Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: Acquisition, Possession and Enjoyment
(or, Rob's State of the Hobby Address)
2/18/04

Every once in a while I think back over how my interests in this hobby have shifted over the last ten years or so (I started getting back into it in the early 90s with the G2 comics, then ATT.) It's really strange to consider my shift in attitude from that time, as well as how the fandom's changed.

In 1994, TFs were showing up again, but to me it seemed obvious they were living on borrowed time. I was surprised they were there at all, even more surprised when new designs like the Laser Rods showed up, and not surprised at all when the G2 comic book ended. The toys were kind of superfluous, but the comic book was what got me cheesed. I'd put aside the toys years ago for the most part, but the stories still intrigued me. I was terribly sad when it ended -- I figured that was the last nail in the coffin for Transformers, forever. I didn't care much about the toys either way at that point.

Heck, in 1995, it was a *big* leap for me to buy not only two $3 Go-Bots, but also spend SIX DOLLARS on a Cyberjet. (I was in college, okay? I was eternally broke. I never understood how other kids had money to go out partying and drinking and have cars and buy clothes and shit. Wait, I'm getting way off topic.) The point is, money aside, the toys weren't terribly important to me compared to the stories, but even those were few and far between.

Somehow, between now and then, the tables have shifted a lot. Starting in 1996, we've gradually gotten more and more fiction, and more and more toys with it. And as the number of toys has gone up, so has the importance I've placed on them... until now, without meaning or wanting to, I find myself pressingly impatient for the next new toy. It was a bit disconcerting the other day to find that, even though I now had both the current Alternators AND 20th Prime, even though I've got a shiney new Landcross reissue that I haven't finished exploring, even though I've got MyClones and Terrorcons and HOCs and Armada's Big Prime all sitting around to play with... I was still hankering to go out hunting for the lastest Energon stuff.

I don't *like* that. I mean, I've got a crapload of Transformers already -- too many, truth be told. Whole boxes of them could disappear from under my nose, and would I miss them all that much? Nah, not really. Why do I so desparately need more? Simple. I don't.

Yet I still keep getting them. Not just that, I still keep *hunting* them. I try to restrain myself to no more than one hunting trip a week, but even that seems like a lot. EVERY WEEK I go looking for new toys? What the hell? Don't I have anything else to be doing? Why can't I just wait till I have to go to Target for some other reason, a month or so from now, and pick up whatever TFs I want then?

Last time I got caught up on everything I wanted -- right after New Year's, when I got Smokescreen -- it was a relief of sorts. But it was also a letdown -- now what was I going to look for?

I've always said I don't care about the hunt. The hunt is soley a means to an end. Oh, sure, it's rewarding to turn the corner in Target and find a rack full of brand new toys waiting for you there, but that feeling is superfluous. And when I don't find what I'm after, I really feel like I've wasted my time driving out from the city to suburban areas that I hate to get to big box stores that I'm not too keen on either.

And yet, somehow I've become slightly addicted to the hunt. Somehow, that thrill of cracking open a brand new toy has become the dominant part of the hobby.

It's easy to see how it happened. We're *drowning* in Transformers product right now, and almost every day it seems there's something new -- a Hasbro update, a leaked prototype, a Dreamwave preview, a new episode, convention news, a new interview, posters, new toys hitting... it's too much to even keep up with. There's so many toy sub-lines I can't keep track of all of them. I'm currently passing up almost everything in Energon that's over $10 -- partly because I feel that most of it is overpriced and I'm hoping for some clearance action later on, but also because there's just so much already that I can satisfy my toy lust with just the cheaper stuff. It's to the point where the question isn't "Is there a TF comic out this week?" but rather "How many?" We just ended a fifty-two episode TF show (as much as 3 years of Beast Wars!) and we're launching right into another one. I'm still catching up on episodes (just finished Armada and started on Energon), but basically I have time to watch each episode once... and then I don't go back.

That seems kind of strange to me. Growing up, I taped almost all of G1 and watched the episodes numerous times, to the point where I can remember vast swaths of them almost two decades later. I'd write that off as a childhood quirk, but heck, I did the same thing (to a lesser extent, to be sure) with Beast Wars. Some of that's just 'cause it was such a darn good show. I find myself picking up my favorite Armada comics again and again too, even while Neo-G1 Volume 1 gathers dust. Maybe the fiction as a whole just isn't as gripping anymore to me, for whatever reasons. Actually, I feel safe saying that the quality of the toys in the last two years has sharply outweighed the overall quality of the fiction, while I felt just the opposite during G1.

But with the toys.... and so much else in the hobby... it seems there's just so much these days that the emphasis -- for myself and the fandom at large -- has shifted from enjoying, to getting. I feel like I used to relish each individual toy more; now I pull stuff out I bought a few months ago and don't remember how to transform it. Who's got time for old stuff when there's new stuff to be had! And the ability to really savor the stuff I have, evaporates.

The hobby for me was never supposed to be about Getting More Stuff. Not that Getting More Stuff is inherently bad, but.... I don't care about ownership. I don't care about collectibility. I don't care about Getting The Complete Set. I don't care about finding that one last elusive item. I don't care about hunting down some rare exclusive. I don't care about having an impressively large collection.

I just care about enjoying fun, gripping stories with great characters. I care about playing with fun, enjoyable, cool, and/or challenging toys, especially if they represent those great characters. I don't give a rip about how I get 'em. Or at least I used not to. (Actually, I think I still don't; it's just that Transformer-hunting is a simple, brainless activity that's easy to do and has a fun payoff much of the time. It's a comfortable routine to fall back into, much like sitting at the computer on IRC every night.)

It's no wonder I don't much write fanfic anymore. Who's got time for it? What characters stick around and stand out enough from the oceans of official paraphenalia to make you want to explore them further?

I'm not complaining about all the stuff we're getting. I think it's fantastic; I think this -- right now -- is absolutely the best time ever to be a Transformer fan. I'll take this in a heartbeat over the days of the mid-1990s when fanfic was seemingly the only chance of us ever seeing Transformers in action again. And yet, I miss something about those days, too -- namely, the intensity of them. There were characters worth caring about, and dammit, we cared mighty hard.

Today, we're spread thin. Nowadays the extent of caring seems to be viewing the latest leaked prototype and wondering why he's not painted like Ratchet, and then off to the next new thing. And somehow that seems wrong.

So... what's the moral of the story? Hell, I dunno. Maybe this: before you go charging off to the local Wal-Mart in search of the lastest whatever, why not pick up some old, forgotten toy instead for a while? The new thing'll still be there next week. And while I'm not going to seriously preach about how anyone should have their fun, these *are* toys. They're meant to be played with and enjoyed -- the most fun aspect of them is having them in your hands. If you're missing that aspect of the hobby because you're too busy running after the latest new toy, well, from my point of view you're missing the whole point. And that's a shame.

Now I'm gonna go play with 20th Prime some more. *VROOM VROOM!!!* *runs over everyone in his path*. Hee!

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