You know the drill: a blockbuster sci-fi movie is about to drop. Anticipation mounts. Then, suddenly, stores are hit with a flurry of promotional “stuff.” A significant chunk of said “stuff” are toys. Those toys then lease a spot on a shelf next to other toys promoting a range of media, from that hit film from 25 years ago, now fertile ground for nostalgia, to that re-released comic book from the 1980s, to that TV show you glimpsed this morning.
Observing these rows of little plastic bodies, it is easy to think of them as purely representational. The toys’ sole job is to give buyers a tangible duplicate of an otherwise intangible character. This take-home hero then can become many things to its beholder: avatar, memento, plaything, gift, declaration of love. You fully accept, without even giving it a second thought, that the role of the company that made the toy you just purchased acted simply as a go-between. All the toymaker did was mold your favorite character into plastic. However, this idea of the toy company’s passive role in the process of pop culture consumption is deeply flawed. Toy companies do not just represent meaningful pop culture texts, but fundamentally change them by creating a new text unto itself—the toy—which translates, evaluates, and omits moments and characters from the property it claims to be promoting.
Funko’s recently-announced Jurassic Park line of Funko Pop!s provides an excellent case study that illustrates this.