There was once a world where Legoland did not exist. I know, what a terrible thought. In this time long ago Lego was not a cult for fifty-year old men to worship the latest Star Wars model or collect superhero figures. This was a time when Lego was just a series of plastic blocks which were the nemesis of vacuum cleaners and stockinged feet all over the land. A time when Lego was only a step up (or down) from the humble wooden brick. Alas those days seem to be long gone now and these days the mighty Lego reigns supreme with its own kingdom.
You may have noticed from this that I’m not a Lego fan. To be honest I’ve never really got Lego. I remember playing with it as a kid and having a little fun making things – usually shapeless masses of coloured bricks that I’d call a monster - but somehow building with Lego seemed so limited. Small coloured building blocks that clipped together one at a time to make things. Ooo Yippee. Yes, you could make anything that you wanted, just as long as it had corners and was pretty uniform in shape, but it was the sculptural equivalent of the Etch-a-Sketch and organic it wasn’t. Making a Lego banana was quite a challenge.
The Lego I remember didn’t come with instructions, you just made stuff from those tiny pieces of brittle plastic that came in a pretty limited variety of block shapes – twos, fours, eights, singles etc. I remember the platforms, which were useful for starting the build, and windows, good for building houses (yawn), but the Lego with all those stupid characters that so many people rave about today was still decades away contained within the nightmares of some clever yet-to-be-born marketing people somewhere far away in another universe.
From what I understand the Lego experience isn’t about building stuff these days anyway. Making your own unique blocky statement isn’t really the point any longer and using your imagination without the need for instructions isn’t the name of the game. Parents all over the country don’t have to ask: ‘What is it?’. They can tell what it is from what it says on the box and the instructions. Lego has become just another model making kit, not so very different from a bit of Ikea furniture or the contents of a Kinder egg. The Lego sets of today are no more than uncomplicated jigsaw puzzles with all of the decisions about where to place the pieces taken away by those bloody instructions.
I’m overstating the case I know, but it’s yet another example of a company selling their souls and the souls of our children by changing direction to make lots of money and killing creativity in the process. Lego sell sets now, not a block building experience. If you lose a piece you are screwed, if you lose the instructions you are screwed. To be honest it’s probably better not to open the boxes just in case something goes missing because you are screwed when that happens. Gone are the days of my old shoeboxes full of random Lego pieces just waiting to become an unrecognisable cubist masterpiece of pure downloaded consciousness. Lego is just another thing to make and put on a shelf, not an experience.
I always found Lego limiting anyway, not flexible enough to satisfy my creative indulgences, glue and papier mâché suited me far better. But then, I didn’t really like Airfix Kits either. I’ve always hated following instructions. I don’t think there will too many potential da Vincis playing with Lego, mind you da Vinci was pretty mechanical; he’d probably have liked it and it would have been the ideal Christmas gift for the young Piet Mondrian. Lego is a recipe for conformity. Dali might have done something with it though; twisting and burning it until it melted to his will.
I read a comment from a teacher about Lego somewhere. She said it was a really good tool to train children to follow the rules, keep to an agreed process, and end up in with the expected result. She meant it as a good thing.
And with that awful thought I will finish.