A few episodes back, the Plastic Posse Podcast guys were discussing differences between aircraft and armor modelers and came down on the opinion that armor modelers are, generally, a friendlier bunch than aircraft modelers. (note: if anybody wants to help me remember the episode, I’ll gladly update to reflect)
At the time, I didn’t really agree with their assessment. While I primarily focus on aircraft, I dabble in armor as well, and I get to interact with modelers of all stripes and persuasions. And at first blush, I don’t see much difference between the two outside of the obvious subject nuances.
But something about it stuck in my mind. And over the past few weeks, I’ve been chewing on it and come to find that I agree with Doug, Scott, TJ and JB, albeit for different reasons than the ones they gave.
Right for the wrong reasons
Let me be clear right out of the gate. Tons of aircraft modelers are warm, generous, lovely people. Most of the contingent I tend to run with at the local Texas shows are aircraft guys. If I had to stick a label on myself, I’m an aircraft guy.
But here’s the difference. There is a slice of the aircraft modeling community that I just do not see among armor modelers. A slice that is snide, condescending, petty, dogmatic, self-important and gatekeeping.
In other words, there’s a slice of assholes among aircraft modelers. And they’re a drag on the community.
What do I mean, exactly?
Another disclaimer is in order. I am not omniscient. I do not have eyes on every forum or group in the hobby. This is my take, based on my perception of the places where I do follow the conversations. It’s also in no way scientifically or statistically anything, since conducting any kind of survey would be the wildest of goose chases.
As this asshole epiphany clicked into place, I found myself going down the list of eyerolling annoyances that can be found in this hobby. And every single one stems from – again from my experience – aircraft modelers. Let’s run through a few, shall we?
Paint “rules”. Spend any amount of time in any modeling community, be it a forum or social media or in person, and you’ll run across various paint dogmas. You must put down a gloss coat before decals. You can’t spray lacquers over acrylics. You have to use the manufacturer’s recommended thinner. None of these are true, and they are easily disproven by doing your own shit at your own bench. By spraying lacquers over acrylics. By putting decals down on sandpaper without silvering. By using MLT with everything. Yet they persist again and again and again.
Armor modelers are the ones who do crazy shit like thinning Vallejo with MLT or make a sprayable paint slurry out of weathering pencils. And sure they don’t have to deal with anywhere near the same number of annoying decals as aircraft builders – but those decals often have to go down over zimmerit or cast texture or prominent bolts or pistol ports or whatever. There seems to be more understanding that a gloss coat is not going to get you to a smooth surface, because often that smooth surface just doesn’t exist.
The hobby is dying. I don’t feel like I see this as often anymore, but whenever I do, it’s coming from aircraft or car guys, usually combined with bemoaning the death of the local hobby shop and some vague aspersions cast toward “kids these days”. No such attitude among armor modelers. Why? Maybe it’s the steady stream of new, very good kits. In the past few years, Meng, Takom, Rye Field, Border and others have appeared on the scene and thrived. Trumpeter has seriously upped its quality. Tamiya keeps pumping out a small-but-steady stream of new releases, and have singlehandedly stood up 1/48 as a viable armor scale. Maybe it’s the World of Tanks-inspired interest from younger modelers.
Assembler vs. Modeler. Armor seems to have a much more live-and-let-live attitude. Want to scratchbuild something that’s not kitted? Awesome! Want to build out of the box? Cool. Only want to build fall-together kits? More power to you. Want to buy aftermarket tracks? Avoid these, they’re rubbish. There seems to be a tacit acceptance that different people have different preferences. I’ve never seen anyone shamed for building a Meng Whippet and not wanting to fuck with the woeful old Emhar kit. Mike Rinaldi says he doesn’t waste his time with subpar kits, and nobody calls him an assembler.
But in the aircraft world? Get an aftermarket instrument panel and some wanker will say you’re cheating. Is a kit engineered poorly? Are resin exhaust cans too small or too large in diameter to match the kit you’re working on? Get ready to be met with the assertion that you must be an assembler and that real modelers don’t say anything and fix whatever is wrong. There’s a fundamental lack of understanding that what comes in the box or the sleeve and the act of fixing it are two different things. Or, no, I’m convinced that understanding is there, but it’s trumped by the desire to condescend and to puff yourself up at the (perceived) belittling of others. But it’s never, ever the manufacturer’s error.
In armor, when this comes up, it’s much healthier. More along the lines of…Takom really fucked the football there, and that’s super annoying, but here’s a way around it.
A crew chief would never… Want to weather an aircraft? Guess what! Even piles of reference photos won’t be enough to convince some quarters that aircraft get dirty or that your weathering is true to the subject (and…who even says it has to be…modeling is what you want it to be…but that’s another post). In armor this does show up from time to time, usually with the whole “tanks only survived for a few weeks” argument. But that’s not entirely true, is usually applied to things like rust, and whatever the case, there’s more acceptance of stylized approaches.
Just be grateful… Every time some second or third-tier producer shits out a marginal tool of an aircraft subject, it gets defended by “just be grateful someone makes a kit at all”, usually appended with some of that modeler vs. assembler bullshit laid out a few paragraphs up.
Well, except for Trumpeter for some reason. Any little error (and they certainly make them) gets amplified as a fatal flaw that makes the kit garbage. My favorite example of that is the casual dismissal of Trumpeter’s 1/32 109s. Nevermind that there’s a thriving aftermarket trade in parts to correct all the misses on the Hasegawa kit.
Again, armor seems more clear-eyed. It’s possible to mix a degree of gratitude with a degree of regret that a kit gets this and that and this other thing wrong. Or to put them on blast for poor fit, lackluster surface detail, dumb tracks. If the drive sprockets don’t fit the tracks, that’s the manufacturer’s fuckup to own (or in some cases, aftermarket track makers).
Rotten apples and whatnot
I think that’s enough for you to get the gist of what I’m talking about. And as we know from Star Wars fans and vegans, a slice of assholes can color perceptions of the entire group, and drive people away.
I can only imagine what a newcomer to the hobby makes of the shitty drama that seems to infect corners of the community. I can’t imagine condescension and gatekeeping draw people into the community, or encourage them to actively participate. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe younger gundam modelers love being told that what they do isn’t real modeling by some smug old white guy clutching his Airfix kits like they’re Sauron’s ring.
Why the assholes?
Why are they more prevalent among the aircraft community? Fuck if I know. The only guess I can even hazard is that aircraft kits have a generally longer history than armor. That’s not to say that armor is like some recent discovery, but when you hear English dudes go on and on about buying bags of Airfix kits from the chemist or whatever the fuck, it’s always planes. Armor, seems to me like it was a red-headed stepchild for longer, so maybe its tropes didn’t ossify quite the same way.
Tips on not being an asshole
These are pretty simple.
First is that golden rule of treating others the way you’d like to be treated.
Second, play the ball, not the man. Don’t take it into the personal. Especially over shit that’s objective.
Don’t conflate things. A kit comes in a box. Skills don’t. Neither do patience or inspiration or stubbornness. So just fucking discuss what’s in the box.
Understand that modeling is actually many hobbies. Not everybody wants to scratchbuild or weather or pursue absolute accuracy. A kit that gets the shape of an intake slightly wrong might be fatally flawed to you, but that may not be a big deal to someone else. You may prioritize engineering and fit while someone else likes the challenge of fighting an old kit. You may prefer painting to building, or building to painting. And you know what? It’s ALL FINE. It’s possible to respect and embrace different preferences instead of being a gatekeeping shitditch who insists that every has to enjoy their hobby the way you do if they’re to be “real modelers”.
Learn to give a fuck and not give a fuck at the same time. Look, for almost all of us, this is a hobby. And that means two things. First, it means it’s a matter of passion for us. We can absolutely go deep and geek out over minute things, be they subject details, techniques, tools, execution, photography, whatever. Second, being a hobby also means that modeling is a leisure activity. It’s a frivolous pursuit that is in no way, shape or form life or death. Or even financial hardship or malnutrition. It’s all just fucking plastic that we slather with chemicals. By all means, go down the geek rabbit hole, but try to keep in mind, as you do, that you’re doing so because you like it, and you want to, and in the bigger scheme of things, it’s a silly diversion from real life.
Or maybe just…build armor? I guess?