Having now seen the Lego Movie, I agree with Bloggist Joel Fensch who writes that “Seeing all those Lego bricks on the big screen is a panacea of nostalgia for anyone who has ever experienced the tedious frustration of sifting through a brick pile on a Saturday morning, struggling to find just the right brick to finish whatever it was you were building.”
Sifting through piles of real-life brick-a-brack is obviously not a problem for the movie goer, nor was it for the movie’s ‘Master-Builders’ who could materialise whatever bricks they wanted at any time within the movie’s various zones, like Bricksburg, Wild West, and Middle Zealand, seemingly a reference to the Peter Jackson construct of New Zealand as Middle Earth.
I’ve come to think the Lego of my childhood, which did encourage children to design and redesign with interlocking plastic parts in real time and space has now been supplanted by a huge range of mainly media referencing toys with little lasting or creative value. These seem designed to be assembled only once according to one simple and exact pictorial construction guide target consumers learn to follow slavishly. Once built these toys begin to come apart within the first few hours of active use. Soon afterwards they will most likely join a junk-heap of components of all previous purchases. Many components are unique and difficult to use in any other way effectively . Nor can you ever reconstruct any previous purchase, as this would would mean searching for days or weeks for particular ‘needles’ in a discouraging ‘haystack’ of plastic. Rather than a construction set, todays Lego sets are more like a selection of jigsaws, whose pieces once intermingled are very difficult indeed to recombine effectively.
The Lego of my youth did not rely on endless reinvention of itself in line with current movies, books, computer games or other media. It was its own distinctive brand, encouraging constructive play in a distinctive ‘Legoland’ environment, or in its Legotechnics ‘engineering’ mode, rather more mechanistic possibilities. It generally came in sets, like a Meccano set, and the instruction books provided with each set displayed a range of possibilities from which to choose. When you were done with one you could create the next, or else make up a variation of your own. This gave a lot more scope for creativity than does the modern range of limited-life media referencing toys. One of the good things about Lego used to be its semi-indestructiblity. But the accumulated residue of modern Lego toys seems much less likely to be treasured and passed on than Lego used to be.
On second thoughts, I don’t agree with bloggist Joel Fensch after all. Nostalgia, yes. panacea no. Presumably Lego’s new product ranges based on movie merchandising have indeed been profitable; Lord Business will be pleased, he gets to sell more stuff, and now he even has a movie of his own and gets to reference previous referencing, which is impressively postmodern if you like that sort of thing. Somewhere along the way, however, I believe his modern Lego lost the plot and ultimately it’s yet more consumer rubbish, neither use nor ornament.