This week’s question is: What’s your favorite pop culture item on your desk?
The A.V. Club office receives a lot of branded merchandise from TV studios—it must be built into their budgets, and that number must be quite high for some shows, because along with the stickers and other cheap garbage, we occasionally receive quality items, like backpacks and Moleskine notebooks. When 2015's Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! entered its marketing phase, Syfy sent us a pack of stuff, which can all be read about in our 2015 “year in swag” feature. I still use the cooler every summer, and the shark bobblehead still resides in a place on honor on my desk, nearly four years later. It’s actually the only piece of studio swag to be on my desk at all, a testament to its bizarre quality. Its whole construction is much better than it needs to be, especially how the shark’s body is shaped like a tornado (but it still has fins sticking out), and the bloodied mouth, open wide for the kill, shows the double row of teeth sharks actually have.
I dearly love my paper-doll cutouts of the original Replacements, my favorite band, bequeathed to me by former A.V. Club Josh Modell from his own pop-culture-laden desk upon his departure last year. But for more effective life and work inspiration, I have to go with this wall card that just says “You Can’t, You Won’t, And You Don’t Stop,” a repeated line from one of my favorite Beastie Boys (or any) songs: “Sure Shot,” from the 1994 album Ill Communication. When I first saw it at a fun art boutique in my Lincoln Square neighborhood (shoutout to Sacred Art Chicago), I purchased it immediately. I thought about framing it and hanging it at home, but it does me more good here at the office, where if I’m fading mid-afternoon once the caffeine wears off and the lunch carbs set in, I just have to draw on the Beasties’ frenetic energy and remind myself that pausing is for suckers. Sharklike, the only possible option is constant forward motion. Especially here.
By a wide margin, my favorite desktop tchotchke is my Dorbel figure by Jim Woodring. It’s not my favorite for any sentimental reason; it’s just so damn cool. If you’re not familiar with Woodring’s work, he’s most well-known for his comic, “Frank” about a non-denominational anthropomorphic critter who wanders, child-like, through an intense and anxiety-inducing phantasmagoric landscape full of unknowable angels and strange malevolent supporting characters. It’s a creepy enough premise absolutely sold by Woodring’s fantastic artwork. He does the kind of intricate illustration that seems like it would be very difficult to capture in three dimensions. But the Dorbel figure perfectly captures the fear, hunger, malice, uncertainty, and desire that all blend together in his drawings. I’m the kind of person who enjoys clutter and ephemera all around me, but also tend to think about these things very little. They just become a bit of texture in the visual white noise I’m most comfortable with. But Dorbel is just so cool and well-made, he’s fun to pick up and fuck with and look at in a way that no other piece of the anxiety-smothering clutter on my desk manages.
A Locutus of Borg figure and Jack McCoy with nunchucks swinging—these are a few of my favorite pop culture things that inhabit my workspace. But truly, nothing beats the homemade Slimer that TV editor Erik Adams’ wife Tiffany gave me. The detail is amazing: Slimer’s overbite is prominent, as are his bulging eyes, and the shading on his tongue is expertly done. He was originally part of a Halloween costume, which is why his ectoplasmic form is fixed around a bike helmet (making it much easier to be worn with some amount of comfort). I’m not even one of the bigger Ghostbusters fans in the office, but since being retired from Halloween revelry, Slimer has become my neighbor in this open office plan, greeting everyone who walks in and keeping watch over the free books and water bottles I get. And no matter what happens throughout the day, when I look up, his expression almost always reflects the way I feel.
Alright, time to get sappy: Although my desk contains a number of tiny pop culture friends—from where I’m sitting, I can see Rick, Luigi, and Mega Man, all just sort of chilling out—my favorite item is easily the most obscure: A hand-made smuppet (that’s a smutty puppet, obviously) from the multimedia web comic Homestuck. Andrew Hussie’s sprawling, ridiculous send-up of adventure games and internet culture was the first thing I ever bonded about with my former fiancée, and shortly after our two-year dating anniversary, she gifted me with my very own copy of one of the felt perverts that serve as one of its running jokes, one that she’d been covertly crafting for months. So now he rests eternally on the upper shelf of my desk, bulbous bottom and dick-reminiscent nose reminding me daily of how much weird, wonderful art the world lost out on when she left it.
My favorite piece of pop culture fanfare on my desk is also its newest edition: a Dilophosaurus bust based off the one in Jurassic Park. A friend pre-ordered it for my birthday gift back in April 2017. We both forgot about it until a few weeks ago when it suddenly withdrew $120 from her bank account and she texted me that I’d better still be into this shit. I am very much still into this shit. Seeing Jurassic Park the summer before fourth grade is easily my favorite movie-going experience to date, and of all of the dinosaurs in that movie, the Dilophosaurus is the coolest. Not that it is in any way based in reality—Steven Spielberg admitted that he threw science out the window when inventing his movie’s Dilophosaurus. It spits venom and frills out like a cobra, two awesome things that are not in any way suggested in the paleontological record. And that’s fine. Having this next to me at work where I get to make art for a living is a constant reminder that I’ve never really grown up.
The other day, I walked out of the A.V. Club conference room and spotted Jimmy treating his expertly arranged, smartly curated treasury to a feather dusting, perfectly illustrating the differences between the museum of high-end collectables on his desk and the homely neighborhood hobby store that’s thrown up on mine. I’ve always been attracted to pop-culture ephemera, the older the better, and the KonMari worst-case-scenario that surrounds me as I type is a bricolage of TV reference books, Simpsons action figures inherited from departed colleagues, and a small army of Funko Pop! acquired personally and/or adopted after we struck the A.V. Club Live set. (Say what you will about their oppressive ubiquity, or the flattening homogeneity of their design—how else was I supposed to get a toy version of Maury The Hormone Monster?) There’s also a number of childhood playthings that I’ve held onto long enough that they’ve achieved a pseudo-antique status, like my weathered ghost trap accessory from Kenner’s Real Ghostbusters line. Long disconnected from the pneumatic pedal that opened and closed its glow-in-the-dark doors, the item occupies a place of pride in a small shrine to the (now unnecessarily polarizing) franchise, atop VHS copies of the first two movies and an external hard drive I’ve nicknamed The Containment Unit. You can read that as an additional Ghostbusters nod or an unconscious admission of guilt over my cluttered workspace—but the Funko Slimer who’s rising from the trap (mere feet away from his papier mache likeness) suggests the ultimate winner in the battle between loving collector and remorseful hoarder. I could probably stand to dust more, though.
I have no less than 20 pop culture tchotchkes on my desk, and while the one item that will never leave its place of honor is the expensive Masterpiece Optimus Prime Transformer that I bought the first time I actually had money, I’m going to have to give the edge to my happy family of Porgs. Oh sure, one is a Lego, some are scaled to the standard Star Wars action figure size, some are off-putting little Porglets, and one is a Pez dispenser, but I love them all equally. Whenever I’m feeling down about how crushingly bleak and miserable the world is, I can look over at my little family of space birds, put them in funny tableaus with my other desk toys, swoop them through the air like they’re flying, and then briefly forget about whatever new bad thing is going on. Plus, Porgs are goofy looking, with their perpetual frowns and dead shark eyes, so I like having a little collection of things that someone else might think are awful.
I don’t know how it’s possible to pick a favorite out of the pop-culture nonsense we all choose to line our workspaces with; I can only assume that, much as I just did, everyone else here basically closed their eyes, pointed at random, and picked whatever was nearest to where they landed. Which is how I pushed past my little bobble-head Thanos, miniature Superman, and Rick & Morty statue, until I arrived at my Ms. Marvel “Embiggen!” foam fist. Like many people, I was instantly charmed by Kamala Khan, writer G. Willow Wilson’s reinvention of the character, and her signature shout was not only a nod to one of the best Simpsons references of all time, it was a delightfully dorky embrace of the kind of geekiness usually reserved for the people who read comics, not the superheroes themselves, at least in such a mainstream book. Looking at it when I sit down each day is a nice reminder of the upbeat and good-natured attitude it’s possible to have in this world, which is pretty essential when your job involves looking at what people on the internet have to say about pop culture. I would say its presence has resulted in me being roughly three percent less dispirited in 2019, which may not sound like much, but feels like a lot when you need to summon optimism in the face of, say, your corporate overlords. Sense of scrappy resilience: Embiggen!
My desk sits next to Erik’s and is also covered with years’ worth of accumulated pop-cultural detritus, the pile of which is growing slowly but steadily enough that I expect our desks will eventually fuse together into a Katamari of nerdery big enough to block out the sun. A lot of it’s horror-related, like the Phantasm ornament I ordered for my Christmas tree but never made it out of the office. And some of it’s promotional items, like the pregnancy test I got in the mail promoting the movie Prevenge that’s been gathering dust on my desk for two years now. But the thing on my desk that’s been here the longest, and I love the most, is the can of Star Wars Spaghetti-Os that I’ve been hanging on to ever since Alex McLevy brought it back from a midnight fact-finding mission to Target for Force Friday all the way back in 2015. I don’t know why, it’s just really funny to me—as it clearly was to Alex, since it was his goal to bring back only the crappiest leftover crap from that particular sci-fi themed consumerist orgy. The “out of this world shapes!” bathed in sugary tomato paste and chemicals inside the can technically expired two years ago, so I’ll never open it. But I’m happy to have it sitting there looking at me as I type away, reminding me not to take all of this pop-culture stuff too seriously.