like this:

 

IS THAT DR. PHIL?

IS THAT DR. PHIL?

 

Or rather, an image like this:

 

elf on the shelf big brother

 

Besides being just plain creepy, non-fans of the “harmless” Elf on the Shelf argue that the Elf’s purpose isn’t to be just a harmless Christmas prank that parents play on their children to make their children behave before the holidays.

Nope.

 

 

 

giphy

 

 

The truth about the Elf on the Shelf is the Elf a tool of the police state.

A red-suited Trojan horse of the total surveillance society.

I’m not joking about this.

 
WATCH:

 

 

 

 

 

If you couldn’t stop laughing at this latest conspiracy theory long enough to watch didn’t watch the video, the gist of the Elf on the Shelf is Big Brother theory/argument goes like this: The Elf is always watching. It gets children used to the idea of being under constant surveillance. Because the parent moves the elf to various locations to keep the child off guard, the child doesn’t know when the elf is watching, so a child will act as if the elf is always watching. The child behaves in lieu of physical punishment.

The Elf’s surreptitiousness is the key to successfully modifying a child’s behavior.

 

creepy elf

 

 

 

Dr. Laura Pinto writes:

Children who participate in play with the Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day… they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus.

 

The ultimate purpose of the Elf on the Shelf is indoctrination.

Behavior modification.

 

 

elf on the shelf i'm watching you

 

Ok, I think we can all agree that the Elf on the Shelf is annoying, if not a full-blown exercise in ultimate creepiness.

 

 

elf on the shelf says children are fun toys

 

But why am I bringing this up, you say? Christmas was last year.

And what exactly does the Elf on the Shelf have to do with philosophy?

Well, would you believe that the bad idea of surreptitious surveillance of people to force- I mean, encourage good behavior was cooked up by a philosopher?

 

Oh. You would, huh?

 

LOOK CLOSELY: THIS PHILOSOPHER IS JUST ABOUT TO TELL SOME PEOPLE A BAD IDEA

LOOK CLOSELY: THIS PHILOSOPHER IS JUST ABOUT TO TELL SOME PEOPLE A BAD IDEA

 

 

The philosopher I’m talking about is Jeremy Bentham.

The idea is the panopticon.

 

DON’T BLAME THE ELF ON THE SHELF. BLAME THIS GUY

DON’T BLAME THE ELF ON THE SHELF. BLAME THIS GUY

 

 

The word panopticon was coined by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The word is derived from the Greek words pan (all) and opticon (seeing).

Bentham’s panopticon is a building where every part of the building is visible from a central point.

Like this:

 

 

panopticon

 

 

Bentham created the panopticon with the intention of reforming the English prison system and to end unnecessary suffering (pain) of incarcerated individuals while also creating a method of fostering good behavior among the prison population.

 

Because, as Bentham reasoned, when everybody behaves, people are happier.

 

 OBVIOUSLY DENIZENS OF BENTHAM’S PANOPTICON

OBVIOUSLY DENIZENS OF BENTHAM’S PANOPTICON

 

In a panopticon prison, a single guard can watch all the inmates at one time.

But here’s the thing: humans lack the kind of God-like omnipotence required to watch all things simultaneously – it is impossible for a single human to observe all things all at once. The point of the panopticon isn’t actually to watch everyone at one time. The point is to convince the prisoners that they are always being watched. The prisoners don’t know they’re being watched or not. According to Bentham, this uncertainty will lead them to act as if they are being watched.

 

Bentham wrote:

A building circular… The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference – The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors consealed… from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence – The whole circuit reviewable with a little, or… without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell. (Proposal for a New and Less Expensive mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts, 1798)

Bentham aimed to achieve moral reformation “all by a simple idea of architecture!”

 

Pretty nifty, eh?

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING REALLY CREEPY - JEREMY BENTHAM’S PRESERVED BODY IS ON DISPLAY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, WHERE IT HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY SINCE 1850. ……BENTHAM DIED IN 1832.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING REALLY CREEPY – JEREMY BENTHAM’S PRESERVED BODY IS ON DISPLAY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, WHERE IT HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY SINCE 1850.
……BENTHAM DIED IN 1832.

 

 

The panopticon is a form of mind control.

 

Behavior modification.

Sound like anyone we know?

 

NSA on the shelf

 
So, really, there is little difference between this:

 

 

elf on the shelf with tony montana

 

And this:

 

 

LOS ANGELES’ TWIN TOWERS JAIL, LIKE MANY PRISONS WORLDWIDE, WAS DESIGNED BASED ON BENTAM’S PANOPTICON

LOS ANGELES’ TWIN TOWERS JAIL, LIKE MANY PRISONS WORLDWIDE, WAS DESIGNED BASED ON BENTAM’S PANOPTICON

 

 
The late philosopher Michel Foucault used the word panopticon as a warning of a future where people are under constant surveillance. When we think of a surveillance society, we’re used to thinking of this kind of society in terms of things like this:

 

 

surveillance camera

 

and this:

 

 

MQ-1 Predator

 

 

or this:

 

nineteen eighty-four viewscreen

 

 

The thing is, a real, society-wide panopticon won’t be anything like what Bentham or maybe even Foucault thought it would be.

 

 

THIS IS A PICTURE OF MICHEL FOUCAULT, BY THE WAY

THIS IS A PICTURE OF MICHEL FOUCAULT, BY THE WAY

 

Perhaps Bentham and Foucault are only kind of correct.

 

There’s no doubt that cameras are everywhere.

 

 

UNFORTUNATELY CAMERAS ARE EVERYWHERE

UNFORTUNATELY CAMERAS ARE EVERYWHERE

 

And there are legitimate concerns about surveillance – especially government surveillance of people not in prison.

 

But, Big Brother won’t be an Orwellian telescreen and highly unlikely we’ll be housed somewhere in one of Bentham’s circular buildings where the guards watch us all the time.

 

 

DON’T ANYONE SAY FEMA CAMP

DON’T ANYONE SAY FEMA CAMP

 

 

It seems that, in the end, the panopticon will be in the form of a harmless holiday visitor.

 

A little fella who looks like this:

 

 

elf on the shelf is watching

 

 
And you can blame a philosopher for that.

 

 

 

 

 

 
* If you’re feeling that you absolutely must read what Bentham wrote about the panopticon, click on this link.
http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1925

 

* And if you’re in the mood to be extra creeped out, here’s some info on Bentham’s body.
ENJOY!
http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2013/10/23/jeremy_bentham_died_in_1850_but_he_s_still_sitting_in_a_hallway_at_this.html

 

 

 

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/18/elf-on-the-shelf-foucault_n_6343674.html

 

Red Solo Machete

*Note: this post was originally written October, 2014.

 
Well, philosophy fans, it’s fall.

You know what that means.

That’s right. Fall means it’s the season for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the smell of crisp autumn air, and the green leaves of summer turning into rustic scenes of brilliant shades of gold, crimson, and brown.

 

 

 

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

 

Unless you live in Australia.

Because it’s spring down there now, isn’t it?

If it is, do they still have pumpkin spice lattes in November?

 

 

 TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

 

 

I think we’ll all admit that nature’s splendor is great and all, but the beginning of the autumn season can only mean one thing to the horror television fan: the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

You know, the zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 
No, not that zombie show.
This zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one with the ratings that regularly beats Sunday Night Football.*
Fans of the show know there’s plenty of things to talk about on The Walking Dead – the TV show versus the graphic novels, the show’s black guy rule, how much Andrea sucks, how much Beth sucks, the hotness of Norman Reedus….

Plenty.

 

Andrea

 

 

With the half season over, it’s time for the regular-viewer’s eyes to turn to things other than hating on Beth Greene and zombie head shot counts (AKA: nitpicking the hell out of the show).

 

 

 

beth haters

 

 

For those fans who are philosophically inclined also like to talk about one topic for

discussion in particular –

 

Guessed it yet?

 

Hint: this blog is about philosophy.

 

 

thinking guy

 

 

You may no know it, but some The Walking Dead fans (ok, maybe just me) like to talk about how the show is all about philosophy.

Really, it is.

 

 

this is going to be fun

 

 
If you have a preference for thinking about television philosophically, I should say that it’s worth mentioning that it’s awfully fun to talk about The Walking Dead and morality.
Well, fun if you’re a philosopher.

 

 

…. And you watch a lot of TV.

 

tyler watches TV

 

 

 

There’s plenty of moral dilemmas to be found in a typical episode/season of The Walking Dead, but the one moral dilemma that seems to rear its undead more often than others is the problem of moral ambiguity.

 

 

the good the bad the morally ambiguous

 

 

Moral ambiguity, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is:

[the] lack of clarity in ethical decision making. that is, when an issue, situation, or questions has moral dimensions or implications, but the decidedly “moral” action to take is unclear, either due to conflicting principles, ethical systems, or situational perspectives.

 

 

images scumbag steve uses UD

 

 

That is to say, moral ambiguity is lack of moral clarity; the line between good and bad actions is blurred.

 

my favorite color is moral ambiguity

 

 

Speaking of blurred lines….

 

MUSIC BREAK!

 

 

 

 

 

Although, given my tastes, moral ambiguity in the zombie apocalypse would sound a little more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing is, the problem of moral ambiguity isn’t exclusively a The Walking Dead problem. Moral ambiguity seems to have infected other AMC shows as well – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt and Catch Fire and Hell On Wheels are all afflicted with morally ambiguous characters and situations.

This guy may be the worst of them all.

 

 

 

worst

 

 

The problem, if you will, with moral ambiguity isn’t just a problem for AMC . It’s prevalent in more than quite a few movies and television shows.

 

 

moral ambiguity character chart

 

 

Wait – everyone here knows when I say AMC I mean the television network American Movie Classics, right?

Just saying that so we’re clear.

‘Cause clarity is important when you’re talking philosophically.

 

 

clear_as_crystal

 

 

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: what’s the harm in a little moral ambiguity? After all, life isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be – and sometimes, despite our own moral convictions, a situation calls for us to get our hands a little dirty. To violate our moral principles; to play on both sides of the moral fence.

In a land overrun by undead, morality (and especially moral consistency) takes second place to the act of surviving. We can excuse Rick Grimes when he violates his rule “you don’t kill the living” and we can sympathize with the murderous cannibals at Terminus because these characters do whatever is necessary to do to survive.

 

It seems inevitable that the will to survive leads to some moral ambiguity.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to eat a another man’s leg to save our own lives.

Wait, just me?

 

oh.

 

 

 

bob-b-que

 

 

At first glance, a non-distinct moral style is more than justified in a zombie apocalypse. After all, when it comes to survival, are you really going to worry about moral consistency?

Yeah, me neither.

But we’re all philosophers here. And you know what philosophers don’t like? Non distinct things. And you know what non distinct things are? Ambiguous. Philosophers hate ambiguity.

And there’s an obvious problem that arises when we fail to clearly define the line between right and wrong. Namely, not clearly defining what is morally right and what is morally wrong makes it difficult to perform morally correct acts.

That is, when our morals are not clear we may fail to do the right thing.

 

 

do the right thing

 

 

Worse yet, if our morals are ambiguous, how can we judge which acts are good or bad?

And worse than that – if right and wrong are not clearly defined how is a TV watcher to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

The ability to do so may be very important if you find yourself surrounded by a horde of the undead.

Believe it or not, doing so relies on having a clear sense of morality.

 

 

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

 

 

You see, moral ambiguity may be no big deal to television writers or to fictional fellows like Don Draper, Walter White or Shane Walsh, but in the real world, the consequences of moral ambiguity probably won’t make you anyone’s favorite antihero. In the real world, moral ambiguity can lead to such awful things like moral relativism or (gasp!)

 

moral nihilism.

Yeah. You end up morals like this guy:

 

 

old fred

 

 

 

Or (worst case scenario) a total breakdown or rejection of all morality.
Actually, that kind of stuff happens in the fake world, too.

 

 

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

 

 

You see, when a TV show begins to blur the line between good and bad it can become difficult to sustain one’s like for a character – especially if one’s fondness for a particular character is predicated on the belief that the character is good. For instance, Rick Grimes’ shifting morality and his willingness to violate his own moral principles (i.e., “we do not kill the living”) makes it increasingly difficult to discern which side of the moral fence Rick Grimes resides on: is he a good man who does bad things or a bad man who occasionally does good things?

The problem is, we can’t tell. Rick’s morality isn’t static. We can’t pinpoint exactly where Rick Grimes’ morality (or any of the other characters in The Walking Dead) falls on the morality scale. It’s ambiguous. The characters of The Walking Dead aren’t guided by a ethical code as much as they are dictated by expediency.

That often makes the characters act inconsistently.

And inconsistency causes trouble.

Moral trouble.

Moral ambiguity trouble.

 

 

 

shit happens GIF

 

 

Ok. Let me give a long winded example: As many fans of the show know, Rick kicked Carol out of the group for killing two people, Karen and David; deaths that Carol claimed were necessary to save the rest of the group. Carol believes that although she intentionally killed two people, her actions are morally correct and tells Rick that (morally speaking) her actions are no different than when Rick killed his best friend Shane.

By the way, if you don’t know who Shane is or was, go back to The Walking Dead seasons 1 & 2.

Anyway, Rick is outraged at Carol for killing two people that Rick argues could have recovered from their illness.

An illness that, by the way, when it kills you, you end up looking like this:

 

 

EWWWWW

EWWWWW

 

 

So naturally, Carol thought the solution for that was doing this:

 

 

karen and david burned

PRETTY DANGED EFFICIENT OF CAROL, IF YOU ASK ME

 

 

 

 

Rick’s moral outrage (because Rick suddenly has a clear sense of morality) seems to be rooted in his season 1 declaration “we do not kill the living”. Rick declares that no living person is to be killed even if that person poses a potential risk to the group.

 

 

 REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

 

 

 

Of course Rick’s moral outrage would have made sense if we were still in season 1.

That was back when Rick had a clear and distinct moral view.

 

 

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

 

 

But something has happened to Rick that the fact that Rick takes offense to Carol’s actions should strike us a little odd. The thing is this: by the time Carol kills Karen and David, Rick’s morals are no longer distinct as we would (or the writers would ) like (us) to believe.

In fact, by season 4, Rick has developed a nasty habit of killing living people.

 

This is a pretty easy thing to if your morals are ambiguous.

 

Because TV. That’s why.

 

 

 

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP....POOR RANDALL

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP….POOR RANDALL

 

 

Seriously, the reason why Rick Grimes is so willing to kill the living is because Rick’s ethics are no longer grounded in the distinction between the moral rules dictating what is morally good and what is morally bad. Ok, remember when Rick told the racist (and soon-to-be mono-handed) redneck Merle Dixon that distinctions among races no longer exist; there are no more black and white people; only the living and the dead?

 

Well, like race, in a world populated by the living dead, morals are no longer distinct. Good guys like Rick do bad things and bad guys like The Governor do good things. So much so that it’s hard to tell who is good and who is evil.

 

 

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE  A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

 

 

We are supposed to be morally offended at Claimer Joe’s ethic of teaching a liar a lesson “all the way”, but we commend Joe for doing the right thing and defending Daryl against Claimer Len’s false accusations. That makes Joe a good guy, right? But then, when Joe and the Claimers threaten to kill Rick and rape Carl and Michonne, Joe is a bad guy again.

Kind of confusing if you let it get to you.

Here’s the thing, though: we’re supposed to think that Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors are good people (certainly better than the cannibals at Terminus or at Phillip Blake’s (aka the Governor) who ruthlessly turns his weapon on his own people), but how can we think that Rick or his actions are good when we see Rick and his group massacre (a bad thing) the survivors of Terminus? Or when Rick’s loosely-rooted morality enables him to kill the living like this:

 

 

rick kills shane

 

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick shooting dave

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead tony

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick slicing tomas

 

 

And like this

 

 

 

rick kills guy in bathroom

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick kills joe

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead gareth

 

 

And finally, in the season 5 mid-season finale, like this

 

 

rick kills ofc. bob

 

 

 

Mind you, Rick kills the cannibal (by necessity) Gareth even as Gareth begs for his life.

 

Now, some folks may have no problem with Rick Grimes’ actions. They still believe that he’s a good guy. But think about it: can we to simply shrug off Rick’s actions because we think he’s doing what is best for his group; because his actions are in service to the greater good?

Because all those other bad guys – they’re trying to serve the greater good, too.

Even Officer Dawn Lerner says so.

 

 

dawn GIF

 

 

This got me thinking; Is Rick really more morally certain (i.e. morally right) than the Governor? More certain than the cannibals at Terminus? Than Joe and the Claimers? Or more morally certain than Eugene Porter who lied to save his own life?

Can we tell?

 

mullet of lies

 

 

Ok, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got this all You’re thinking the problem on The Walking Dead isn’t moral ambiguity. Well, for starters, you’re probably right.

The appearance of moral ambiguity on The Walking Dead may not be that Rick Grimes has succumbed to Walter White syndrome; it may be nothing more than the product of sloppy writing.

Gee, I hope not.

 

 

knocks_breaking_bad

 

 

After all, Rick Grimes isn’t very much like Don Draper or Walter White. However, any fan of the show is bound to notice that there has been a noticeable moral shift in Rick Grimes. Rick’s moral certainty seems less assured now than it did at the beginning of the series. It’s clear that Rick is more than willing to cross the moral line, even in situations when it seems that Rick is clearly doing the wrong thing.

It is exactly in the space between moral certainty and moral nihilism that we see Rick Grimes headed towards. It’s why we find – ok, why some of us find – Rick Grimes such a compelling television character.

 

 

 

 

Someone explain to me how killing one of the “good” cops benefits the situation, again?

 

 

 

In the end, whether Rick’s moral shift is television’s finest example of rule utilitarianism or some other ethical theory (or bad writing), the manifestation of moral flexibility (or moral degradation) to the point of moral ambiguity is worth thinking about – not just in the fictional world of a zombie apocalypse, but in the real world where we often feel that we can no longer easily navigate what is morally right versus what is the morally wrong thing to do.

But I’m sure that by the next half season Rick will be fully morally functional and none of this will make any sense whatsoever.

 

…. If it doesn’t make sense already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
* http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/11/12/why-the-nfl-is-losing-the-sunday-night-primetime-tv-battle-to-the-walking-dead/

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=moral%20ambiguity