You and Your Hippo

Imagine one day, someone (maybe yourself) buys you a hippo toy. Who knows why? Maybe they saw the hippo and it reminded them of you. Maybe they thought it was just cute and worth buying. Maybe they love hippos and wanted to share their love for hippos with you. Regardless, you now own a hippo toy. Maybe you asked for it. Maybe you didn’t. But it’s there, and you don’t throw it out.

Maybe you even come to love and appreciate the hippo. People notice your hippo, and you’ll tell them a fun little story about it. Maybe you’ll discover that some people also love hippos too (as is inevitable). It’s cool. Something in common with people. You’re not exactly a hippo person, but you have the hippo and it makes it easier to make friends as a jumping off point.

And then you get a second hippo. Maybe you get it for yourself. Maybe someone who noticed your hippo buys you another one. Whatever. Two hippos. You’re not really a hippo person on that level, but it’s just two hippos. And maybe you are a hippo person after all.

Eventually, you have more hippos. How you got them isn’t really important. They just keep showing up. Friends buy them for you. Family knows you love hippos and just buys them for you by default. Eventually, you have too many hippos and you put them on a shelf for display. Eventually, everyone, even passing acquaintances, know about you and your hippos. It becomes a habit. Not just for you, but for your friends and family. You’re the hippo fan.

If you weren’t, why would you have the hippo shelf?

And maybe one day, you realize you never dug hippos. You enjoyed the feeling that came with the hippos. You loved being able to talk to people about your hippos. You fell into a reflex of buying things with hippos. You found the ease of conversing with hippo fans enticing, and you loved all the little hippo inside jokes, the knowing wink of being part of hippo culture, of having something to do with all the hippo conventions and the hippo sites where you can spend hours detailing minutia about the newest hippo trends.

The hippos, though, you really don’t care that much about.

We all have our hippo shelf, our hippo room. I have way too many board games, so I’m not throwing stones. I’m just saying that there’s a point when you look at your hippo shelf, and you really need to ask yourself, “Do I like hippos?”

The answer might very well be yes.

But what if it isn’t? What if you love everything that comes with the hippo shelf, but not the actual hippos on it? I’m struck by this every time I hear someone say, “Well, I didn’t care for X for much, but I’m a fan of X, so I watched / read / bought it anyway.”

It’s vital to realize that you don’t need to love the hippos on your shelf, that you are free to not buy another hippo no matter how many dozens  upon dozens of hippos you have sitting your shelf. It doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of your old hippos. Or that you can’t go back to hippos. It just means you’re free to use your own judgment based on your current hippo feelings.

We all get how hard this can be. I spend decades collecting comic books, and it took me years to break the habit. Even as I found myself disinterested by so many staples of the medium, I somehow felt that I was wrong for that. I looked at my hippo shelf (my long boxes) and assumed that I must love these things still. It was only in a moment of clarity, when I gave myself permission to accept that a one time love of hippos didn’t have to mean a lifetime love of hippos, that I realized I was allowed to keep the shelf while not adding more to it.

I still buy comics now and then, but I’m much pickier. Most of the staples of comic book titles don’t interest me though, but the ones I do buy, I do enjoy more. I’m no longer a hippo enthusiast. More of a casual hippo enjoyer. And I’m happier for it.

On the other hand, I still spend way too much on board games, and I don’t regret it yet. Who knows about tomorrow?

Fandom isn’t an obligation. Never forget this. No matter how much culture and marketing and your own instincts tell you otherwise, you are under no requirement to love hippo toys, no matter how many you’ve got stacked on your dedicated hippo shelf.

And if you love your hippo shelf, more power to you.

But be sure you love your hippos.

Life is too short to waste time gathering hippos you don’t give a damn about.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

LEE

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