Controversy rained down on the people at Lego (not the Lego People) for their recent decision to market to girls with pink Legos and Lady Lego characters not found in unisex sets. Their thinking? Girls don’t like Legos — at least not nearly as much as boys — but they might if they were pretty in pink.
Opponents fired back that the marketing ploy was an affront to all the future female engineers, astronauts and architects who love Legos for their buildability, not their feminine mystique. And, further, the move did a disservice to boys; their toy chests could stand to have female characters whose merit wasn’t based solely on their toy chests.
For shame, Lego! What’s next — separate boys and girls restrooms at Legoland? Really, though, my Lego-shaped bone to pick is not with the gender bending behind Lego’s recent marketing push. Or even with their price, though I experienced some sticker shock when buying a gift for a kindergartener friend of mine recently.
Instead, I’m putting Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen and the rest of the gang in Billund, Denmark, on notice for the way that modern-day Legos undermine the very essence of LegoLife. Specific sets with specific pieces build specific objects — Millennium Falcon, Hogwarts, Undersea Pineapple House. They serve as pathetic puzzle pieces destined to become static set pieces. This playtime prison sentence is a world apart from Legos’ highest and best use: the building blocks for whatever your imagination imagines, beckoning to be smashed and started anew.
I ask you: Is Play-Doh just for eating? Are army men just for melting? Are magnifying glasses just for melting army men and cooking Play-Doh? Undoubtedly, the answer is, “I will answer as soon as I finish chewing this Play-Doh.”
Growing up Lego, I had a solid set — including the harder-to-swallow Duplos — in the standard sizes, colors and flavors. Free from instructions, pictures or the interstellar demands of Lego Han Solo, I built whatever my heart desired. Sure, I made castles (penetrable) and bombs (detonated upon contact with brother) and unicorns (what?), but they were my own unique and ephemeral inventions, unlike anything created before or since.
And then I had a birthday party and everyone assumed I had He-Man and they got me enemy action figures and I didn’t have a He-Man and there was anarchy in Grayskull and I couldn’t break the characters and they wouldn’t melt and they tasted terrible and by the time I got one He-Man I was supposed to have four Ninja Turtles and don’t even get me started on ThunderCats. At least I don’t have any baggage from my childhood.
Which brings me to the greatest gift of all. No, not love. Better: the cardboard box. When I’m playing with my kids, I often feel like I’m watching National Geographic (or Animal Planet). Their unbridled imagination was on full display recently when a big box survived the recycle bin and morphed from a house into a spaceship into a tunnel into a zoo and finally into a corrugated heap. The toy is in mint condition.
Being fungible, reusable and indestructible is a liability in the toy business — or just about any business, for that matter. The company would go bankrupt if everyone were a Mies van der Lego. But do we really want to raise a generation that follows instructions, stops at the finish line and blithely assumes there’s an app for that?
At long last, leggo my Legos.