All kids know the tale of Santa. Through parents, stories, movies it is a timeless tale of children needing to behave, because Santa is watching and he knows if someone is being naughty or nice. In a sense, Santa is back up surveillance for parents. Foucault, a postmodern theorist, emphasizes the impact of constant surveillance in societies. In his theory he illustrates 3 phases of surveillance starting with public torture, the panopticon and finally internalization of surveillance through the disciplinary individual.
The panopticon is of particular interest here. It was originally designed for prison so that the guards could be in a tower in the center always able to see the prisoners, but the prisoners were never able to know if they being watched. It is the same with kids and Santa: Santa is the G-rated panopticon for kids. A new trend in parenting has grown where parents put a small elf on a shelf or mantel. The idea is that the elf is a physical reminder that Santa (aka parents) are always watching and keeping tabs on the kids. The elf, for most parents, is put up a few months before Christmas in an attempt to change the child’s behavior before and after Christmas
. However, there are some parents who are truly against the idea of using a Santa like panopticon in order to get their children to behave. These parents tell their children outright that there is no Santa and they should behave, because that is what is expected of them. They expect that their children should behave, more or less, all year around and not because of the threat of some mythical figuring taking away presents. One family in fact did ‘take away Christmas’ because their kids did not behave. A poll taken showed that 85% of parents used bribery, like Santa coming, to get their children to behave around the holidays. Some families use a kind of Santa thermometer to help kids gage where they stand with the main man.
Similar to the elf on the shelf, this gage helps the kids to see if the kid’s name is going up he is nice and if the name goes down then the kid is being naughty. Either way parents use Santa as a way to monitor their children’s behavior. This kid like panopticon may have its momentary perks, but in a way it really is a socially acceptable gimmick wrapped up in an elaborate myth to get kids to be nice. As children become older they learn ways (hopefully) to regulate their own behavior and be the disciplinary individuals that society dreams of. However, it all starts with that first panopticon of Santa and children being socialized to be nice and get the rewards they have been waiting for all year.