Welcome to another blog post focused on aesthetic things.
Don’t know why I’ve been doing so many of these recently, but I’ll hedge my bets and blame the new Instagram account and my Visual Comm class for both making me focus on the appearance of things in the world around me.
Today that happened to come into play when I went out for pseudo-lunch/dinner with some members of the Boom crew as a mini-gathering before we host something larger later on in the semester.
Dr. Sexton brought us to a place down by Fullerton College called The Olde Ship.
If this picture alone doesn’t suggest it, The Olde Ship is essentially a British pub smack dab in the middle of Old West Yankee country. It’s apparently a small chain in Orange County, if you can count two locations as a chain restaurant, but I probably wouldn’t.
Because the place definitely feels like a pub you’d find in some small village in England somewhere.
Not that I’d know what that feels like to be fair, as I’ve never been to England before. But it seems like exactly what I’d expect based on popular media. Like the Kingsman movies.
We all know that popular media is a good barometer of what things are like in real life, right?
I suppose that’s as much of an interesting observation as any, the fact that I implicitly gauged a location’s authenticity by the aesthetic I’ve noticed in pop culture. But to be frank that’s not what I wanted to touch on with this place.
Nor did I want to touch on the corned beef sandwich I had. Except I will briefly just to say that they made a pretty darn good corned beef sandwich. Not quite as good as my parent’s corned beef and cabbage, but I didn’t want to go down this route in the first place because I’m not fully prepared to tackle the ‘home cooked meal vs. restaurant quality’ debate at 8:45 p.m. on a Monday night. School has me too wiped for that.
Instead I wanted to talk about how bizarre it was seeing that traditionally British-style aesthetic intermingling with, of course, Halloween decorations.
Yeah the whole place was covered in fake skulls and cobwebs and fancy little pipe cleaner spiders. All of those kitchy Halloween decorations that suburbanites love to coat their houses with as October 31st approaches.
I can’t say it wasn’t cute to see that kind of decor in such an unexpected place. But I do feel like I have to say that it was unexpected to see those two aesthetics clashing together.
Now granted that may, once again, be a problem of my own sheltered sense of scale. Maybe there are tons of pubs over in ye olde England that love to decorate their things with cliché, kitchy Halloween stuff. It’s just not the kind of thing I’ve ever personally heard of in my limited, media-driven understanding of the world.
In a way it’s kind of cool that I got to take that interesting observation out of lunch/dinner. On top of the wonderful company, of course.
But maybe there is some bigger, underlying point about media representation and worldview. I’m just frankly too tired to know whether I should dive into it any further or if I’m just crazy and rambling about nothing.
Which, to be fair, is a very strong possibility.
Before I signed this one-off, I did want to mention that my focus on aesthetics in these last two post was actually for a more substantial purpose than just corruption by my liberal college education or whatever.
While taking pictures for my Visual Comm aesthetics assignment, it really got hammered into my head that iPhone photos are way huger than I thought they were. Which, in turn, led me to realize that the reason why I’m filling up all of my media space here on the blog so quickly is because I almost exclusively use iPhone photos.
Mom took me down a rabbit hole I wasn’t expecting to go down today.
A Netflix documentary rabbit hole.
But not any sort of traditional documentaries. No, we’ve been watching the series of mini-documentaries produced by Vox for Netflix called “explained.”
Technically it’s more like “_____, explained,” as each episode takes a different subject and dives into that subjects history, impact on human history and potential future developments in neatly packaged 15-minute segments.
They do a pretty stellar job at that role and have become rather popular in just four years thanks to their well-developed infographics and other such visually-driven pursuits that thrive in the Internet age.
Thinking it over now, their Netflix series is essentially a series of documentaries that feel like some of the best YouTube explainers you’ve ever seen.
Actually, they go further than that. A lot of the editing and visual-driven style of each mini documentary feels very similar to other series birthed by people seeped in the Internet’s ways.
The one that comes to mind most immediately is Game Theory or Wisecrack, who take highly analytical approaches to popular culture, usually.
Yet that style is applied to a more traditional news format that you might expect out of televised enterprise stories or other similar organizations like Vice News.
Basically, to make that whole long story short. “Explained” feels like watching a 15-minute YouTube video developed by practitioners of classic newspaper storytelling styles.
Every episode of the series is engaging as a result of this finely-tuned combination.
However, each episode is also engaging in its own specific way. Because each chooses a different interesting topic and, well, explains them in their own way.
Some episodes, like the piece on eSports or the piece on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, use lots of animations to show concepts that are mostly ephemeral.
Others, like the piece on K-Pop or the piece on monogamy, bring in general people from all around the world for man-on-the-street portions that speak to a deeper human interest in each subject.
Then there are episodes about the racial wealth gap or the failure of diets that seem to rely heavily on historical documents, novels and other media to demonstrate what has happened over time.
Yet in spite of all these different styles of explaining information used, each piece keeps the same core. A similar fast-cut editing style interspersed with expert interviews and well-crafted infographics. They’re all recognizably ‘Vox,’ but carry different stand-out portions based on the topic.
My favorite bit is probably the child-led recreation of how the stock market works using a lemonade stand analogy.
As you can probably imagine just from how many different directions I’ve pulled that last segment of this post in, there’s a huge variety of stories that are being told in the documentary series.
Each, on top of being visually appealing, is also very well-researched and informative. I could recount at least one thing I learned from each story.
I suppose if I’m taking this in the direction of a ‘review’ of the series, it should be obvious that I’d highly recommend everyone with Netflix check this one out.
It’s a great example of a series that’s informative and engaging, something that takes the lessons of the Internet and applies it to teaching in a way more and more groups should take into account.
There’s also apparently more coming out every Wednesday, so it’s something we’ll keep coming back to I’m sure.
Favorite Episodes: “!” or “K-Pop” or “Designer DNA”
“!” — My mom is deeply rooted in the professions of the English language like I am, and this episode was the one that she was first notified of that led to our shared interest in the show in the first place.
“K-Pop” — Like me, she enjoyed this episode because of the way it took a topic we were vaguely familiar with and explained its backstory in depth that we never would have expected to exist there.
“Designer DNA” — Mostly because the topic delved into areas of research she has already looked into while doing copy editing and fact checking for scientific magazines like “Genome,” meaning she was knowledgable ahead of the curve coming in.
Overall Impression: “The fact that it has little 15-minute interstitials where you learn something that you didn’t know necessarily, you walk away with something interesting to talk to someone else about. I highly recommend this show to everybody.”
Welcome to the post talking about the other things I was referring to there.
Yeah I bet you weren’t expecting a conversation about Funko Pops, were you? They don’t exactly seem like the kind of thing in my area of interest.
I’ll admit that they aren’t for the most part. In fact, I don’t necessarily hate Funko Pops overall as my clickbait-y title might suggest.
If anything I’m willing to admit they’re rather cute for the most part. Plus I have been known to collect a somewhat useless series of plastic figurines in the past myself.
So really there’s no reason I should hate this fairly harmless Hot Topic-stuffing collectible mogul, right?
See I don’t necessarily hate Funko Pops as an inherit object that exists. What I absolutely abhor is the corporate design mentality surrounding Funko Pops.
As anyone who knows anything about Funko Pops must know, there are Funko Pops that exist for literally anything AND everything.
You like anime? Pick your favorite, there’s a series of Pops to go with them.
You like HBO television series like Westworld? God knows I do, and there’s a series of Pops to go with them.
You like the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You like video games? You like football? Actual real life football?
Because there are pops for all of those things and an infinite amount of other things I won’t bother to go into because look at this catalog. It’s nuts.
Especially the whole sports side of things. Side-rant I get being in love with sports and following, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers if you’re super into baseball. It’s just bizarre to have a series of collectible figurines representing actual real people that you can stick in your house.
But okay you get the point. If you’ve got an interest, Funko has a Pop to fit it.
Inherently I don’t have a problem with this business model. The fact that this company has invented a series of figurines so simple that literally any form of media can be molded into it is genius, and something the whole world probably wishes they figured out first.
As someone who has played many video games to 100 percent completion, and thrives on games like Monster Hunter where the whole idea is to collect exclusive bits and pieces of monsters to create new specialty armor, I can understand the itch many collectors have when it comes to Funko.
So yeah, if you want to go out and collect Funko Pops, more power to you. My family certainly does, and there are series I’d probably be more than willing to pay for a full collection of.
But that’s only considering the ‘first edition’ idea of these Pops. My problem comes with the alternate forms.
“Wow Jason, that’s ironic. You don’t like Funko Pops for producing alternate versions of characters when you talk endlessly about rare variants of characters in Fire Emblem Heroes like they’re the second coming. What a hypocrite.”
Yeah I hear you audience, I know.
It’s no secret that I appreciate ‘special editions’ as much as the next guy. But Fire Emblem Heroes and Funko Pops are a little different at their core.
In FEH, the special variant units are just as free-to-start as every other unit in the game. Sure there are practices under the surface that encourage players to eventually spend money, like releasing five valuable banners in a row with few orb giveaways in between, but still.
You could just as easily start the game when a holiday banner is running and be just as likely to receive that unit with free orbs as anyone else.
With Funko Pops, every single one costs money. Just as much, if not more money in fact.
Do you like Deadpool? Okay, here’s a Deadpool figurine. That’ll be a nice little thing to display to show off your interest in the character.
“Alright, alright we get it,” I hear you in the audience say.
I sure hope you do. With the simplicity of the Funko Pop formula, any single character can be given infinite minor modifications and be considered a special variant.
But unlike the model in FEH, where you could theoretically earn the special version for free, every single Funko costs real life money.
Now there are arguments to be made that these are physical objects rather than digital characters in a video, and thus there’s more value to collecting them over time in terms of things like eventual trading or simply selling collections much like with comic books and vinyl records.
There’s validity to that idea. But that isn’t really what I’m here to discuss.
What I’m here to discuss is the fact that a business model allowing for infinite cash cow-ing on the same property over and over and over again, rather than keeping to a finite cap of collectability, is inherently infuriating.
I would be more than happy to spend 60 bucks over the course of a few months to collect five Deadpool figurines based on characters from the movies if I enjoyed them that much. What I wouldn’t be happy doing is spending literally all of my money for forever to keep up with every ‘left hand raised 60 degrees’ variation that can be squeezed out.
That’s not even just for Deadpool too, as much as I keep harping on him. He just happens to be a good example of a character that lends himself to more ridiculous, outlandish variations and repeated re-releases. Any character can have a variant where they wear a different outfit or hold a new pose.
Funko Pops certainly aren’t the first to abuse this model, but they abuse it pretty hard. It’s probably rather petty to be bashing them so hard for it out of nowhere, but I’ve seen similar ideas ruin things I’ve loved in the past.
Shuffle was a spin-off game released first on the Nintendo 3DS and then on mobile devices in 2015. It was something of a continuation of the Trozei and Battle Trozei series that became a free-to-start microtransaction-laden title. And I adored it.
Seriously, for the longest time if you had asked me what game handles the microtransaction system most fairly, it would have been Pokémon Shuffle. I played this damn game on my 3DS for years, and I have distinct memories of doing so both on my high school and college campuses.
The game ran on an ‘energy’ system, where you could play five games at a time before needing to wait for everything to recharge. Unless you spent gems, the in-game currency you could buy with real life currency.
There are also a bunch of other details related to items you can either grind out or purchase, but the energy was the important thing to me. See those five hearts of energy recharged at a rate of a half hour per heart.
In other words, you could play a full set of games every two-and-a-half hours. Compared to a lot of other games with energy or stamina caps, this was insanely generous.
For a student like me, it essentially meant I could play out my games, go to whatever class I had, then get out to find a full set of energy hearts waiting to be used. Combine this with the semi-regular updates (though eventually the levels got kind of ridiculously difficult) and frequent special in-game events, and I was more than happy to play for years.
But then I stopped. You know why I stopped?
Just look at this insanity.
My screenshot here hasn’t even captured half of the special variants for Pikachu alone. There are Pikachu wearing every cap that Ash ever wore in the anime. Pikachu wearing costumes modeled after Legendary Pokémon. Hell there’s a Rayquaza costume Pikachu AND a shiny Rayquaza costume Pikachu.
Again, Pikachu isn’t the only problem, but he’s emblematic of it. Everything technically started with the ‘winking’ starter Pokémon line.
This ridiculous cash cow, the infinite special variant system, is what burned me out of Pokémon Shuffle in the end. I was more than happy to keep playing to collect all 700+ Pokémon as a mark of personal completion should they have gotten that far.
But because the game’s creators wanted a way to keep the game going forever and come up with more challenging ways of potentially forcing players to spend money on limited time only extra special dudes, I didn’t feel like it was worth keeping up anymore.
Funko Pops embody the same problem, in my opinion. If you’re going to release the same figures over and over and over again with slight variations just to squeeze out as much money as possible, then why should anyone bother trying to collect them all in the first place?
I’m sure other people will have their justifications for it, but that’s a path I can’t see myself going down. I’d much rather stick with collecting something finite in my real world collectibles. Something I can eventually look at and say ‘this is a complete set.’
That’s my rant for the day. What do you think? Is the idea of infinite variation healthy for a brand like Funko? Or is it detrimental in their long-term viability as a reasonable company, as I’m more inclined to believe.
Though obviously I’m probably in the wrong since, let’s be real, people will continue to buy those things no matter what I say. So the more they can print up the more money they’ll make.