Thematic Funko Collecting: Motivations of Academics

Curator's Note

Thematic Funko Collecting: Motivations of Academics

By Erika Engstrom and Anthony Limperos, University of Kentucky

“Tell me what Funko Pops! you collect, and I will tell you who you are.” This take on Brillat-Savarin’s famous quote, about how food choice reveals personality, aptly parallels how Funko Pops! serve a similar function in the revealing of self-identity, in that items we collect and display are used as cue to tell others—and ourselves—who we are. Artifacts we surround ourselves with thus serve as what Erving Goffman called “expressive equipment” for our front, the persona we present in everyday life. Objects like Funkos thus communicate our identity, in that they are physical representations of our fandoms, which in turn hold in some manner or other values that validate our constructs and perceptions of the world.

As vinyl representations of any and all popular culture characters and actual sports figures and celebrities, their 50:50 body-to-head ratio and “aggressively” cute appearance make Funko Pops!  almost irresistible not to collect, display, or gift to others. In the business of honoring pop culture, Funko approaches its business with the charge that everyone is a fan of something. The company’s ability to quickly bring to market the latest pop culture trends and the newest characters, however obscure, from films and TV shows make Pops! an available and largely affordable way to express one’s likes and dislikes regarding interests, hobbies, and celebrity admiration.

As shown in the clip, research on collecting behavior offers numerous motivations for why one in three adults in the U.S. collect something. This research relates to uses and gratifications research, which seeks to discover which and how people consume news, entertainment, and social media. Motivations of Funko Pop! collectors who happen to be academics in communication and media disciplines add a heuristic provocativeness to the research on collecting behavior and how they serve to communicate the identity of the collector through the types and themes of the Funkos they own. Displaying Funkos not only reveals their fandoms, but also invites conversation with students as well as fellow academics—which not only fosters the exchange of ideas, but can spur collaboration and inspiration for further research.


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