r m p




Schopenhauer on Collecting Action Figures

Robert M. Price


My name is Bob, and I’m an action figure addict. But you already knew that, didn’t you? As I write, the San Diego Comics Convention is afoot, and I am consulting the DC Direct message boards and other websites to gather the latest news and clues from DC Direct and ToyBiz as to which long-desired characters they are going to incarnate in plastic this coming year. And reading the DCD board posts, I realize that not only am I not alone in my addiction, but, thank God, I am not even the worst! There are others at least as obsessed as I am, some even worse, like the poor souls who, upon learning that their favorite characters were pushed off for another year (something I do not make light of!), swore to give up the hobby altogether! Why this reaction? Certainly they were not trying to throw a scare into DC Direct with a boycott threat. Nor was it a symbolic protest like those 60s campus radicals who refused their diplomas from schools that had investments in South Africa (or whatever it was). At least my guess is that the posters just could not stand it any more. The hobby had become a pain rather than a joy. As Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, then why are you so sad?” It was like an unsatisfying relationship: it had become more trouble than it was worth.

            I have watched this tendency grow in myself, but I have tried to adjust my attitude, an adjustment I recommend to you, dear reader, if you have the same proclivities. The nineteenth-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (The World as Will and Idea) helps me here. Schopenhauer was quite the pessimist, drawing much from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which was just then beginning to be studied in the West. The first Noble Truth, the Buddhist diagnosis of what ails mankind, is “Life is suffering.” The second is the etiology of the illness: “Suffering is caused by desire.” The third is the prescription: “The cessation of suffering brings the cessation of desire.”

            Schopenhauer elucidated the truth “Life is suffering” by describing life as a continual pendulum-swing between frustration on the one hand and disappointment on the other. You can’t rest for wanting a thing (a career, a relationship, a possession), but then if and when you do get it, the luster is gone! And you feel disappointment, even if the thing was exactly what it was cracked up to be! Why? Mr. Spock says, “Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting; it is not logical, but it is often true.” Oh, but it is logical! You see, we only “desire” what we do not have. In fact, this is precisely why the word “want” means both “lack” and “desire.” The feeling of desire is a species of anticipation, and thus it must disappear as soon as the goal is reached. You do not want what you have, which is also why you do not appreciate what you had till it’s gone. So once we get what we wanted, we go back for the thrill (or the punishment, for which the collector is a  glutton) of rejoining the chase: wanting something new. Surely that is also why people pursue extramarital affairs. It’s not so much forbidden fruit tasting sweeter as the renewed thrill of the chase.

            The real question is whether there is anything better to replace wanting with than taking the newly-won for granted and starting to want something else. If there is, then we could get off the neurotic merry-go-round. I think there is, and it is the more obviously logical path that Spock was hinting at. It is possible to reach contentment if you change your mind by simply stopping to appreciate what you have, appreciate it for all the reasons you once desired it. To objectify it and contemplate it is to reestablish a bit of that distance that occasioned your desire in the first place. When you appreciate a possession, you are in effect imagining, “Wow! What if I didn’t have it?” “What if there wasn’t one of these neat things?” “Isn’t it great to have it?”

            Ask yourself the question, wouldn’t your collection be terrific, wouldn’t it be a source of joy and admiration even if nothing else ever came along to add to it? That poster who announced he was done collecting action figures and would be selling all he had collected  was predicating the validity of his collection on the possibility of its being completed with the figures he still wanted. And when it seemed they would not be forthcoming, not any time soon, anyway, he suddenly saw his collection as worthless, undesirable! I don’t want to make that mistake. I am more and more inclined to sit there when I get a spare moment and bask in the radiance of my Justice Society display, my JLA gallery, my Avengers, my Legion of Super Heroes, etc. And then I think how great it’s going to be to fill the gaps in the roster of each. But I don’t forget that what makes me want these other hypothetical figures makes me enjoy the heck out of the ones I’ve got. The day I go to Heroes Are Here to pick up my Reign of the Supermen figures (next March, seven long months from now) will be a mighty happy day for me. But today, when I can go take a look at the Cyborg Superman and my Kenner versions of the others, is a happy day, too!



Copyright©2004 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design