It all started innocently enough: you saw some of your friends participating, and you thought to yourself, "Hey, what's the harm in trying it just one time?" And if you're being honest, it was kind of exhilarating. The color, the texture, the way it made adrenaline course through your veins -- it was unlike anything you had experienced before. So you kept coming back, cautiously at first, then boldly and unabashedly, spending more and more money to get your hands on the goods. The friends who initially introduced you eventually raised some concerns. "You sure you're good, man? I think you need to slow down a bit." You shrug it all off. You're a full-grown adult; you know the line for when it is too much and how to take care of yourself.
Fast forward a few months, and you're completely caught up in the lifestyle. You're gasping for air, struggling to stay afloat. The occasional indulgence here and there turned into hundreds of dollars a month, yet you can't stop yourself from going back for more. Soon you become a shell of the person you once were, and all that's left to show of it? Funko Pops -- hundreds and hundreds of Funko Pops.
Most Americans have seen Funko Pops before. The most recognizable Funko products are the semi-cute, bobblehead-esque toys modeled after iconic pop culture characters, superstar athletes, and even horror villains like Jack Torrance from The Shining and Pennywise the Clown. They also come in other forms such as keychains, vinyl mini-figures, and as part of Funko board games. What most people are blissfully unaware of, however, is how these seemingly harmless collector's items can turn into a full-fledged addiction, causing people to literally spend thousands on building up their stockpiles like it was their last day on Earth.
Those of us who lived through the '90s remember the pop culture obsessions over toys like Beanie Babies and Pogs. Who can forget this 1999 Pulitzer-worthy photo of the soon-to-be-divorced Las Vegas couple who divided their exorbitant Beanie Baby collection under court supervision?
These trends show us how easily Americans can become bewitched by the latest trend in novelty items, and in the era of 2020, this near-cult adulation comes in the form of Funko Pops.
The metaphoric 'Pandora's Box' of Funko Pops was first opened in 1998 by toy collector Mike Becker in Snohomish, Washington. The company struggled to break ground until it got the rights to make bobbleheads for Austin Powers (which is the most 1998 business success story to ever exist) and then acquired the rights to produce figures for the Grinch and cereal mascots like Tony the Tiger and the Cheerios Bee. From there, the company took off, jumping between parent companies and headquarters locations until it settled on its flagship store in Everett, Washington. Despite its quick growth, Funko had the worst initial public offering of the 21st century when it was listed on the NASDAQ on November 2, 2017.
Today, Funko has created almost 20,000 different toy products across dozens of different and unnecessary merchandise lines. They latch on to almost every pop culture phenomenon, ranging from Marvel and Star Wars to TV shows like The Office and RuPaul's Drag Race. They are constantly acquiring new licensing rights with different companies, and they're able to turn around a new product from the design phase to distribution to shelves in as little as 70 days. I'm fully convinced the Funko will not stop until they capture every single fictional character in existence as a bobblehead creation.
As unsettling as I personally find the bug-eyed plastic figures that probably watch you in your sleep, there's nothing inherently wrong with Funko's business model. It is a capitalist enterprise in our consumer-driven society, so it makes sense that Funko would be as dedicated to expanding its product lines as quickly as possible. No, what is most peculiar about the Funko Phenomenon is not the business itself, but the actual fans. Before we dive into the actual Funko fan base, we have a few photos that capture the full extent of this obsession. And I'm warning you, these pictures may be quite disturbing.
That's right, your eyes do not deceive you. Some Funko loyalists have truly drunken the entire bowl of Kool-Aid, and they are now slaves to the Funko regime. Serious Funko collectors own hundreds of Funko Pops, some of them amassing their entire collections in just a few months. There are Funko Pop meet-ups to swap collectibles, subreddits devoted solely to showing off massive collections, and YouTube channels such as Top Pops that cover all things Funko-related. There was even a virtual Funko convention in March of this year in lieu of ComicCon's cancellation. The anticipation for new Funko Pop releases can sometimes rival that of Supreme merch or sneaker drops.
This all seems relatively innocuous at first. After all, geek culture often lends itself to teeter towards the extremes of obsession, whether it's comic book collections or cosplaying and LARPing. But there may be a Funko Deep End, and more and more people are throwing themselves head-first into the waters.
Take Paul Scardino, from those pics above, who earlier in 2020 was awarded the Guinness World Record for the largest Funko Pop collection in the world. His collection topped the list at a whopping 5,306 figurines, and you can bet that that number will only continue to skyrocket. This man has multiple large rooms in his house devoted just to storing these collectibles.
Or take the guy who goes by the name Maxmoefoe, a YouTuber with a Funko collection worth over $500,000 (that's right, this man is able to broadcast his lifestyle straight to your children!). This man went so far as to buy every single edition of a limited release Funko Pop just to have bragging rights for owning every version in the world.
And in a surprise to absolutely no one, a full-on brawl happened in 2018 at a Florida Target when a man attacked a 41-year-old customer and his 64-year-old mother for taking the last Funko Pop of the Hostess Twinkie mascot. This Pop apparently retails for just $10 but can be sold online for up to $150. The aggravator initially fled the scene but was captured on Target surveillance, arrested, and eventually charged with burglary and two counts of battery. All over a damn piece of plastic from the toy aisle.
But perhaps one of the biggest indicators that the Funko Pop phenomenon has entered full-on Beanie-Baby-Fever territory was the 2020 post that went viral on the subreddit r/AmItheAsshole. In the post, a man explains to the internet how he allegedly had begun spending $500 a month on Funko Pops. His wife began to express concern over this behavior and the debt that was building up. She asked him to cut down to buying just 3 Funko Pops a month, which he called "ridiculous considering how limited [he] would be in [his] choice of Funko Pops." Tensions escalated to the point where the ultimatum was given: it was either their marriage or his Funko Pop collection. Take a wild guess which one he chose.
The internet went into a frenzy over this -- appropriately so -- asking the most important questions one should ask in this situation: what grown man chooses a toy collection over his wife? Now, rando Reddit posts aren't concrete truths, but the fact that so many people read that and went, "Sounds real enough," speaks to the state of Funko fandom.
Red flags have been raised about the Funko fervor way before this story went viral. Posts on online forums constantly surface, asking how many Funkos are too much. One Reddit post went so far as to explain how his friend's Funko addiction fed into full-on depression that completely dominated his life. Now I'm no mental health or addiction expert, but if your need to collect Funko Pops has gone on enough to affect your wellbeing and relationships, you have to take a look in the mirror and reevaluate what this collecting is doing to you.
So far, no major alarms have been rung in the pop culture zeitgeist about Funko Pops and how they can send some people spiraling. This particular collector sphere is still a relatively niche community, and it's safe to say that any of the negative outcomes of Funko fever remain insular within the lives of those who can't kick the habit.
But I'm here to add a voice to the choir that is slowly raising concerns over Funko Pops and what they could mean for our society. Are they harmless collectible items to celebrate one's favorite superheroes or give as ironic gifts? Or could there be something more insidious lurking beneath those pristine boxes?
In this day and age, we want to encourage everyone to live their lives to the fullest and indulge in whatever brings them happiness, even if that's in the form of dozens of plastic toys that never leave their packaging. But there may come a day when full-on rehabilitation is necessary for those who have fallen into the clutches of Funko Fever. Just remember, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.
Top image: Ric Caliolio Jr./Shutterstock