The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Pokémon. What is it that makes all of these phenomenons so great? Is it the fact that they define the collective childhood of our generation, standing out from the pack as the best of movies, books, and television in the late nineties and early noughts, pioneering new techniques in each of their respective fields? I mean, what the hell were special effects before Weta Workshop and The Lord of the Rings? What other children’s book series inspired as many children to read as J.K. Rowling’s sweeping masterpiece? If not for Pokémon, how would any of us have known that Japan existed?
But nay, it is not for these reasons. It’s because of their goddamned fucking brilliant forays into franchising.
There are Pokémon body suits. You could buy Lord of the Rings bread (if you lived in Germany, that is). Don’t even get me started on the kind of crazy stuff they put Harry Potter’s face on. Action figures. Card games. Stuffed animals. Russian Nesting Dolls. It is blatant consumerism at its finest.
The industry makes millions of dollars every year, marketing to salivating seven-year-olds and creepy middle-aged single men alike. Everyone collected this stuff as children (Gottacatchemall!), but once most people reach a certain age, they leave the realm of franchising behind, turning in the action figure with 24 full points of articulation (that’s an art form in itself, my friend) for something considerably less cool.
I have to say, I’m just not one of those bastards.
Let me put this in perspective. I spent a great deal of my childhood with eyes glued to a computer screen—not playing video games, but scrolling through hundreds of pages of eBay auctions, searching for the perfect deal. At eight I knew all the abbreviations and what they stood for—MOC, NIB, TCG—the list goes on and on. I perfected the art of bidding on auctions with dial-up, waiting until the last possible second to bid and claim my prize. When I was 17, I convinced my mother to drive 800 miles to visit my brother in St. Louis so that I could see the Knight Bus touring for the release of “Deathly Hallows.” In July. Without air conditioning. At one point my mother fell on the pavement and got a bloody nose. We still didn’t leave.
Today, I can tell you what kinds of items are going to accrue value over time (it’s all about promotional items, misprints, and pirated stuff), when they will be worth the most (when someone involved dies), or whether or not you can get anything for that mint-in-box Legolas Series One action figure (should have sold it in 2004, bitches). I. Own. A. Spock. Nutcracker.
I can feel your looks of scorn, but I am not ashamed. I have never really understood why collecting has such a negative connotation—I think we can all agree (at least all of us who are lovely and clever) that Star Wars is awesome—so why is it lame to seek out a 1981 Millennium Falcon at a flea market? The way I see it, if I can get as excited about finding a $15 action figure as my sister can about buying a $120 pair of jeans, then that’s fine with me. The only difference between the two of us is that her tastes got more complicated and expensive over time, while mine stayed pretty much the same.
All of the collectors I’ve known have one thing in common: they’ve still got that childhood wonder, that ability to take pleasure in the simple things (like the Deluxe Fellowship of the Ring figure set complete with Elven cloaks). It brings us back to a simpler time, when our biggest concern was whether or not Gryffindor was going to win the House Cup, to those idyllic childhood days full of bubbles and ice cream and glitter.
We’re not losers; we’re young at heart. I mean, I guess you can argue that it’s not so much the whole “young at heart” thing as that we have some psychological issues that keep us from maturing emotionally or that collecting is our way of coping with the banality of our everyday lives. But then you would be a jerk.