“See the movie! Buy the toy!” – proving your fandom through consumption

I have a friend who saw Star Wars 29 times in the theatre in 1977. An impressive bit of fandom.

But seeing a film an excessive number of times became passe after the introduction of the VCR. So how does a ‘true fan’ show they love their favorite film?

Merchandise.


Merchandising tied to movies is almost as old as movies themselves. It is thought the first product tie-in was in 1929 for the Mickey Mouse film Steamboat Willie.

There were a number of toys, lunch boxes, and other pop culture swag over the years featuring various movie and tv properties, almost exclusively aimed at children.

The product tie-in idea was happening on a low level for decades.

Then Star Wars weaponized it.

Suddenly it wasn’t one toy or one lunch box. It was dozens.

And t-shirts.

And posters

And clothes and statues and blankets and on and on.

Kenner’s toy line reportedly made over $100 million in the first year.

That was the childhood of Generation X.


Generation X was the first generation to abandon the idea of “putting aside childish things.”

This was partly a reaction to our parents’ nostalgia. Boomers were buying up the artifacts of their childhoods at vastly-inflated prices. That meant the children of the 80s were trained to not give up those toys in the first place, a hedge against later, expensive, nostalgia.

When Kenner revived the Star Wars toy line in the mid-1990s, the target audience was no longer children, it was 20-somethings who could now spend their video-store-clerk pay cheque on $500 AT-ATs.

With new Star Wars movies still years away, the only way one could demonstrate how much they loved the films was to buy more stuff.

Today, the success of certain properties is directly tied to how it can be monetized in merchandise. Paul Dini has said that the cancellation of Young Justice was directly related it having the ‘wrong’ demographics to sell the ‘right’ toys.


I have a few fandoms that haven’t been minimized yet. In general I have reduced to one or two very nice pieces from the various franchises I enjoy.

I think there is a place for reminding yourself and others that you love Dr Who or Lost, but it is very very easy to go overboard these days.

I started in the 90s collecting a lot of Star Wars, for example. As the volume became overwhelming, that was reduced to just Tattooine. Then there was too much to keep up with there and it became that I only bought Jawa merchandise.

Every time I curate, they move the line of what I “need” to keep up the collection.

Did you know there’s a $500 Jawa action figure set?

If I get that, will I finally prove how much I love Jawas?