To all the adult geeks who are upset that they went to a midnight shopping frenzy and still couldn’t get their mitts on some sweet Star Wars swag – let me tell you a story…
Back in the late 90’s De and I were both living in Wisconsin, underpaid, under-appreciated, depressed and miserable. Ep 1 had been hyped for awhile and as many in my generation, we were greatly anticipating the return of our childhood favorite. Imagine it – a new Star Wars!!! And with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson? Be still my nerdly heart. So when ToysRUs announced they’d be opening their doors at midnight for the new action figures, both of us were in line by 9pm.
It wasn’t just pure nostalgia (or in my case, that my family never had money to buy me those action figures the first time around) that brought us there; there’s something called the “lipstick index” that theorizes that in a recession, women buy more lipstick because it’s a relatively cheap pick-me-up. New color, new makeup, new possibilities. Like a scratcher card that gives you a few minutes to imagine what you would do with all that money before you’ve scratched off all the gunk to reveal nothing in particular. For us, it was little pieces of Star Wars branded plastic, with characters and spaceships we had only seen in trailers or stills on the web. So we went. And we bought crap, some of it with a “one to take out and play with, one to collect” ethos. And in the intervening months, we’d pick up a little Darth Maul spin pop or Amidala change purse or Yoda pez dispenser every time we stopped in at Target, or the grocery store.
Eventually we moved across the country, and I divested myself of many action figures. When we moved from our apartment in Studio City to Hollywood, I pretty much got rid of anything that wasn’t 1/12 scale, and by the time we moved from Hollywood to where we are now, everything went. As an archivist, De held on to her stuff for much longer, but ran into a bit of a problem when she developed a collection policy of only high end stuff and went to deaccession her Mint-In-Box figures and toys; No one would buy them as collectibles, and even the second hand places out here wouldn’t take them as donations – something about liability if there had been a recall.
I can’t fault the critical reception of the pre-quels with the tanking of the SW collectibles market. The merch was there as part of a marketing effort and as money-makers in their own right. They weren’t “over produced” – they made Lucasfilm and approved licensees a metric crap-ton of money. That’s what merchandise is for. I don’t regret the couple of hundred bucks I spent $6 at a time – it brightened an otherwise dismal day. Nor do I regret the two Star Wars Celebration conventions I attended. They were nice vacations with geeks just like me. But it kind of makes me sad to see so many adults grab toys from a movie they haven’t even seen yet and then take to social media to complain and whine that they couldn’t get the cool stuff. Does anyone think any of the swag they release at ToysRUs or Target or Walmart will ever be worth more than what they paid for it? Do they understand they have been used as part of Disney’s powerful marketing machine? (hell, do they get that SDCC Hall H programming is nothing but corporate PR bullshit?). I hope people are at least taking them out of their packages and playing with them, posing them in their cubicles, making dioramas, whatever.
I hate to spend my time shouting at clouds, but if people would spend less time complaining about not being able to enrich giant corporations and more time just playing with toys, I wouldn’t have to.