"The fans would get us to pay a lot more attention if they weren’t so negative. ‘Cause what happens is, there are so many people that are so negative, you just have to shut it off, because it would shake your confidence. And it’s unfortunate, because fans have helped us, too. You know, we want to know who the favorite characters are when you take a mythology like Transformers or G.I. JOE." – Lorenzo di Bonaventura
No, this isn’t a defense of any of the movies with which Lorenzo di Bonaventura has been involved. He makes a very valid point, though, and it’s relevant to a lot more than Hollywood productions. It would behoove those of us who collect action figures and discuss them online to pause and consider his words.
"The fans would get us to pay a lot more attention if they weren’t so negative."
Just imagine how many times this very thought has run through the heads of Hasbro and Mattel employees.
Some will inevitably say, "But people have a right to complain if they don’t like something!" Sure. I don’t dispute that, and I’m certainly not trying to deprive anyone of their rights. This is simply a reminder that it’s wise to choose our words carefully and to consider the consequences before publishing some of the things hobbyists say.
"Collectors are just blowing off steam and expressing themselves. It doesn’t hurt anything!" Except that it does. Some of us would actually like toy manufacturers to listen when we offer constructive criticism. If a representative from one of those companies has to scroll through ten pages of, "HasBLOW SUCKS," and, "The guy who runs this line is an IDIOT," to read a couple of rational, thoughtful ideas and suggestions, what do you think is going to happen? Those comments will get lost in all the nastiness. The overwhelming negativity directed at these people – because they are people, after all – makes it less likely that anything we have to say will be heard. Throwing a fit and having a message board tantrum might make someone feel (if not appear) clever at the time, but all it does is make it more difficult for others to communicate sound, reasonable recommendations to the teams behind our favorite action figure lines.
"They just don’t care about us," is one of the most frequent complaints. If you mean the suits who actually run these companies or dictate budgets, of course they don’t care about you. The collector market is a tiny percentage of their overall business. They barely know you exist. If anyone believes Scott Neitlich, the Mattel Brand Manager who overseas their DC, Masters of the Universe, and Ghostbusters lines, isn’t a fan who cares about getting action figures desired by collectors to the market, that person hasn’t been paying attention over the last few years. All he and his team have done is spoil collectors, and a very vocal minority just demands more, more, more. The same goes for Derryl DePriest, back for another tour with G.I. JOE after spending a few years in a galaxy far, far away. Think back to the quality and selection available from any line not based on STAR WARS a decade ago. For that matter, just go back to 2004. You had Marvel Legends, but only ten figures were released in each of the first two years. Mattel had its comic-style Batman line, but there was no representation of the DC Universe as a whole at mainstream retail. The 200X Masters of the Universe line was dying a painful death. Hasbro’s G.I. JOE vs. Cobra line was hardly an aesthetically pleasing collection, and Transformers: Energon was hit-or-miss. Think about how much more we have to enjoy now.
In addition to the basic STAR WARS line, there’s The Vintage Collection and the animated-style The Clone Wars. Hasbro also has Pursuit of Cobra as a follow-up to several years of great 25th Anniversary and Modern Era G.I. JOE, Marvel Universe, Spider-Man, classic Transformers like Jazz, Kup, Thundercracker, and Wheeljack mixed in with movie toys, a new Prime line, and lots of Thor and Cap goodness for summer movies. On the Mattel side of things, there’s a 6" line that covers the entire DC Universe, a new animated line inspired by the Young Justice series, Masters of the Universe Classics, Ghostbusters, and a huge Green Lantern push this summer. On top of all that, they’re trying to squeeze out a lot more JLU characters as they bring that line to an end. Within a few weeks of a new wave hitting retail, people start complaining about there being nothing new to buy. Spoiled, and not just for more, more, more, but now, now, now. What happened to taking some time to sit back and actually enjoy a toy collection?
This is not to say that any company has ever produced an action figure like without making mistakes. All companies who manufacture anything make mistakes. That’s because companies and their various projects are managed by – again – actual people, and perfection just isn’t a realistic expectation. Big corporations, by their very nature, are slow to adapt and evolve. Progress takes time. Constructive criticism is helpful, and I have no doubt that the men and women who work on these toys appreciate pragmatic, useful input, but overblown hostility is inherently counterproductive. When people start ranting about how, "So-and-so at Mattel is clueless and incompetent," it’s patently detrimental to our cause, which is to get fun, quality toys. Just being respectful toward filmmakers, comic creators, and the men and women who work on our favorite toy lines can really go a long way.
So express yourself, even if what you have to say isn’t complimentary. When it’s not flattering, though, that doesn’t mean it has to be insulting. It’s honestly not that difficult to find the balance here, to be critical without being disparaging. Ask yourself: Do I want to be taken seriously, or do I just want to deride someone I’ve never even met? Am I in this because I love collecting toys, or am I simply collecting reasons to complain? And for those – the majority – who don’t resort to ranting and raving over little plastic men, those who can calmly convey serious advice as to how these products can be improved, do not allow yourselves to be drowned out by the extremely vocal minority. If you have something positive to say, if you want to offer praise when you feel these companies are doing an exceptionally good job, do not allow yourselves to be drowned out by the extremely vocal minority. Sure, it could put you in the crosshairs of those who thrive on negativity. They may call you an apologist. They may even accuse you of being a paid shill, but positive reaction is every bit as important as constructive criticism. This is our hobby, after all. We’re supposed to be enjoying it, right? If we don’t have any reason to be positive about it, just exactly what are we doing here?