So I mentioned earlier this week that, over Memorial Day weekend, we had some people over to the house. This occasioned a couple of separate tours of the new house, as the guests arrived in small waves, and that in turn made me aware of a few things as I found myself falling into the same tourguide patter each time I led a small group from floor to floor. (Said task fell to me because my wife was lending her superior culinary skills to preparing a ridiculously sumptuous brunch for one and all.) One key phrase was uttered when we got to the spare room in the basement, my mancave or dorkhaven, as you please. The first time through the house I pointed out the room from just outside the open doorway, and chuckled, “And this is where all my nerd stuff is sequestered.” The second time through, I found myself unable to think of any other way to describe it and used the same phrasing.
Sequestered? There’re connotations to that word which run pretty deep and which I find myself unable to easily shake off. I’ve always been at war with myself, dichotomizing along the lines of the responsible adult and productive member of society who fully acknowledges the value in going along to get along, and the full-bore geek who isn’t about to deprive himself of the pleasures of his own hobbies and interests, weird and esoteric and maligned-with-fairly-good-reason as those pursuits may be. Toys and comics and arcane strategy games make me happy, but they have their place, which is not front and center in the family room. I’m wise to the fact that not everything of interest to me is of interest to everyone else, and a tour of the house does not need to include an exhaustive review of my Green Lantern memorabilia unless the tourist is actually going to get something out of it. It’s not rocket science, but I do pride myself on being able to tell the difference between people who would geek out nearly as much as I do, people who would be mildly amused by my geeking, and people who would simply be mystified to varying degrees. I pride myself on this because I’ve known a remarkable number of people over the years who apparently lack this judicious faculty altogether.
I’m fortunate in having a lot of geek friends and even more geek-tolerant friends, so the outright bafflement is simply one possible scenario rather than a soul-crushing majority. (The lack of discrimination in over-sharing geeky obsessions I scoff at in others may very well simply be the product of those people realizing that in their own particular circumstances if they didn’t talk to people who didn’t get it, they’d never get to talk about it at all.) One of my friends I was taking through the house on the second go told me that she and her husband had been watching a real estate show in which a hopeful future homeowner mentioned that he owned a lot of “collectibles” which he needed space for, at which my friend (who’s geek-tolerant) turned to her husband (a socially-adaptive geek like me) and said “Does he mean comic books?” And her husband answered “More likely he means action figures.” And the show proved this to be the correct assumption. My friend and I had a laugh over this; I’m pretty sure the subtext of our laughter was “All guys have hobbies and some guys’ hobbies are geeky and that’s all well and good, but the attempt at hiding behind a euphemism like ‘collectibles’ because you’re on tv didn’t work on us, nerd!”
Growing up, as I have, as who I am and in this country at this particular stage in human history, I should no longer be surprised by … well, anything, really, yet somehow my capacity for bemusement seems unlimited. I’m a collector, I totally get the collector impulse, and yet I like to think my inclinations are tempered by a certain amount of reason and rationality. I’ll pay fifteen bucks for a reprint collection of comic books the same way anybody else would pay fifteen bucks for a decent movie on DVD, as somewhere in the reckoning of entertainment value and ownership I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. And a fifteen or even twenty dollar action figure also strikes me as non-obscene income disposal, because the things just look cool on the shelves of my mancave in approximately Andrew Jackson-sized increments. My get-it ability snaps, though, as the price tags start swelling. Life-sized suits of Stormtrooper armor or Geiger Alien replicas also would look cool in the mancave, but they cost thousands of dollars. Clearly the market for these things exist, but I am not in that market. Presumably 97% of the geekiest geeks aren’t, either, but it must only take that small fraction of a fraction of the population willing to put down five large on 1:1 replica’s of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise bridge chair to support an entire industry.
Here’s a little insight into the geek-collector world, though, something from the wide expanse between scoping out the clearance toy bins at Wal-Mart and flexing your frequent buyer cred at Brookstone. There’s a fairly robust market in something called mini-busts, which are (as you have probably guessed) sculptures of comic book, sci-fi and fantasy characters from the chest/shoulders up. They’re generally about eight inches tall (including the faux-classical plinth) and cast in full-color painted resin, and they run about $60 apiece (really anywhere from $30 to $90 or more) and I personally do not own any of them. They just strike me as so utterly superfluous, I suppose. On the one hand they take all the garishness of day-glo comics sensibilities and wed it to a very formalistic and self-serious type of sculpture. With any given Green Lantern action figure I get a 3-D display piece of a personal icon, but it’s also a toy I could theoretically hand to a kid and let them have a ball with. (Or let’s just be honest and point out that if the mood were to strike me – and it has – I could pick it up and play with it.) You don’t really play with a mini-bust. It’s purely decorative. And there might be some very specific ironic kitsch value, say if I were a musician who actually owned a baby grand piano, and I recreated the classic Schroeder motif but instead of a bust of Beethoven on the piano I had a bust of Marvel’s gratuitously disco-inspired heroine Dazzler … I don’t know. Given enough time I could think of ways to justify or explain pretty much anything, that’s kind of my thing, but the fact is I’ve never had an urge that remotely approaches “I need to spend the cost of a nice meal at a restaurant with my wife on an inert geek conversation piece.”
However, if I were to make an exception …
You guys remember Frog Thor, right?
On the one hand this perfectly underscores the point I was making, which is that mini-busts are kind of insanely popular amongst geeks. So much so that it is virtually impossible to oversaturate the market. There have been several different mini-busts made of the comic book Thor, and in addition to all of those traditional (and presumably strong-selling) interpretations there is this one, a faithful rendering of a specific plot point that lasted for a grand total of four issues of a decades-long running comic, but which also moved units in the comic shops. GEEKS LOVE SPECIFICITY. And they will, in their fandom, put down sizable chunks of change to demonstrably prove that. I manage to keep myself out of the deepest depths of that deep end, by and large. But my birthday is right around the corner, seasonally speaking. I am just saying.