Jen Krueger: The Little Things
A few weeks ago, I was idly browsing a store that carried everything from as-seen-on-TV products to Halloween costumes on deep discount. I didn’t really expect to find anything worth purchasing, but just as a bored salesperson mumbled in my general direction that everything in the store was 30% off, I came upon an aisle with Doctor Who merchandise and figured a quick perusal couldn’t hurt. It was all stuff I’d seen before, mostly TARDIS hats, scarves, lunchboxes, and keychains, but then a rack of random packs of micro figures caught my eye. I already had two such micro figures on my desk at home, a Centurion Rory and a Tenth Doctor that had both been gifts, and I liked the idea of getting an Eleventh Doctor or an Amy Pond to join them. But as I thought about making my first micro figure purchase, I realized that despite my vast love of Doctor Who, I hadn’t actually bought much merchandise related to the show. Wondering how that could possibly be true, I grudgingly admitted to myself that my merch buying experiences haven’t been very good.
Bracelets and rings decorated with Elvish script or symbols from The Lord of the Rings movies have given me rashes and made my skin turn green. I’ve never bought a concert t-shirt that didn’t shrink the first time I washed it. And after buying online a Tenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver that was meant to come with a psychic paper wallet, I received only the Sonic Screwdriver. An inquiry to the company I purchased it from was met with a terse reply that the psychic paper wallet was no longer packaged with the Sonic Screwdriver despite being listed in the product description at the time I made my order, and the company would neither send me a psychic paper wallet separately to make up for their lapse, nor issue any refund. Essentially, every time I’ve bought an officially licensed product, it has been defective or disappointing in some way.
But “defective or disappointing” isn’t a label I would put on all the officially licensed products I own. My Centurion Rory micro figure is an uncommon one to unwrap, and since Ten is my Doctor, getting him was just as fun as scoring the rarer Rory. Doctor Who apparel, the Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, and a kit to build my own Sonic Screwdriver were all gifts met with an excited squeal when I opened them, and I can say the same for the variety of Peanuts and Pixar presents I’ve been given over the years. So why is it that these gifts have all been great when the things I’ve bought for myself haven’t?
The biggest factor in my disappointment with the things I’ve bought comes down to the simple fact that “officially licensed” can unfortunately be synonymous with “cheap.” Sure, an “official replica” of Harry Potter’s wand is likely to be expensive and crafted with some care, but an “officially licensed” version of the wand could be flimsy plastic as long as the company producing it isn’t doing so without the permission of the Potter powers that be. A book, movie, or show being licensed for merchandise means only that the sale of items based on the book, movie, or show has been approved. There is no guarantee of quality inherent in the granting of an official merchandising license, and since outside parties can get one without having any stake in the book, movie, or show on which the products they’re selling are based, it’s no surprise that these products can be cheaply made with a bottom line in mind rather than the interest of the fans buying them. Yet none of the officially licensed gifts I’ve received have been cheap. How is that possible?
Cheap is in the eye of the beholder, and I behold purchases and gifts very differently. Picking out a product, weighing whether it seems worth the price, and ultimately spending money on it will give me certain expectations about the product’s quality. When that product is officially licensed from something I love, my expectations are higher simply because of its association with something I think well of. And if I’m anticipating a certain level of enjoyment from what I’ve bought, I will obviously be disappointed if I don’t get it. Receiving a gift takes prior expectations out of the mix though, since a product can’t fall short of a bar I imagined for it if I haven’t been anticipating where that bar lies in the first place. Ultimately, I could buy myself the same Sonic Screwdriver I was given and like it only half as much as I did when receiving it as a gift.
So I guess my best shot at enjoying officially licensed merchandise is to expect less from it, or avoid buying it for myself. In the bizarre catch-all store, I decided to grab one micro figure pack and see which character I got. I opened it immediately and discovered a handbot, one of the only possible figures that I had zero interest in. At such a cheap price point, I figured I’d buy one more in the hope that even if I didn’t get my desired Amy Pond or Eleventh Doctor, I’d at least get a fun character like River, or a cool villain like a Vashta Nerada. I opened my second pack and hit the jackpot: an Amy!
An Amy that I realized had two right legs, that is.