It happens like clockwork. A new line of Funko Pops, those square headed plastic statues, is revealed to cash in on either the latest pop culture phenomenon or one of the near infinite number of obscured or aging franchises that has experienced a resurgence in the popular consciousness. Just as predictable are the inevitable lamentations of those who believe their taste in plastic collectable commodity to be superior to those plebeians who waste their money on the diminutive and simplistic Pop figure.
“I can’t stand them” they mention, loudly as a nearby child browses the boxes at a local Hot Topic.
“They look so stupid” comes drifting over from the gaming table at the local comic shop as a parent seeks out a Pop based on their kid’s favorite movie.
“They’re so cheap looking” reads one post in the latest NeoGaf thread discussing the new Funko pops.
These titans of pop-culture plastic then flood the discussion with pictures of $60 — $100 Japanese import models and figures, protesting that people waste their money on Funko Pops while smugly asserting their superiority and what they deem the proper use of disposable income in the service of fandom. Anyone who likes a Funko Pop clearly doesn’t know true quality.
In short, the prevailing attitude is such: Fuck Funko. Pops are for the plebs.
I marvel frequently at how disturbingly geekdom is gatekeeping the ways people explore their fandom for the collectables, and more often than not the simple Funko Pop is an object of scorn. This is, of course, just another expression of the current toxicity in the “old” fans and the more diverse “new fandom.” Plastic toys and figures in many ways are the last bastion of “traditional” (read: male) pop-culture fandom. Movies, games, and television are incredibly mainstream and consumers who 30 years ago would not have been typically associated with high fantasy fandom or superhero films have propelled this pop-culture to ridiculously large heights regarding fandom. Things that were coded traditionally “geek” (read: again, male) are now in the day to day lexicon of your average person. The next great frontier is the toy, and the Funko Pop is the designed to appeal to a much broader and thriftier audience.
In a sense, it is understandable that there is the resistance to the Funko Pop among collectors of pricier memorabilia. For one thing, there is admittedly a flood of them and their simplistic style introduces a uniformity that doesn’t scream unique collectible. One can sort of sympathize with the buyer flush with disposable income who seeks a great variety of figures to show their love of their favorite comic, movie, or show, only to be met with entire walls of the uniform, blank stare of the Funko Pop.
Indeed, barring some rare exceptions, most Pops are the same figure in a different costume, with beady black eyes staring at nothing in particular. Furthermore, these pops and their universal appeal comes from their simplicity and cuteness, which draws a larger consumer base. This larger consumer base and their buying habits then influence the retailers to stock similar merch that eventually crowds out the type of merch that appeals to the more “discerning” collector. The biggest concern, however, is that while Pops are more readily accepted, more expensive and elaborate expression of fandom (read: $120 Harley Quinn resin statues) strikes this broader base of new consumers as unusual. Most people may not oppose spending $12 on a Pop these days, but these very same people might side eye someone spending over $100 on a statue. The person who spends more on their fandom still has the potential to be judged, while all the while people are flooding “their space” and embracing a commodified version of what the “traditional” fans already loved. It’s a scary thing to feel outnumbered, even when it comes to toys.
This fear, however, does not justify the gatekeeping of what expression of fandom is true by shaming people for embracing the more affordable form of engaging in the fandom. Placing a value judgement on a $12 Pop of Khal Drogo in an elitist and condescending manner that is meant to shame the people who would buy the Khal Drogo Pop is, frankly, a dick move. Even if the attention is not to shame the people who would buy a Khal Drogo Pop, inserting one’s distaste for them with such loaded rhetoric is a form of gatekeeping and does not welcome others into the fold of fandom.
I am not arguing that a person is not allowed to dislike Pops. In many ways I find them overrated. Furthermore, nobody will argue a Pop is a “luxury” item, at least in the sense of quality — these things are $12 each and that adds up. My concern is that the perpetual flood of negativity that comes with the mention of Funko Pops online and in collectable stores is perpetuating a harmful rhetoric about what “real” collectables are, and this rhetoric does have an effect on how people perceive fandoms they wish to join. I do agree with the thoughts of this article, however; Funko’s marketing of the Pops as collectables is disingenuous; nothing is truly collectable if marketed as such and I firmly pity anyone who snatches these things up expecting to turn a profit. There are just so damn many of any given Pop. There are exceptions, of course, but those are just that, exceptions, and their value will be ephemeral at best. Nothing marketed as collectable or limited edition succeeds as an investment. Do we not remember the comic market crash of the 90s?
Despite these valid criticisms of the product, however, nobody should ever feel comfortable with the idea of intimidating someone who is entering collecting through a simple line of products like a Funko Pop. People who might not buy a toy or statue to express their interest are finding themselves buying these square-headed hunks of plastic and that should be celebrated. In a way, Pops are normalizing the collector’s market by bringing collecting to a larger population, not just a small, specialized group of hobbyists. Collecting is becoming a more common part of fandom; isn’t that a good thing?
You know what, though? When it all comes down to it, it’s not like Funko Pops need defending. Their parent company rakes in money hand over fist with their series of releases. Though, one may also see the writing on the wall; there will be a point where the little bobbleheads become the next Beanie Babies and no longer turn the profit that they once did. Whether or not they fade off into obscurity after the market bottoms out is another question entirely… and a question I am not knowledgeable enough to answer.
All I know is that that square headed Donatello of the TMNT looks as adorable as ever sitting on my workstation at home.