On Conflation


In wrapping up my review of the Fly Hurricane, I touched on the idea of modeling preferences falling on a spectrum (or really, multiple spectrums).

There was a reason for this.

This hobby, perhaps more than any other I’ve been a part of, is given to rampant conflation. That is to say, taking two separate ideas and combining them into one. It’s lazy, it’s reductive, and I’m convinced it’s responsible for probably about 80% of the internet bitchfights that break out on forums and social media.

What do I mean by conflation?


If you call a kit out for shoddy mold planning and engineering – as I did with Kitty Hawk’s Kingfisher – you can expect plenty of responses that you just need to “use your modeling skills”. The implication, of course, being that you lack said modeling skills.

This is conflation.

Can the Kingfisher be built? Yes. Will I build it at some point? Almost certainly yes – if only to shove it in the teeth of internet conflationsists because whether or not it can be built and whether or not I can build it is beside the fucking point.

The point is that the kit is poorly thought out and executed – especially at the $90 pricepoint that Kitty Hawk placed on it.

If you went out and bought a $50,000 car and it turned out that the passenger door wouldn’t latch, the transmission was constantly hunting for the wrong gear, and the sunroof leaked, nobody would respond with “you just have to use your driving skills”.

If you bought a new tablet, and the wi-fi antenna was shit and the battery couldn’t make it past four hours, who would suggest “you’re just using it wrong”? Or “I got by fine on a Palm Pilot, just be grateful that you even have a color screen”?

It’s entirely possible for things to suck – or to be good – completely independent of a person’s skill, preference or experience.

Things that Objectively Suck

Locator pins that are too big for their corresponding holes are objectively bad. I don’t care if the fix is minor. That’s lazy design, lazy molding, and lazy QA.

Decals that are out of register, so that the different elements don’t align properly, are objectively bad.

Trumpeter’s too-shallow cockpits in their P-40 kits are objectively bad.

Pre-cut masks that are designed to fit a thing, that then don’t fit that thing, are objectively bad.

Photo etch instrument panels that are too wide or too tall to fit into the cockpit they’re designed for are objectively bad.

In every single one of these cases, fixes and workarounds abound. But that’s not the point.

These things all suck all on their own. If you, as a modeler, can work past their suckage, bully for you. That doesn’t change their essential state, which is sucking.

Subjectivity in Play

Now, there are also things that can suck based on a person’s preferences, experience, prejudices, and yes, skill.

To go back to cars for a moment. Leaking sunroofs are objectively bad. But overboosted steering over a too-harsh suspension are subjectively bad.

I prefer nimble, communicative cars. So for me, a firm suspension is just dandy. But overboosted steering will nope a car out of my consideration set immediately. Other drivers obviously have different preferences, which is why Toyota sells a fuckton of Camrys.

There are lots of subjective good/bad things in modeling. Pretty much anything having to do with airbrushes once you get out of the barrel scrapings. The presence or absence of open panels on an aircraft kit. The fixed slats and flaps on Tamiya’s upcoming F-14.

One of my subjective bads? Non-workable tracks on armor kits. I just can’t abide glue-together indy links or link-and-length tracks. Not because they’re too hard, but because they don’t mesh with how I prefer to build armor. But I fully recognize others love them.

Another one? Preshading panel lines. Because I prefer chasing a more realistic finish, and aircraft that look like they’re going through a goth stage are objectively not reflective of reality. But…if you’re going after a more stylized look, then it becomes a different thing entirely. It’s subjective based on preference.

Enter Conflation

The problem with conflation varies slightly between objective and subjective suckage.

If we’re talking about an objective bad – masks that are cut wrong, decals that are out of register – those things are empirical. They should be open for criticism because they suck all on their own.

So if someone says the Kitty Hawk Kingfisher is a poorly engineered kit, they can’t even manage to make the location pins fit into their own damn holes, and you say…

“It’s a fantastic kit, I’ve seen several built up and they look great. You just need to apply some basic modeling skills…”

You’re being an asshole.

Or if someone says that HK’s Mosquito has numerous shape errors, and you say…

“It looks like a Mossie to me, rivet counter…”

You’re being an asshole.

Why is it so hard for us, as modelers, to acknowledge that something can suck (with the exception of accuracy, which is always dogpiled, and Trumpeter, which is also always dogpiled)?

Or, crazier still, to acknowledge that something sucks, but that pros in other areas outweigh that particular con?

“Yeah, it looks like Kitty Hawk really screwed the pooch in some areas, but I love the Kingfisher so I’ll suffer through.”

“Yeah, HK made some goofs, but I can live with them, and besides the engineering awesomeness outweighs the accuracy problems, at least for me.”

See? Not so hard.

Now, conflation and subjective suckage is a bit more complicated. Because it can be tough to work out what’s driving someone, subjectively. And a lot of people seem to not only assume, but to go overboard in that assumption.

For instance, I prefer kits that are thoughtfully engineered and that engage with me as I build. I love few things more in modeling than encountering something so brilliantly devised that I have to sit back and think “fuck, that’s clever!”

But this preference is frequently met with, for example, pictures of Lego kits. Or something like this:

“These kits are not paint-by-number or the snap together toys of our childhood.
If you are looking for the big EASY, you can still find those toys in the child section of the hobby shop. If you desire more, pull out your big boy brain, and remember how to reason before you jump into your next build. “

Umm, no. I don’t want easy. I want good. But to those with different preferences, who are maybe drawn more to the pre-primer aspects of a build, there seems to be this tendency to conflate well-engineered with easy.

And conflation blows the other way, too. I know those who are more motivated by the painting-and-beyond aspects of a build can tend to look at the build-oriented, marvel at the level of ingenuity and scratch detail that goes into a kit, and then shake their heads when it’s covered in a flat and lifeless paint job.

It’s so easy to think “oh, they must suck at painting”, when it’s almost certainly more that they’re just motivated much more by the mechanical aspects of the build.


Back to Spectrums

Ultimately, the reason why I spent that time discussion preference spectrums in the Hurricane review was to try to start, in my own small way, battling against this bad tendency we all have to conflate.

It’s possible for some things to suck, all on their own. And there’s nothing wrong in admitting it.

It’s also possible for some other things to suck in the eyes of some, and be just dandy in the eyes of others. And that’s fine.

The key is in recognizing that, accepting it, and not going all “he doesn’t like this thing that I like, therefore he is an idiot and I am superior!”

Because that makes you an asshole.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. salvomodels says:

    I am rediscovering basically anything by KittyHawk sucks, objectively. First their 1/48 French Sepecat Jaguar and now their 1/48 Super Etendard…

    1. Their 1/48 Gr 1/3 Jaguar is equally suckfull… Pity I just have to have one in my cabinet… 😀

    2. Doogs says:

      I have to give credit where credit is due – the AH-1Z is mostly good, and what’s not is on the fringes.

    3. John G says:

      That’s not entirely objective. You’re using the word “anything” – that’s your personal opinion, not a fact. And before I get called an apologist – two things:
      1- You’re fully entitled to your opinion
      2- So am I
      DO some KH kits blow? Absolutely. I threw the MiG-25 straight into the garbage – first kit I’ve done that to in years. Others weren’t as bad – the F-101A/C was quite a nice build. I even documented my build on ARC because so many people were moaning about it. I take each kit for what it is and work from there – that’s like saying every Trumpeter kit sucks. Just not true because you think it to be.

      1. salvomodels says:

        Thank you for picking up the word “anything”.

        It is interesting that after many years and kits, the objective faults that caused the KH 1/48 Sepecat to be trashed (I have trashed many kits by the way), haven’t been improved upon by them in their latest offering.

        With continuing reports about poor quality etc, it is surprising that KH really haven’t learnt anything.

        A) they don’t know – no-one provides them with feedback
        B) they don’t care-people will continue to buy their junk. Possible reasons being:
        1) so they can have at least a kit of the aircraft in question
        2) so they show-case their dedication (money/ time/ talents).
        3) people are too embarrassed to admit they bought the kit in the first place, so they gather dust in the stash…to be sold later as a job lot.

        Either way, this has the unfortunate result that KH don’t improve. Despite being reassured that the Super Etendard was an improvement, I really don’t have the inclination or resources (especially as there are FAR BETTER kits to make) to waste on KH models. As I have pointed out on my latest FB posting, KH is a sister company to Panda Models; enough said…

        The Sepecat

  2. Jamie Haggo says:

    I think people’s’ “suckage” thresholds are different, hence the internet discussions/disagreements/rows. The occasional vitriol is purely down to people behaving very differently behind the keyboard to how they interact face to face.

    1. John G says:

      +100 Could not agree more!
      I can’t tell you how many times people have a reaction that they would never dare to have in person. Keyboard tough guys make the interweb just annoying at times.

    2. willpattison says:

      oh, the irony.

  3. Rick Kranias says:

    One of your best write ups


    Rick Kranias rkranias@vt.edu 301.641.9677

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Cosmo Tiger says:

    Yeah, not sure why putting up with bad kits is considered a badge of honor. Wrangling a bad kit because it’s the only option to build a subject you like does not magically make it a good kit.

  5. Scooter says:

    I was struck by the ” THATS the word/concept (conflagration) I have been seeing and disliking in so many forum responses. The “I do/don’t do/know how/ you should…” projected superiority of some answers. I am humbly convinced they CAN pickup a turd by the clean end; but I don’t care to see /hear about it.
    Several modelers I follow, read respect, on the forums, have the ability to not be so polarizing in their answers. Thus earning my respect for their skill as modelers and as teachers.

  6. Jon Bius says:

    Enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  7. Doog’s lots of thoughful stuff to chew on. I belonged to a club where one of the menbers went on to create “Accurate Minitures”. This guy was a purist and very meticulous in making sure his kits were engineered correctly given the technology of the late 1980’s and then 1990’s.
    I remember him bringing dozens of test molds for members of the club to build and critique. He was setting new standards for the hobby which we benefit today. Look at what AIRFIX is doing and Revell of Germany as well as many others(TAMIYA etc).
    I LOVE the Kingfisher and really looked forward to that kit as I love the 1/32nd scale.
    I am at a stage in life where I don’t want to eat up time spent with my kids “filling, sanding and correcting flaws..I will accept a few minor “snafu’s”. But I won’t put in a lot of time any more to puy, sand etc unless it is very minor. In this day and age with the wonderful technology we have available to our hobby, , major and numerous errors should not be happening as much and the companies should be reluctant to release those kits.
    Just my 2 cents.

    1. willpattison says:

      i hear this sort of thing a lot about accumini, and i give them an e effort, but their mitchell kit at least is a great example of bad engineering, poor toolmaking, and terrible quality control. if that’s the stuff airfix and revell picked up….then i totally agree. lol

  8. Michael JN says:

    My biggest bitch is poor/slack/sloppy engineering. Do the manufacturers ever – actually – put one of their kits together and then say FICE? After market items which can cost as much/more than the kit mostly need major surgery to the model and the resin/PE, before anything fits. Like your analogy re the Camry – perfecto!

  9. Ted Briscoe says:

    I think that you and Will Pattison must have had a conference call and discussed “Basic Modeling Skills” this past week and I say that with much respect for both of your talents. My talent does not compare to that level. Yes, Will has suffered with his B-25B that I was involved with. Frustrating……yes, but a great airplane when completed. A/M did have issues with tooling and that resulted in costs going up. But they felt that they had to get the kit out to the masses and hope for the best…..well that didn’t happen. No one ever said that modeling to the highest degree of which you both and others aspire too was easy. If so, then we would all be building “Snap Tight” kits. I would like to know at what level vs. production dollars does quality get pushed aside.

    1. willpattison says:

      let me just say for the record right here that ted briscoe is THE MAN!! 30 years with the doolittle raiders society and author of a book on the tokyo raid.

  10. conholster says:

    “The key is in recognizing that, accepting it, and not going all “he doesn’t like this thing that I like, therefore he is an idiot and I am superior!”

    Because that makes you an asshole.”

    I do understand why you need to defend your review style (I thought it was a good one 10/10), but I don’t think throwing insults around is the right way to do it. Especially when you do seem to get offended by everything and anything. In one of your articles you were really angry because you didn’t win some model show and then went on to be even more angry about “attaboys”. Then there was the panel line pre-shading tantrum where first panel lines were overdone and in reality hardly even there. A bit later some aircraft engineer comes along and says in x amount of years has never seen panel lines, which offended so badly you went ahead and posted proof of that panel lines do exist and at the same time disproving your own claims as well. But at least you are consistently inconsistent.

    Reading this article it seems like you were fishing for attaboys but got criticized. Or is critique reserved only for models?

    You post anything on the internet and someone is going to take offense. Just have to live with it, no need to throw a tantrum every time someone has different opinions than you. Even when they’re stupid.

    1. willpattison says:

      yeah. then there’s the whole “the tantrum is in the eye of the beholder” thing…

    2. Casssandra Branch says:

      I think the colorful language adds humor and makes a long boring analysis far more readable. …Not that ANYTHING on the site is even remotely long and boring.

    3. Doogs says:

      Eh, I wouldn’t say offended. There’s a world of difference between a rant and a tantrum. But as someone else noted, eye of the beholder and all that.

      Regarding panel lines, I would highly suggest a re-reading, as your takeaway is straight up incorrect. My original post was against panel line shading. Panel lines certainly do exist, and certainly do appear in tons of pictures that are easily referenced. What does not exist are neat checkerboards of panels with shading on either side, all over the aircraft. Especially on aircraft with otherwise clean paint. Do they appear in places on some aircraft? Sure. But it’s limited and often as not it’s corrosion prevention and probably better approached some way other than pre-shading panel lines.

      As to tone, it’s divisive, sure. Intentionally so. I wrote my first post about black basing back in July 2014. That year, it got around 5,700 views. In 2015, it got 6,900. My rant against pre-shading? 12K+ views in the month it was posted, September 2015. It spurred quite a bit of conversation. It got people talking about how they painted and why. It’s since dropped off, but something curious has happened. The original black basing post has surged. Average views per day went from 18 in 2015 to 24 this year, and so far it’s actually 2016’s best-performing post. And I’m seeing a LOT more people giving it a shot and outright adopting it after pre-shading for years (and even decades).

      As for this piece in particular, nope, not fishing for attaboys at all. Just weary of how it’s totally cool to crucify manufacturers for minor accuracy errors, but if you go after them for poor engineering and poor fit, there’s this bumrush to defend (or maybe, more accurately, to deflect).

  11. Very interesting post. Thank you for deep explanation. There are so many wars for nothing in modelling internet. People miss point and get infuriated.

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