It really bothers me that when people start asking the “hard questions”, so many people freak out. As most know, we’ve been having a discussion over on an action figure forum regarding how collectors act and what makes one a collector. I think I’ve made some very good points and I’ve had a lot of people agree with me, but there are some hard-core people who simply cannot handle having to define their terms, instead trying to make them as vague and generic and all-inclusive as possible in order to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings. It feels a lot like the accomodationist nonsense we’ve talked about so much here, where anyone, no matter how absurd or demonstrably wrong, has to be coddled so they don’t feel bad.
We’ve pussyfooted around the question, but eventually, I had to ask outright, “What are the defining characteristics of a collector?” That’s when all hell broke loose. I was immediately declared boring by the people who simply didn’t want to deal with the implications of the question, probably for fear that they wouldn’t fall under the definition. “You’re probably one of those people who has to have all the terms in their life defined! How dull!” However, it is an important question though, one that does need to be discussed.
A few definitions were suggested and one person proposed that having more than 5 of any item makes one a collector, but that doesn’t hold. I have more than 5 cans of soup in the cupboard, that doesn’t mean I’m a soup collector. There needs to be some purpose to having those items beyond using them for the generic purpose for which they were intended. As I pointed out, a kid playing with his toys wouldn’t be considered a collector by most people, even if those toys are put up on a shelf every night.
The biggest complaint I got was that I’m trying to define the term at all, as though there’s something wrong with categorizing things. I’m sorry, but we live in a world where words have meanings, where things are categorized and sorted and put into groups. Words have definitions whether you like it or not. People are male and female, dead and alive, black and white. Certainly these terms can be a bit gray where individuals don’t fit perfectly into one category or another, but if you say “male”, just about everyone knows what you mean and most people don’t get upset that you’re trying to define what the term means. In general, we all try to move from areas of lesser understanding to greater understanding, not the other way around. It doesn’t make me “boring” for wanting to address it and if people don’t want to take part in the discussion, then no one is forcing them to read the thread.
Maybe one of my other problems is I’m dealing with a collector base that is typically much younger than I am. The only thing I can compare it to is stamp collectors, who, in every online poll I’ve seen, tend to be mostly 40 and up. Action figure collectors tend to be in their teens and twenties and, as much as I hate to say it, may lack the sophistication to deal with the harder philosophical questions. If you ask many stamp collectors what characteristics define their hobby, most of them can give you a short list, even if they haven’t carefully considered it in the past. A stamp collector isn’t someone who buys a roll of stamps at the post office for sending letters, for instance. I don’t think you’d get people who would argue we don’t dare define our terms for fear of hurting someones precious little feelings.
Therefore, I’ve come up with what I think is a reasonable definition, as inclusive as necessary while specifically excluding that which needs to be excluded. A collector is someone who acquires, organizes and preserves a specific set of related objects. I’ve included the three terms specifically, all criteria must be met or the individual isn’t, at least under the terms of the definition, a collector. A collector must acquire objects for their collection. That means you can’t simply declare yourself to collect rainbows or sunsets or stars, those are not things that anyone can actually acquire. It must be a physical object which you can, yourself, own. You can’t collect someone else’s things, that’s called theft. Secondly, one must organize their collection. Someone with a pile of old letters in a box in the closet isn’t a stamp collector. It doesn’t matter how you organize your collection, just that you actively do so, keep track of it, etc. Third, you must preserve the collection. This excludes kids playing with toys as toy collectors, for example. It also excludes customizers who are really only using the items as raw material for their own creations. That’s not to say that these people can’t *ALSO* be collectors, but in their customizing activities, they are not. This definition doesn’t exclude anyone who actually collects and it doesn’t include anyone who really doesn’t. It’s simple and effective, which is probably why so many people on the forum hated it.
The funny thing is, I don’t think I excluded anyone in the forum! It’s important to have these kinds of discussions, to rise above the shallow and irrelevant blather that so often fills these forums. It’s important, not only to collect, but to know why you are collecting. It’s just sad that so many people are terrified of examining their base assumptions and really getting down to brass tacks. If we can’t understand ourselves and our motivations, how valid can they be?