Cancel Culture in Action Figure Collector Communities: Necessary Evil or Cyberbullying?

As an action figure collector, I get joy from showing off my collection to friends and fellow collectors. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram have given me opportunities […]

As an action figure collector, I get joy from showing off my collection to friends and fellow collectors. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram have given me opportunities to share pictures of my collection with fellow collectors all over the world. Over the past ten years, I have met good people that share the same interest in collecting action figures. For collectors, me included, action figure collections are points of pride.

It is a great feeling when I find that new wave of action figures on the shelf. I get excited and want to share photos with my friends on social media. I grab my phone and snap pictures of the new wave of action figures in my car and post the pictures on the action figure group that I frequent.  I love that group because that is where I get news and updates about figures and see other collectors’ action figures collections.  As I am driving home from the store, my phone dings with the sound of a notification from someone responding to my photo.  As I continue my drive home, I hear several more notifications sound on my phone. I think to myself, “Oh man, people are really liking my new photo.”

I finally get home and I grab my new action figures and head inside.  I look down at my phone and I began to check the responses on my photo. I stop right before I open the front door to my home. To my shock, no one is congratulating me on my new action figure purchase.  Instead, I see a lot of negative responses about my photo such as, “Scalper!”  “He is such a Scalper!” “You could have saved a few for the next collector.” “Greedy collector!” “You bought two of the same figure, so I bet you are a scalper.”  Not only are there negative responses and shaming comments (which are hurtful), but also there are a few private messages calling me a scalper, threatening to tell everyone in the action figure community not to trade with me because I am a scalper. A scalper is a negative term used in the toy community for someone that buys high-demand action figures and sells them for a profit.  When someone is labeled a “scalper,” the term often “cancels out” that person’s status as a collector.  The stigma of that label is then attached to the collector.

By being labeled a “scalper” in the comments and in private messages, I have just become a victim of the cancel culture movement that exists in the toy community. The toy community is not immune to cancel culture. Most of the toy community exists on the internet and the internet is where cancel culture thrives. According to Dictionary.com: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

Over the past few years within the toy community, two types of shaming have become very popular. First is collector shaming. This is where a collector buys one or more of the same items for their private collection. The reason collectors do this is to open one figure, keep one in the box, and to put another away for trading later. This practice has been around for over thirty years. Also, some action figures are made solely to be army builders. An army builder is a generic army figure such as a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, Hand Ninjas from the Marvel Universe, and Cobra Troopers from G.I. Joe. Collectors will buy several of the “army builder” figures and display them on the shelf outnumbering the heroes in a battle scene or just standing in rank. 

The next is price shaming. This is the practice of taking a brand-new figure and selling the figure on a social media outlet at fair market value. Even though the collector may have just purchased the figure at their local store for retail price (plus gas and time, of course), if the figure is really popular it can demand a higher price.  A good example of this type of popularity is high-demand toys that are released during the Christmas holidays.  Many collectors have a sense of entitlement and think that fellow collectors should help the community by selling the figures for retail plus shipping. Some collectors feel so entitled that they should also get a discount on shipping because many online outlets offer free or discounted shipping and expect the individual seller offer the same discount. In a few cases, some collectors demand that taxes should not be included in the price because that is only something that retailers can collect.  Because “it is good for the good of the community.”

As a result of selling the figure above retail price, the seller will be attacked, bullied, shamed, stigmatized, and labeled as a “Scalper,” even though it is an unfair label.  Sometimes the collector will be ostracized from to toy community, and in extreme cases, the collector will be ousted.  There is also a practice where many militant collectors will spend hours matching up other collectors’ names on online selling sites with their social media names and out them as scalpers within the toy community. The argument militant collectors give for this behavior is, “It is best for the toy community.” Consequently, the anti-scalper movement affects all the different toy groups.

A collector can be a great asset within the toy community because of their early access to new figures in their local stores, offering these figures at a retail price plus shipping and helping many collectors get new figures for their collections. However, due to the cancel culture present in the toy community, all it takes for the community to turn on that collector is one high price or a picture with a large army of figures. All the good deeds the collector did are instantly wiped away with comments and personal messages that unfairly label the collector as a “scalper” and ostracize them from the community.   

Both collector shaming and price shaming are clear examples of what is called cancel culture, and this affects the toy community in a negative way. These two examples can cause collectors to be forced out of collecting action figures because they have been ostracized by the community. Many collectors can become reluctant to share pictures of their collections or even attempt to sell an item in the toy groups because of the fear of being ostracized from the toy community. Price shaming and collector shaming are two ways to perpetuate the cycle of cancel culture in the toy community.  Is cancel culture in the toy community truly a necessary evil or is it a sad form of cyberbullying?

Chip Carroll

About Chip Carroll

Chip Carroll has a master’s degree in American history focused on contemporary pop culture. He has been collecting action figures most of his life. His favorite toy lines are G.I. Joe, Marvel Legends, and Star Wars. Also, loves to read comic books and has a file at two of his local comic book stores. He is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an educational medieval organization. He likes to spend his weekends with his friends doing full contact medieval fighting. Lastly a beer connoisseur, his favorite beer is free and cold.