A shelf full of action figures, blurry and out of focus with a significant magenta shift. Hot Toys' rendering of Cobb Vanth is in the foreground far right.

Plastic crack

Something materially changed last year in my relationship with my primary hobby, which I just call “toys!” but the other adults in the community would probably thin-slice into more specific categories (“high-end sixth-scale collectibles hobby!” “heritage-scale Star Wars action figures and world-building elements!”). I saw some guy call it all “plastic crack” on a discussion thread the other day — I liked that one a lot.

Well, in any event, by dint of the change in my circumstances (re: quitting my job; writing my writing; having no “disposable income” to speak of), I naturally had to manifestly restrict my spending habits over the past ten months. In doing so, I seem to have inadvertently weaned myself off that selfsame plastic crack.

(As an aside: I’m on the road by the time you’re reading this, for a weekend writing retreat; if I happen to get pancaked by a tractor-trailer on the QEW, there is something immensely satisfying in the idea that my last post in the internet will be called “Plastic Crack.”)

A few things that led into this, alongside the money issue:

1/ Hot Toys, which I’ve been collecting in (relative to the rest of the hobby) small amounts since the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End figures all the way back in 2008, just doesn’t “do it for me” anymore. These used to be thrilling, once- or twice-a-year arrivals that I chomped at the bit for. That feeling has long since elapsed.

Plus, as with all such things, there’s a space issue: not being one of those guys who has a room dedicated to floor-to-ceiling display cases of 12″ dolls, I’ve sort of run out of interesting ways to put these things into my decor, within the constraints of my 500 square foot apartment. The space feels full; moreover, it feels complete.

2/ Hasbro Star Wars has, for all intents and purposes, shit the bed as spectacularly as one ever could have guessed it would have, all the way back in 2015 when they (suicidally, IMHO) split their own product line in two and thus divided their active customer market in half. (They have subsequently further subdivided that same market by introducing a third major line, The Retro Collection, though nowhere near as disastrously as the scale schism between the Black Series and what is now the “Vintage Collection.”) As with all things related to Disney+ (including Marvel), none of this is helped by the sheer glut of content of the pandemic years. There’s way too much entertainment to cover in a toy line.

Hasbro (wisely?) has chosen to pretend The Mandalorian is the only Star Wars entertainment in the world, and has all but completely ignored Andor, The Bad Batch, Visions, Tales of the Jedi, and even The Rise of Skywalker in their relentless pursuit of churning out every single Mando who stood on a beach one time and watched Grogu do backflips. If you told me in 1999 that twenty years later, there’d be a whole-ass Star Wars movie for which Hasbro would release five action figures, total, having just released 30 for The Phantom Menace with 30 more on deck for the following year, I’d have wept in my Obi-Wan Kenobi cosplay.

If you, like me, got sick of Grogu four years ago and are dreading that new Favreau/Filoni Mandalorian movie with something akin to the fervour of a doomsday prepper, Hasbro Star Wars is a dead toy line.

And a third thing, more by way of a field note:

In these times of uncertainty in the past few years, I sought the kinship of community, my brother nerds with their dolls and toys, and found pretty much exactly what you’d expect: when you have a hobby whose adherents are primarily white, male, straight, and Gen X or older, you are part of a wildly toxic community. Not all of them! Because nothing is “all” of anything! But if you want to find the terminally online CHUDs who make it a practice to make sure that every post about The Marvels on Deadline and Variety has at least one (1) comment reading, solely, “go woke go broke,” look no further. There are members of this community who are like a petrie dish of the people who genuinely wander around this planet believing that every single thing that is not for them is being done to them.

A relatively benign example that nonetheless permanently changed my relationship to the whole environment: one thing Hasbro did right in the past few years was begin their migration towards plastic-free packaging for their toys. You should have heard some of these dudes gnash and wail about that. I’m naturally biased, by being one of the ones who opens and discards said packaging, so it could be made of Kleenex for all I care; but watching month after month of angsty rants from grown men, in every medium available to them, about how PFP was taking away something to which these men were entitled, was gruesome.

And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy of the thinnest of hairs being split by the notion of cardboard packaging in a hobby whose products are almost entirely made of the plastic, regardless; mark that as another reason I’m fading out. It’s wild to think of the fact that all of the contents of my collection will outlast my physical presence on this Earth by about half a millennium or more. That’s true of most, if not all, of the junk the human race has made in the last hundred years; but the mind-walk I go on when picturing my Millennium Falcon toy being pulled out of the sump by some alien archaeologist in the year 2675, while delightful, is also really depressing. (Who knows, maybe some Mad Max kid will wear it as a breastplate in the Water Wars.)

One upside to this transition, in closing: it’s helped in the development of a broader sense in my life since quitting my job last spring that I already have everything I need. A sense of peaceful abundance has settled upon me, about plenty more than just toys, since I let go of the lapbar and just let the ride fling me about, trusting that I’d stay in my seat and go where I needed to go.

I’ve had great wealth in my life, of which the wealth in things is just a small part; but caring for the things I have, and enjoying them, and sharing them and passing them on when I’m done with them, feels like a better diversion than collecting them in the first place ever was. I have everything I need, and more. It’s a powerful feeling.