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John's Action Figure Column 6/6/96


SCALPING REDUX (Or, "I Found This Column Free On The Internet;
You Can Have It For $19.99, Shipping Not Included")
     Ahhh, scalping.  The sport of goons, final refuge of the
incontinent, breakfast of chumpions.  You try rubbing it out. 
You try soaking it out.  But you still get... shafted at the toy
store.  Sigh.
     A time there was that scalping seemed an urban blight alone;
unfortunately, as toy manufacturers witlessly (or artfully)
raised the stakes with chase figures, ultra-limited edition items
and limitless "collectible" variations on innumerable base
characters, the ambit of the scalping peril has expanded to
nearly every locale reported upon by newsgroup faithfuls (hey, do
yourself a favor and read Michael Crawford's "Around the World"
toy reports -- we're on nearly *every* continent on the map!). 
Now indeed it appears that scalpers haunt the stores in every
hamlet in every shire in every province, thinking globally and
acting all-too locally, preying upon every desirable figure from
she to shining she.
     And while the monetary rewards of scalping have increased,
your local unwashed, ill-mannered, foul-mouthed gouger-on-the-
prowl could *still* make more money doing any of a thousand other
things -- though admittedly most would require initiative,
civilized behavior, and perhaps the rudiments of intelligence. 
Not to mention clean clothes.  (And for those Armani-wearing,
BMW-driving scalpers out there, bully for you -- appropriate,
since you're bullies all; I'm too sorry, but you cannot convince
me that Tapestry Picards paid for your Rolexes... or your hair
     What really gets me about toy scalpers is not that their
parasitic practices force me to lose out on choice figures --
they don't (sorry, scalperboys -- and girls -- but I do alright
despite your foul efforts, thanks in no small part to a secret
global network of toy trading agents).  Nor is it that by their
rude and offensive, arrogantly deceitful behavior the scalpers
render the toy aisles wholly unpleasant (they do, but it's
amazing how quickly you can clear them out by whispering *just*
loudly enough about the "two unopened cases of new Star Trek
figures" you "missed getting at only minutes before because you
had to be on your way and the [fill in the blank] toy store up
the road refused to open them before the manager got back from
her break, oh, if only you'd been able to wait a little bit
longer...."  WHOOSH!  "Hey, where'd everybody go....?" <g>).

     No, what really disturbs me about toy scalpers is that
unlike the (admittedly repellent) scalpers of most any other
goods or merchandise, toy scalpers are not simply sleazy
"businesspersons" staking a bold claim on their seamy little
corner of a dingy anteroom to the American capitalistic
dreamhouse.  No, toy scalpers are at heart all about screwing
small children.  I'll say it again:  these are people who like to
stick it to kids.  And when it's not _actual_ children who are
being deprived of toys, or asked to pay through the nose, it's
the child in all of us adult collectors.
     Like other lowlife misery mongers, these latter-day Scrooges
defend their rancid profiteering with a Bah, Humbug! for the
nineties -- "I'm just makin' a few bucks, pal; get wise to
reality."  Honestly, I truly believe that most gouging scalpers
are partially "in it" simply for the ongoing opportunity to
deprive someone else of something they love -- and then to 
r-e-a-l-l-y squeeze them if they want to get it.  We've all seen
this before, on innumerable playgrounds in countless schoolyards. 
Let's face it:  some people just cannot stand seeing other people
having a good time.
     I'd even pity the scalpers, except it's like pitying a virus
-- it isn't worth the effort, and you've got about the same
likelihood of your compassion leading to their redemption.  By
their actions scalpers catapult themselves far beneath the best
of what people can be -- generous, kind, warm, helpful.
     Reminds me of the scalper-types who used to try to defend
their actions as a "public service" -- "I'm getting you the
really hard-to-find figures that you otherwise couldn't get...." 
That premise falls into tatters at the slightest second glance,
since the figures wouldn't *be* so unattainable if the scalp-
warts out there weren't scarfing them up in the first place. 
(Has everyone noticed that they don't even try to pull this
doublespeaking crap anymore?  I guess we *can* make some progress
against the darkness....)

     Before I go on, let me explain just what I think a scalper
     In my terms, a scalper is someone who buys a new toy at
retail, as an individual item, and then turns around and tries to
resell it for more than twice its retail cost, usually amidst a
flurry of hyper-exaggerated claims about the item's extreme
rarity and huge future value.  I'm not talking about someone who
buys cases of figures from a manufacturer and then charges
equally inflated prices (that's still squeezing the public, but
given that it doesn't involve effectively _stealing_ the
available stock out from under them, it's just not the same kind
of abusive, offensive, extortionate behavior).  And I'm not
talking about people who charge lots more than retail for older
items not commercially available.  Just those-who-gouge on new
toys.  If the realm of action figures is a lovely pond, full of
life and beauty and promise, then the people we're talking about
today are the unpleasant discolored scum on its surface,
obscuring the view and giving the whole thing a distinctly
unpleasant aroma.
     And yes, before you attack my apparent myopia, I *do*
understand the complicity of the toy manufacturers in this. 
However, the tail does not wag the dog (boy, is *that* an
appropriate figure of speech in this case, or what! <g>).  If the
manufacturers stopped making figures, the new figure scalpers
would be out of business in a second.  If the scalpers stopped
scalping, on the other hand...

     Talk, talk, talk.  So all this observed, is there anything
we can *do* about it?  Anything the powerful, informed and
motivated community can effect to banish the
scalping hordes to the foul, dim backseats and basements from
whence they derive?
     Sadly, friends, I believe the answer is, "nope."  Not a
damned thing.
     Oh, to be sure, we can trade amongst ourselves all we like,
and for the most part manage to get the figures we desire without
too much trouble (or cost).  We can rant and rail against these
subhuman toy-nabbing fiends (for all the good it does), we can
bond together and dream of a stronger world, a stronger loving
world, to buy figures in.
     But it ain't gonna change a damned thing.
     And you want to know why?
     Because we're a drop in the bucket, my friends.  "We are on-
line, hear us roar...." but our numbers are too mean to do
anything _but_ ignore.  Which is to say, the one thing that truly
stops a scalper stock-still where he or she stands is just not to
buy from them.  Simple.  Straight-up.  No sale.  Take a hike,
     And for all our enthusiasm, for all our wit, our humor, our
stout hearts and sharp minds, we are but a bare few (albeit
vocal) throats shouting in the toy wilderness.

     I was in a local comic store the other day.  While I was
perusing the stacks, three happy, well-fed teen-agers came into
the store.  They eyed a MO-dented-C Maxx figure up on the wall,
sporting a price tag of $25.  "Wow!"  "Cool!"  "Check it out!" 
After a moment's admiring, one of the three whipped out two
twenties and snagged ol' Maxxie.  Without a hesitation, without a
second thought.
     Now, I'm not moralizing about disposable income and
society's wealth-distribution ills.  My point is, these fellows
couldn't have cared less about why TRU may suck, what a scalper
is or how hard it should or shouldn't be to find a Maxx.  They
saw a toy they liked, had the cash, and boom!  Sale-of-goods;
taxes paid; change returned; and they're outta here.
     We're just plain outnumbered, folks.
     It's not a bad thing.  I mean, I like to think of us as the
cream of the crop, entertainers all, brimming with camaraderie
and fellowship, a sharing spirit and a keen collective critical
eye.  I appreciate the *hell* out of rtm, every day of the week.
     But all the reasoning, shouting, caring and sharing in the
world ain't a-gonna change the scalping problem.  It's a BIG
world out there....

     There is, however, one obvious and endlessly irritating way
in which scalping rears its more-than-ugly-it's-downright-hideous
head for us 'netizens.  I'm speaking, of course, of the incessant
"Four sale cheep" posts that pretty much epitomize the "noise"
part of the rtm signal-to-noise ratio.  And no matter what we
post in response, or how much, or how cleverly, as everyone can
plainly see, they're not going anywhere.
     Oh, sure, we may well have the power to dissuade some, even
many, of their potential customers (the hapless "gougees") with
informative INformation to counter the rampant DISinformation
scalpers love to purvey (they seem to ooze untruth from their
very pores, like a verbal nervous sweat), but for every mind we
open, I fear someone else out there, just plain sad at not being
able to find a Werewolf, or a Talking Buzz, a Lando Calrissian,
or a Troll, will fall prey to greed.  (A *Troll*, for godsakes!)
(Hell, think about poor Princess Leia -- surely the most
undeservedly hideous figure to come down the pike in ages, and
people are asking FIFTY BUCKS for the dog!  At least the Artoos
eventually disappear from every store; could you *imagine* if the
Leias had been produced in such quantities?  We'd be up to our
asteroid belts in the ugly things!  They'd make Bonebreaker look
like a bloody 1,701 figure!).  Scornful greed.
     For when you take even a cursory look at the face of the
scalper, gentle people, you do indeed see scorn.  These are *not*
your friends; they are most certainly not doing you a service, or
helping you in your struggle.  And guess what -- they think as
highly of you as you do of them.  Don't believe me?  Check out a
toy show in your area some time soon, and contrive to linger
unobserved beside any scalper's booth for a little bit.  You will
hear contempt and derision, nasty, abusive judgments of the
"collector saps" who feed these very, very vultures.  These are
the people who think it's highly amusing -- and of course
potentially quite profitable -- to tell a child that the $1.98
TRU bendy Wolverine they've got for sale for $39.99 "is gonna
make ya rich someday, kid, RICH!"

     The bottom line is, scalping as we know it is not likely to
disappear any time soon, despite occasional prognostications
about "market collapses" and the like.  Heck, for all the power
we rtm-ers have when we band together and help each other out,
scalping *posts* aren't even likely to wane from our little slice
of heaven.  It's just too cheap an advertisement for anyone with
Usenet access and the requisite lack of morals (and/or social
graces) to pass up.  Even if they only make one hyperinflated
sale a month, if they're using their access for any other purpose
at all (and you know, *somebody* has to be tapping all those
alt.binaries groups) it's worth them wiping off their keyboards
occasionally to facilitate the posting of a "Hamburger-Helper-
Head Depends-Panty Rouge II, cheep chepe cheip at $47.50...."
     Nope, until we split off a marketplace group of some kind
(and please, I'm *not* lobbying in any way at all at this point),
the scalping posts are here to stay.  In all their ignorant,
unlettered, deceitful, disinformational, careless, snide (that's
*you* they're laughing at as you quadruple their TRU-guaranteed
investment, ill-gotten by shoving an eager five-year-old out of
the way) infamy.
     You gotta admit, though -- it does almost make it all
worthwhile when a figure like Princess Leia starts shipping again
and renders all those hoarded uglies valueless.  Almost makes me
see her face in a different light.  Ah, so fickle is man....
     All in all, I try to think of the scalpers out there (and in
here) the way I do about dog poop on the street.  You keep your
eyes open, do your level best to avoid stepping in it, but you
know that eventually, and even perhaps regularly, you're gonna
come within range of a close encounter of the turd kind.  Ah,
well; you maintain your grace, keep smiling and just move on
through your day.
     And don't pay scalper prices for brand-new toys.  Not ever. 
Don't feed the scalpers!
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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