Why Michael is Wrong

That's a bit of a misleading title, actually.  I'm never wrong.  I tell my wife and kids that all the time.  And no, they don't believe me either.

I've been writing critical reviews of pop culture collectibles for many years now, ever since the early days when the Usenet group was where the cool kids hung.  "Cool" being a subjective term, of course.

To be effective as a critic, no matter if it's pop culture collectibles, or movies, or big screen televisions, you need to be quite self aware.  There are all kinds of emotional drivers and reasons why people respond positively and negatively to things, particularly when artistic issues start to creep in, and to be as fair and even as possible, it helps to be aware of them.  Awareness is the first step to

Of course, every time you give your opinion on something, someone else will have a different opinion.  That's not unexpected, but sometimes, someone will tell you that the most God awful piece of crap is a work of art.  And other times, they'll tear up something that anyone with vision slightly above blind as a bat would love.  And you ask yourself "how can that be?".

The following categories have proven to be the most common reasons that I've seen color people's perceptions.  You may recognize yourself in some of these - that's not a negative thing.  If I don't remain aware of these issues, I can fall prey to several of them, and I have to remain constantly aware of them to avoid them.  These are all natural human emotions, but by understanding them we can get a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us.

1 - Natural tendency toward Optimism/Pessimism.  This is the most apparent and obvious of all personal bias, and has nothing to do with the item being considered and everything to do with the person considering it.  There is a percentage of the population that loves or hates everything.  Some folks believe every new comic book storyline is stupid, there hasn't been a good movie since 1979, and there hasn't been a good cartoon show since Masters of the Universe.  You can show them the finest quality collectible on the planet, and they'll find one flaw (which will always be true - everything has some flaws no matter how good it is) and deem that it 'sucks'.

Their polar opposite is out there as well, people that can't find a bad thing to say about The Moment of Truth, and love every movie, book or show they see.  They can examine  a collectible that looks like a baboon's butt wearing a cow dung hat, and they'll say it looks great because the hat fits well.

If this is your natural tendency, that's just who you are.  You're never going to be a great critic, but the Optimist can have a terrific career as the press secretary for just about any politician...and the Pessimist should look into doing promos for the local news.

2 - Emperor's New Clothes
Do you remember the story of the Emperor's New Clothes?  The Emperor hires a swindler to make him the perfect clothes, and the swindler tells him that the clothing is invisible to anyone who isn't smart enough to see it.  No one is going to say they can't see it, because no one wants to appear stupid.

When people pay a lot of money for a figure, they want it to look great.  They expect it to look great.  And when it doesn't turn out that way, there can be a tendency for people to play the role of ALL the characters in the Emperor's New Clothes in their own mind.  Much of this process is NOT conscious.  They tell themselves it MUST be great, because otherwise they wouldn't have spent that much money on it.  They don't want to admit to themselves that they made a mistake.  Again, this isn't like there's a little voice in their head that says "Ooo, I don't want to admit I ended up with something that's not worth what I paid so I have to say it is", but rather a gut reaction, a natural human emotion.  If it wasn't such a common, natural  reaction, Hans Christian Anderson wouldn't have written a fairy tale 180 years ago that most people still recognize today.

3 - Sour Grapes
Another common emotion is best described as Sour Grapes.  In Aesop's Fable "The Fox and the Grapes", the fox can't reach some very tasty looking grapes way up in a tree.  When he realizes he can't have them, he gives up and says "eh, they're sour anyway".  The morale of the fable, written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, is simply "it is easy to despise what you cannot get".  It can often be difficult to get pop culture collectibles, either due to price, limited availability, or poor distribution. When this happens, it is not unusual for collectors to react this way.

Please keep in mind that this has NOTHING to do with jealousy or bitterness.  Too often these days, we equate the idea of 'sour grapes' with someone being jealous of someone else for what they can get, but that is not the basic concept.  What this (and the Emperor's New Clothes reaction as well) is really about is reducing cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you naturally get when there is a difference between what you KNOW to be true and what you HOLD to be true.  People don't like those two to be different, and so they will do quite a bit (often seen as rationalization) to bring them together, although the actions might seem illogical to the outside observer.

I'm using Sour Grapes in that context.  You see an item you really want, but can't have for some reason outside your control.  Admitting that they want it badly but simply can't have it makes them uncomfortable at a very deep, subconscious level, and they fix this by saying "eh, it sucks anyway".

Both this and the Emperor's New Clothes are NOT unusual.  In fact, I doubt there is anyone ever born who isn't susceptible to both of these emotional responses depending on the situation.  Admitting that you could react this way is not a weakness, and in fact by being aware of it, you can help avoid it.

4 - Customer/License Loyalty
One of the strongest human emotions that can heavily effect the perception of the critical eye is loyalty to the company making the item.  This is Pepsi vs Coke, Apple vs IBM, and Mcfarlane vs NECA.  People will become loyal to a brand, and once they are, their fervor can reach religious levels.

The best companies are the ones that manage to create this situation.  By developing raving fans - and listening to them - they will have the perfect free evangelists for their product.  Too many companies in the pop culture collectibles market don't get this, especially the big boys that dabble in it, like Mattel or Hasbro.  But many smaller companies, like Mcfarlane and Sideshow, realize how critical it is and have done a fantastic job developing this kind of fan base.

And it's not just company loyalty that we're talking about here.  Fans of particular licenses can often allow their love for specific characters or a movie or a television show color their perceptions around the collectibles based on these things.  This is even more true when there is very little product available to choose from, or one company has the monopoly on the license.

This kind loyalty is fantastic for a movie franchise, or a company's brand, but can cause some pretty extreme reactions on a product by product basis.  And while I admit that I have to be careful myself with numbers 2 and 3 above, I have to say that this is one that causes me no trouble at all, and I just don't 'get'.  I'm not a brand or company kind of guy - I buy no brand if it's available every time.  I'd never buy a t-shirt with any company logo on it (but I'll wear them if you give them to me  for free :)  I'm just not a brand guy.

But there is a different aspect of this that does effect me.  While I'm not company loyal, you have to understand that I know the PEOPLE behind the companies and products.  I've chatted with some, spent hours with others.  I've eaten meals with them, and in some cases, I've met their family members. Some of them I've known for years, and some of them I like very much - and some of them, well, not so much.  While I might not have any particular feelings one way or other about the company, I certainly do have feelings about these people, but I have to ensure that I don't allow that to interfere with my true opinions about the products.  This can be very tough, and I have to remind myself of it every review.  I think I do a pretty good job (and there isn't a company you could name that hasn't been pissed at me at some point), but that doesn't mean I don't need to remain aware.

5 - In hand vs Photos
The previous four responses are all emotion based.  This fifth one is not, but is a response caused by how you are exposed to a figure.

For most people, they have to form their initial opinions about a collectible by looking at photos on line.  There's also text of course, in reviews, discussion groups, and blog posts, but they tend to form most of their opinion based on photos.  And photos are never the same as holding and handling the real thing.

No matter how good or bad the photos, they are still photos.  You shouldn't decide on how good a movie is or isn't based on the preview, and no matter how beautiful that postcard of the Grand Canyon is, it's not the same thing as standing there, staring into it.  A two dimensional version of the figure not only lacks that critical third dimension, it also lacks the tactile experience.  You can't fully judge a movie without seeing it - you can't fully judge a toy without handling it.

So what's the answer? Well, it shouldn't be "I guess I just have to buy it and hope for the best", because that's going to get quite expensive. Instead, you need to find other people whose opinion you trust that do have it in hand. The best critics for you will be the ones you most often agree with...or most often disagree with. In either case, you can use their opinion of something they have in hand to better judge how you'll react to it should you spend the cash and get it yourself.

In fact, recent data shows that only 30% of buyers use a straight search engine - Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. - to find their way to a buying decision or retailer. Instead, 70% use the tens of thousands of smaller sites (review sites, social network sites, specific forums, etc.) to inform them as to what to buy and where to buy it. Online photos can help of course, but finding one or more people you can trust will help you avoid photographic misrepresentation.

6 - Perception of 'value'
One of the most confusing sections of my reviews is the "Value" section. First, people get confused how a figure can get only **1/2 stars here, and yet get **** stars overall (for example). This is because an average value (**1/2 - ***) has NO effect on the Overall. It's a wash - not good OR bad. When it get's lower or higher than that, it can have a huge effect on the overall, because a great value (or a terrible one) can be a critical factor.

But 'value', as defined by what you're getting for the price you're paying, can be a very personal thing. How much disposable income you have, how you value money, and whether you take into consideration all factors (not just the cost of manufacture, but licensing, importation costs, reusability, etc.) can heavily effect your perception of 'value'.

When considering other categories, it tends to be easier to compare apples to apples. It can be possible to compare the paint job on a $20 figure to a $200 figure if you keep the cost clearly in mind, but you're usually much better off comparing the figure to a like priced, similar style item.

But when it comes to the Value category, you should be comparing both similar and dissimilar items. The only way to understand if you're getting a good value - what you're getting vs what you paid - is to look at both items that are priced similarly and those that cost more or less. This gives you a much better appreciation for what's possible for every dollar spent.

It's a tricky category though, and one that causes the most heart burn for people. For some folks, it's meaningless - they don't care how much it costs if they want it. For others, how much they can spend is tightly limited, and they want to know if they're getting the bang for their buck. For the former, I suggest skipping the category. For the latter, it's the same advice as the previous example - find someone you trust to help understand it in advance.

So what's it all mean?
Well, it means I'm never wrong of course - I just have a different opinion. Being aware of the factors that influence your opinion can make you a better critic, and will help you make better decisions on what to buy and what not to buy.  It will also help you find critics you can trust, since you'll be better able to recognize their own bias.  In the end, being able to make the best decision for yourself is what it's all about.


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