I’ve been contemplating getting a geek box for a while now. I’m following a few pages on Facebook dedicated to geeky subscription boxes (like My Geek Box and ShabbyGeek) but I’d been put off by the cost or whether it was worth it. But a Groupon deal came up for a subscription to Lootcrate at half the usual price and I figured it was worth giving it a go. I signed up for a three month subscription with the first crate to be delivered in July with the theme Heroes.
I was actually really excited when the crate was delivered. I hadn’t expected it when it turned up, so when I went down to collect the parcel from the Post Office I was pleasantly surprised. I was on my way out so I opened the crate in the car and was really impressed with what was in there! It’s a tidy sized box and packed full. On top was a Q-Pop 1960s Batman figure, underneath that a book called Regrettable Superheroes, a Wonder Woman poster and Star Trek air freshner, a Legend of Zelda sweat band, a code for a computer game, a Batman multi-tool and the July Lootcrate newsletter.
I haven’t taken the Batman figure out of the box yet, though it comes with a marker pen and a whiteboard in the shape of a speech bubble, and I have seen one Instagrammer post a picture of Batman saying “I ❤ Robin” which I’m tempted to do with mine! I have. however, put the air freshener in my car, hung next to my TARDIS and Dalek ones, and the multitool is on my keyring.
I still need to find somewhere to put my Wonder Woman poster (I’m thinking if and when I get a lecturing post she’ll go up on my office door) but everything else has or will soon have a place. So July’s Lootcrate I’m well impressed with. Because I’m an academic, though, and this is my academic blog (of a sort) I’m not simply writing a review of this crate – I’m thinking about geek subscription boxes in relation to fandom and collecting.
I’m a geek and I happily identify as one. I’m a huge X-Files fan, as anyone who follows this blog will know, I have a complicated relationship with Doctor Who but I buy – and get bought – a lot of merchandise, I have fandom-related t-shirts galore and I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. But when it comes to collecting I can be quite particular.Lincoln Geraghty, in Cult Collectors, notes that
the material objects that fans collect remain solid signifiers of the historical significance of previous media texts. That they do not go away suggests that they are worth more to fans than simply money; they must mean something personal for such demand to still exist
I’ll collect anything relating to The X-Files but I won’t generally buy anything just because it’s related to Who or The Walking Dead. For the former I’ve got some figures, a talking TARDIS, mugs, a tea pot, some sonic screwdrivers, but for the latter, beyond the trade paperbacks, I only have a few Pop! Vinyl figures. And those are texts that I consider myself a fan of – in the sense that I’ll make an effort to watch (and read), have read fic and will buy merch. I’m not a fan of superhero films, for example, in the same way. I’ll call myself a fan but in the broadest sense, and a fan who is not participatory. I don’t read Avengers fic, for example, or watch Superman fan vids. I’ll watch the films, read articles (academic, pop cult and fannish) about them, but don’t have the in-depth knowledge I do of The X-Files or the element of community engagement I have with Who. So why subscribe to a geek merchandise box?
Parly it’s for the cool stuff you can get, partly it’s for the excitement of unboxing and the surprise of what’s in there, and partly it’s because I know that if I get something I definitely don’t want I probably can sell it on. Not that selling items on is the prime reason – even if “fannish objects making lots of money” (TM) is a popular press headline. There’s a definite thrill there in discovering what I’ve been sent, and obviously when the box includes something I’m a fan of there’s that connection to my fandom and the relationship I have with it. Geraghty makes a really good point in talking about how collecting isn’t really talked about in fan studies by saying that nostalgia and memory are both important aspects of collecting:
we might understand the nostalgia fans feel for relaunched toylines, film franchises or television series as being part of contemporary culture’s marketing and remediation of the past; not necessarily a longing for what historical texts may or may not get brought back but a re-examination of the media history archive
Certainly I really liked the 1960s Batman in July’s Lootcrate box because of its 1960s look – it’s a connection to that iteration of Batman and the kind of campy, kitsch aesthetic you see watching it now. Nostalgia seems to be a common theme in boxes and people’s reactions to them – quite a few of the comments I’ve seen follow the ‘I used to love this when I was a kid’ theme and I’d be really pleased if one of the boxes I opened contained an 80s Transformer toy like the ones I used to play with. But as well as nostalgia there’s a creation, and maintenance, of identity that comes with getting the subscription box, uploading unboxing photos and wearing/displaying/using their contents. I’m going to quote Geraghty again because, seriously, it’s an excellent book worth reading.
collecting objects that form a visual and physical biography of the self is an act of improvement not loss; it is not about mourning the past but about creating a reflexive and tangible identity in the present
In subscribing to a geek box over any other I am validating my identity as a geek, but by photographing the contents as I unbox them, filtering them and posting them to Instagram I’m also performing that identity for others to see, and connect with. In some ways I’m engaging with participatory fan practice, though it’s not a transformative one. I’m not writing fic or making fan art – I’m simply cataloguing what I’ve bought – but I’m doing so in a community of other Instagrammers who also identify as geeks and take part in conversations on the same hashtag. And, of course, in wearing, using or displaying the contents of the boxes I’m also maintaining that geek identity to an offline audience of friends, colleagues, family – and if I ever get that office to students as well.