Hobbit mdse: or, That stuff behind your eyes / It all ends up as stuff that you can buy

Is this an appropriate moment to note that “Thorin Oakenshield” has finally joined the category cloud (eight months after “The Hobbit” did)?

Welcome, Thorin.

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Title comes from the soundtrack for this post: Chumbawumba singing “On Ebay”

***

I’ve been mostly amused by it, so far, but signs in the other direction are emerging. People I know in ArmitageWorld are starting to question the flood of stuff. AgzyM had come out before against clutter. Today, she writes that she had decided to stay away from it, and puts it this way: “I started feeling a bit annoyed with all the merchandise on offer and the expectation that I’d want to spend any money before I know if the movie is any good.” Jazzbaby1’s comment on failed product tie-ins for the film might have been written in a similar mood. And a post crossed my desk today from at least three different directions about Hobbit nail polish — which I think is a design project and not something to put on one’s fingernails — but the fact that I wondered for several minutes if it were potentially a real product before realizing the poster had no brand name witnesses to my own increasing disorientation in the merchandise stream. Even if Denny’s restaurant isn’t my favorite place to eat, I caught the connection between hobbits and breakfast — but red velvet pancake hushpuppies with cream cheese? I wouldn’t eat that under ordinary circumstances, no matter what label they put on it. It defies the imagination.

Readers of this blog will have noticed the trail of the flood of stuff across its posts, as I tend to post stuff I find striking (some WETA stuff), amusing (cell phone covers), or embarrassing (postage stamps and coins). I’ve also been linking to RichardArmitageNet.com amazon affiliate links where possible in order to exploit filthy lucre for the purposes of charity. I will admit that this is not the thing about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that is primarily irritating me at the moment — but it still bears consideration, and something someone said to me today made me think about it a little more.

I’ve been buying this stuff off and on, which is kind of a big step for me. When I was a child, my brother and I would not have been allowed to express even the wish to own stuff like this. “Nonsense” was the catch-all expression for anything that smacked of marketing or style as opposed to education or practicality. We had no shortage of toys, but with the exception of Barbie, they were typically not things that were associated with the marketing of specific characters or books or movies, not even stuff my mother was okay with, like Sesame Street. I think that was one of the many problems my mother had with the poster of Mr. Spock that I bought when I was twelve and that she made me remove from my closet door when I was fourteen. On the whole, too, I never disagreed with the ethical position and the critique of certain kinds of consumption that my parents were articulating with regard to heavily marketed toys — that there are better places for that money to go, and that by spending it in that way you’re buying junk and giving in to Hollywood in the process. I still think both of those things are true. On the other hand, my inclination to judge anyone else on this issue went out the window when I gave in and bought a Heinz Kruger / Captain America costume card, which became an energizing talisman. I concede all the possible points about religion and authenticity in the age of mass manufactured value, but my own experience with Armitage relics very much eliminated my feelings of shame about wanting stuff like this and also any inclination I might have felt to criticize others who buy it.

Presumably for each of us there’s a place we won’t go with our consumption. I’ve been a bit surprised at where that place might be for me, as I’ve pre-ordered an expensive plush toy, and I’ve started to wonder if price, rather than content, is actually my major consideration. Would I have bought a Thorin coin if that were within the realm of my budget? As I’ve stated before, my credit card has rejected some of these purchases because the bank’s computer doesn’t think I should be buying it; it’s out of my pattern of consumption. Sometimes it’s stuff that appears to be taking on a particular meaning, like the Thorin figure. Other times it’s stuff that I just think is funny — I bought some NZ postage stamps. But what weirded me out for myself this week was that the question of a smart phone has become acute in my life and I’m thinking I might actually get one. And the next thing that popped into my mind once that threshold was overcome was: I could get a Thorin Oakenshield cell phone case — and then I could go to Denny’s and see that special content available only on smart phones!

Not that that would be an incentive. Man oh man. Servetus slaps herself on the forehead.

Pursuing the remark made by AgzyM, who writes about her frustration with being asked to invest money in stuff before the film even comes out, I’m wondering if the following is the dynamic that’s governing my relationship to the stuff at the moment:

It seems to me that the people marketing this film don’t actually see the film as separate from the stuff; that is, the “event” of the film involves not only the premiere of the film in several weeks, but also its making and the gradual, staggered appearance of the stuff. They are selling us not only the artistic product but also the vicarious experience of participating in the production by vlog and a bunch of stuff that both marks and intensifies the growth of our excitement over what we would see as the actual artistic event but which they see as simply one piece of the entire process. In that sense, from the marketing standpoint, we are investing in the film already because those things are already part of the film. Presumably, too, the experience of having their childhood pleasures mediatized and marketed to them is also something that both parents and children in the U.S. are much more comfortable with, as it’s a standard practice now, and no one thinks anything of it. The question isn’t whether product tie-ins, but simply the attractiveness of the ones made available. And finally, of course, The Hobbit is not an unknown quantity — it already has millions of fans who might be ready to purchase items even in advance of this particular iteration of it simply because of their ongoing allegiance to the book and the fan community around it. So we can find plenty of reasons not to hold back the sale of the stuff that make complete sense depending on the position of the observer.

But Agzy’s remark makes me think of a colleague I had in my last job who was an avid collector of Star Wars action figures. We had a fair number of conversations about it (at that point I was a crazed collector of a few styles of porcelain), and I asked him if he was buying them to play with them (we are both of the age that we could have played with Star Wars toys when they first came out). He said, no, he looked for ones in the original packaging and kept them in the boxes and looked at them and remembered having played with some of them — but that he had many more now than he had had as a child. He thought that while the value of the figures was an excuse, it was more about the nostalgia he felt in looking at them closely, even when they were items that he did not associate with the time in question but had only been able to purchase for himself as an adult.

What I wonder is whether part of the discomfort some of us are feeling — and some of this depends on why one is buying, and what, and how one feels about it — concerns the way that we are seeing nostalgia being created for and sold to us right in front of our eyes — we’re asked to accept these merchandised constructions of nostalgia for an event, the film, that we have not yet experienced. If you’re a marketer, of course, the entire leadup is what’s being sold, and thus we’re not being cheated of any experience, since the stream of stuff is (also) the experience. And since something that’s very new and pleasant to me at the moment is the euphoria over watching the general awareness of Richard Armitage grow, and the proliferation of things witnesses to that, I am less disturbed by this than I might be — because the escalation in Armitage’s career is part of the event I am watching / buying. But even if I’ve gotten friendlier towards the stuff — if I’ve started to see consumption as an acceptable means of identity constitution under certain circumstances, I haven’t completely let go of other concerns.

And so, I ask: If you, like me, grew up in an age where memories were still mostly derived in the aftermath of an event rather than in the leadup to it, to the extent that we are bothered by this, could it be that we’re disturbed by the flood of objects because we’re being robbed of our power to construct our own nostalgia? By the apparent inversion of cause and effect, of event and memory?

Am I being sold, in the words of Chumbawumba, “the stuff behind my eyes”? To what extent am I not only comfortable having my own dreams, imaginations, wishes made concrete in the form of merchandise and offered to me by a friendly retailer, but also accepting them rewriting my history via my memories? Because that’s where this seems to be going.

I don’t know. To think about. And I’m sure we’ll have plenty more opportunities to do so.

Anyway, because I’m curious, I’ve interspersed some polls asking how you feel about the flood of stuff at this point. I put in every answer that I could think of off the top of my head, but please leave others in the comments.

~ by Servetus on November 4, 2012.

36 Responses to “Hobbit mdse: or, That stuff behind your eyes / It all ends up as stuff that you can buy”

  1. I must admit, the lots of merchandises bother me a little, because I have no sensible reason to invest money in them, when I have so many other projects, where it, with any sense of mine left, better should go.
    But otherwise, I don’t mind the pre-event merchandising for “The Hobbit”, because the one and sole event which completely convinced me of the brilliance of the project, was hearing RA sing.
    The film itself – can just be a little further incentive for me, compared to that for me totally overwhelming experience ;o)
    And I hope, RA gets to sing a lot. The preview of songs on the CD does not give me too much hope though.

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    • I hope it’s just because there will be three movies to spread the singing across. The dwarves all have said there’s lots, so fingers crossed.

      And I succumbed to a little Thorin because it reminded me of a comment by that certain Brit about a superposable horse. That makes me grin. I ordered stamps, books, music, magazines, all things I’ve bought before. But as a writer, those are the things I love anyway.

      The weird food stuff is the most disturbing. Character coffee, anyone? That’s just freaky odd.

      I get why on the merchandising, but it can be a turnoff. I usually hope it will fire imaginations young and old. And maybe encourage budding writers and spark interest in reading.

      I know, I have the rose-colored glasses on. Perhaps it’s because it is The Hobbit, usually a nerdy choice, with actual morals and beliefs. Unlike some action movies that are without any redeeming value, except in its merchandise.

      Pardon any errors. I’m typing on the phone. Can you really get a Thorin case for a smartphone? 😉

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      • The Thorin coffee really has a come together atmosphere. A friend of mine, who is not so into RA fandom, let me know about the coffee and if I wanted to try it. I think, this way, the merchandising even reaches in the usual consumer market and to customers, who normally would not go anywhere near the other merchandising stuff. So I think, it really is effective. Thorin smartphone case? Yes, Servetus has the link here: Servetus’ post about Zazzle
        I must look, I have a Zazzle merchant account and it should also work for other offers to gain fees, so we could try to get income for charity from sales there too.

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      • Yes, you can really get a Thorin case.

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    • I don’t think we will get more than two songs per film, probably when they have a chance to rest in a safe place and have a party. The Misty Mountains song has already served the aim to draw people back into Middle Earth in the first trailer and it will help to sell the full soundtrack. The song that will be released as a single will be the song played over the credits, not Misty Mountains, except perhaps later if it proves really, really popular.

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      • I fear you are right, Jane.
        But my expectations – or better hopes – were exaggerated, as what I wanted to get was a separate RA CD with his own songs, e.g. the story of the dwarves sung and told by Thorin Oakenshield 😉
        (Something like the African tradition to tell their tribal stories.)
        But that perhaps is a merchandising product they have left out of their portfolio, while it would have been the ultimate – no-resistance possible – merchandising product for me 😉

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        • Thorin and RA are still an unknown quantity so they are introducing him carefully. He features prominently enough but doesn’t have to carry the whole movie. Yes, I would want him to be on every poster and appear in every chat show and sing the title song, but it would be a huge burden and if the movie fails, it would be his responsibility.

          If the movie becomes a hit and a Thorin develops a cult following (wouldn’t be unprecedented) we may get more of him in the second and third movie. It is only just beginning!

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        • All Armitage, all the time. That’s the radio station I want 🙂

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    • Good that they had him sing in that first trailer, then. I wonder if he *did* rerecord the song?

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  2. I accept that merchandising is part of promoting any film. It just comes with the territory. I don’t find that I am inundated by advertising; I am largely immune to it. A friend gave me a lovely gift, but that is the only piece of Hobbit stuff I own. I would, however, like to buy a flight on Air NZ, now that I have seen the safety video. The “stuff that goes on behind my eyes” comes before, during, and after any artistic event, and is very unlikely to be affected by merchandising.

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    • Very aptly expressed, Leigh.

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    • I’m glad you put this here. I’m bookmarking writing an extension of this post that deals with this question — where does the imagination fit into all of this? It’s not the mdse that’s causing this particular problem for me, in short; I raise it only because it’s been a matter of comment lately.

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  3. The only thing I bought was the cappuccino and as that is something I buy anyway and my usual brand is more expensive, it actually saved me money. I don’t intend to buy more, and certainly not before I even know if I will like the movie. I don’t think the merchandise is meant to be bought now anyway, it is meant to be bought after people have fallen in love with the movie and it’s characters and can’t get enough of it. No wonder no-one has ordered plush Gandalfs and Bilbos yet, but I am sure they will! But I think it is a good thing that this stuff is popping up, it is a win-win situation for everyone because it keeps the movie in the public consciousness and gives the impression that it is a something important and popular and that one should give it a look.

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    • I think it’s true that the stuff keeps the film in people’s eyes. My FB friends seem to be starting their Christmas shopping so having that stuff in stores *now* (as opposed to waiting for Black Friday, even) is probably also an attempt to sell it in this holiday cycle as opposed to waiting a year.

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  4. I heartily dislike all the merchandising – whether before or after the launch of the film doesn’t even come into it. It is simply unnecessary cr*p that none of us need, another way of cashing in on a media event, really. However, the fact that it is already happening pre-release doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I find it logical. After all, The Hobbit is something of a prequel, the lead-up to the LotR trilogy, so there is an established fandom out there at which the merchandising is addressed.
    Personally, I don’t have the money to buy any merchandise. I have to budget my life very carefully. However, I must admit that I actually got one piece of merchandise – that German cappucino with Thorin on it. Mad!!! Where is the connection between dwarves and cappucino??? And what will I do with the packet once it is empty? Frame it and hang it on my bedroom wall? The ultimate submission to marketing forces. I (almost) feel ashamed now…
    PS: can’t believe you know Chumbawumba!!!!

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  5. I may buy one of the companion guides and My daughter would I’m sure love the sound track CD for christmas. I brought the gollum issue of empire issue and only got the Thorin one yesterday incase a friend overseas couldn’t get it. As it is another fan has sent it her.I think merchandising like this is to be expected a lot of money has been spent on the film they have to recoup the cost

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    • UK Expat told me that she thinks that the merchandising deals are not on the same balance sheet as the film production costs — so that they have to make the costs of making the film from ticket sales. Of course, the stuff does help sell the film.

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  6. Like Leigh, I’m immune to the merchandising too. Why would I be annoyed by it? After all, nobody is holding a gun to my head forcing me to buy any of the stuff, so I just don’t. 🙂 Selling merchandise IS a big part of film promotion these days, whether one likes it or not. The only thing I bought was the Empire mag with the Thorin cover. Don’t think buying a flight ticket to London counts…

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  7. The Hobbit nail polish is actually inspired by 007 nail polish. There also is a Skyfall perfume. Perhaps next year. The stench of unwashed dwarf?

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  8. Check out Jazzbaby’s piece on this:

    http://funkybluedandelion.blogspot.com/2012/11/invasion-of-slicksters.html

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  9. […] I see the ArmitageWorld topic is The Hobbit merchandising discussed by Servetus, Agzy, and Jazzy.   Nobody should be surprised when I say I don’t particularly care, except […]

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  10. My youngest son got his Legos magazine today and The Hobbit legos will be out in December is what it said. Now given that the only way they will get in my house is if one of the two younger boys wants them. I can see that one of the boys will also want the book.

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  11. […] I was saying some time ago that it wasn’t the merchandise that was bugging me, although the manufacture of nostalgia was getti…. I wanted to write a separate post about this question, and now there may not be time before the […]

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  12. […] lot of the Armitage stuff that appeared. OK, OK. Despite my reservations, I especially liked the WETA workshop Thorin figure and still […]

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  13. […] hype, something that used to drive me crazy but to which I’ve learned to turn a blind eye or occasionally be amused by in the meantime. (There’ll be more stuff to buy, of course.) There are still all the problems […]

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