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Lessons on Geek Anthropology: Fandom Pleasures. Collecting and Collectors.

This week’s lessons on Geek Anthropology are focussing on fandom pleasures: collecting and collectors. When we think about collecting we usually think about fandom, but these might not be related at all. Collecting is one of the fannish activities some fans might engage to get pleasure from their favorite fandom. This means that not all collectors are fans nor belong to a specific fandom. Think about, for example, collectors that are engaged in collecting beer bottle caps, or stamps from all over the world, or vintage toys of all kinds. So, being a member of a fandom does not mean that we’re talking about collectors or the activity of collecting. Some fans might engage in collecting; others won’t. So, while historically collecting and fandom have been overlapped, they are, in fact, not the same thing.

Now that we’ve established the premise let’s dig deeper into it!

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The fannish activity of collecting is a way of participating in the fandom or fandoms of choice. This is one of the many expressions of the pleasure of performance that enables fans to engage with other fans. But is collecting just a way of fun, or is it telling us something else about fans?

We can find two main parts in the act of collecting: the material part and the non-material part. The material part refers to the accumulation of objects related to the fandom of choice. These can be videos, movies, merchandise, and memorabilia. However, the non-material part refers to knowledge. Both ways of collecting display parts of the personality and identity of the collector. What someone chooses to collect, how they display their collection and where gives away information on their character and identity.

Collectors can usually tell you stories of each of the items they collect. Many are keen to show up their collections, usually on display somewhere in the house, somewhere where it’s special. Relevant items are arranged, cataloged and even cherished and shared either with friends or online. Think about Funko Fridays in this blog. I do tend to talk about my ever-growing Funko collection.

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What do these Funkos tell about me as a fan and collector? What does this digital public display say about this fannish activity? Taking a look at my Funko collection one will notice that I am somewhat eclectic: Disney pops, OUAT pops, Marvel pops, Supernatural pops, Star Trek pops, Star War pops, Sherlock pops, Minions pops, and Harry Potter pops live along some vintage horror movie pops. They all live on my working desk along with my pens and schedules for work. It tells other geeks about a geek worker who enjoys displaying on the working desk the troffies, and that will toy around with them along with telling endless stories about her favorite fandoms.

Usually, people display their collections in houses where the personal self can be on display as well, along with the home decoration. Collections represent the bond between the fan and their fandom or fandoms of choice. Most individuals choose their own rooms for displaying their collections. Others will use garages or attics, especially if the partner isn’t that keen to wake up and see all the pops staring back at them. Others, like me, feel more comfortable in having the full collection in the workspace.

Fans express their identities around the collections they make, along with the knowledge of the fandoms they gather through them. Not only items are on display, knowledge about those items and fandoms themselves are on display!

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Hence, collecting is also asserting a certain degree of cultural capital, meaning that the collector might have knowledge on the items they’re collecting. For example, pops on my desk are arranged in groups of different fandoms, and usually in pairs or tripplets. Most of them belong to ships. Captain Swan, Charming, Thorki, Rey and Finn, Lagertha and Ragnar, Wincestiel… Another shipper like me will recognize the display in a blink of an eye. However, other fans that aren’t too much into shipping might need some guidance from me as to know why pops are arranged in such an odd fashion. (Some of them are crossovers!)

But collecting does something else, something even more important than explaining one’s personality to others, or letting fans achieve high amounts of pleasure with the activity.: it creates archives! Fans who engage in collecting might become, even if unwillingly, in curators of pop culture. Think about those kids, years ago, who decided not to through away their comic books as their mothers told them to do, and keep them forever. Some of this kids, grownups now, became the archivists and curators of some rare editions that have been saved from oblivion! This not only happens with comic books but also with other collectibles that at the time seemed unimportant.

Collecting can be a fannish pleasure, but it can also be a way to preserve pop culture’s history and a piece of our own identities.

  • Danielle Knapp

    I actually never thought about the non-material knowledge collection – great post 🙂

    • Thank you! We “collect knowledge,” a part of history and pop culture 🙂 In essense, we also make it happen 😀 [We rock!]

  • Kay

    Great post! I agree – so much of collecting has to do with the stories and memory behind each item. Even if it’s not an exciting story, generally there is a reason or emotion attached to why we wanted the item; one that we get to relive when look at it again!

    • I know that some people regard the act of collecting as futile, but thanks to collectors many items have survived and now we have a piece of history thanks to that. Most importantly, there is a preservation of pop culture 🙂 It’s also important as part of the family history. Each item has a story, and when tell you what’s behind that it’s amazing! [Picture my grandma telling me all about her favorite collected fashion items. I loved her telling me all about it and how people were, etc.]