Lego: innocence engineering

Evidently, Lego toys are darker and more complex than consumers are willing to admit. Early in the twentieth-century, Sigmund Freud spilled the beans that even young infants  harbored violent and sexual and violent fantasies. Freud scandalized, shocked, emerging middle-class sensibilities, but it was an extension of what Heinrich Hoffman was writing and illustrating in children’s stories in the middle of the nineteenth-century.

So, Freud was simply repackaging and affirming the older theological wisdom that Goethe and Heine had intuitively seen. Our sense of the Lego  world as an innocent one, has almost all to do with the prominence of children in it, but, and unremarkably, children are a commodity as is innocence;  innocence is less a truth, a given assumption, than a construction by so-called adults. Toys are the innocence industry, another part of the entertainment industrial complex.

---Religious leaders in England are up in arms because an American company has put a line of LEGO toys in the market with a very bizarre and offensive theme that glorifies violence. Made by BrickArms, the plastic adapted LEGO toys come in the shape of masked terrorists, Nazi storm troopers and military figures. These violent models come heavily armed with grenades, rocket launchers, sub-machine guns, and a plethora of other miscellaneous weapons. --- Read More: image:

from NPR:

MARTIN: Now, some are applauding Lego’s effort to reach girls, but others find it off-putting and even offensive. A petition posted on is asking Lego to stop distinguishing between block sets for girls and boys and adopt what they call a more gender neutral approach to marketing….

BAILEY SHOEMAKER RICHARDS: Hi, Michel. Thank you so much for having me on. … Well, the main problem with the new Friends line is not that Lego is trying to reach out to girls after 15 to 20 years of marketing only to boys. It’s more the way they’re going about it. If you – you know, you just heard this ad and it’s very focused on hanging out, on appearance, on beauty shops, and it’s a very narrow and limiting sort of idea of what girlhood Lego experience should be.

Jonathan McIntosh:So what happens when something in Heartlake City catches on fire? Since there are no fire or medical services in the LEGO Friends theme I guess they'll just have to call the boys to put it out? This is the kind of absurd situation that arise when toy companies perpetuate ridiculous gender stereotyping. Since 2005 LEGO has produced 27 firefighter kits for their regular LEGO City theme which is marketed to boys. Those sets include a total of 51 mini-figures. Only 1 of them is female. This image was created for Feminist Frequency's "LEGO and Gender" video web series: Read More:

Presciently, German intellectual Walter Benjamin remarked on the magical force of a child’s world and ways. Benjamin termed this “messy antics” ; the infants interaction with the objects of the world. To Benjamin, children approached the objects of the world as material imbued with magical, even revolutionary possibilities, that were outside the ken of what the manufacturer intended. And, importantly, Benjamin perceived that for children,  the most valuable objects are the very things that adults consider useless trash, the discarded object; in the case of Lego now free, or emancipated from all the manipulation and control mechanisms embedded within the toy as metaphorical object for say money or materialistic fetish of the dominant societal values.

…MARTIN: Now, Lego argues that these new toys are the result of four years of research into how to make its toys more appealing to girls and, if this is what girls are saying that they want, what’s so terrible?…

---The juxtaposition of ubiquitous plastic toys and brutal violence may seem downright strange, but there's something eerily familiar about LEGOs that brings issues like waterboarding into sharp focus. Says Legofesto: "The incongruity between the immoral and horrific acts and events depicted and the smiley-faced childrens' toy creates a tension." Legofesto says she decided to recreate images of torture and violence out of LEGOs due to the reluctance of media organizations to publish enough actual, real-life images of what she views as criminal acts. The images range from the death of a protester at the recent G-20 meeting in London to the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. Read more:,8599,1896362,00.html#ixzz1lbWC4t3M

…RICHARDS: Well, I think part of the problem with Lego’s marketing is that it’s very market research based. I mean, they’ve looked at what is going to sell to girls, so when you market pink princesses and beauty to girls from the time they’re infants, by the time they’re in L

#8217;s target market for this line, which is about five and up, they’re going to associate pink, pretty, you know, this very specific gender role with what they think they’re supposed to be playing with. It’s all they’ve been marketed their entire lives, so of course, that’s what Lego’s marketing research is going to find.

The problem that we have with that is that it doesn’t really mesh with Lego’s core values in their mission statement about wanting to create innovative products that help kids develop creativity. I mean, this fails that on all counts….

---Regular communication from the company also keeps me informed of new toys to blog about, like the Heroica line of games. Looking further into this toy line, I was not surprised to discover that in the LEGO lexicon, “Heroica” means “violence and masculinity.” All of the Heroica heroes are male, and while it is nice to see some reformed bad guys among them, it is disheartening to see them wielding weapons with such evident malice on the LEGO website. In the animations accompanying the character descriptions, The Knight looks as though he is goring his imaginary opponent with his sword while The Rogue repeatedly stabs at his.--- Read More: image:

…All they’ve done is sort of throw in with Barbie and Bratz and that sort of very, very narrow stereotypical type of marketing.

MARTIN: I mean, isn’t it their job to sell toys?

RICHARDS: Absolutely. But…

MARTIN: So why do they have any broader responsibility?…

The essential issue  for Benjamin implied in having been forgotten,neglected, obsolete, the discarded object meaningfully continues to exist apart from a continuum of  historical time. The linear progress trap. In being pitched out- thrift shop, Church bazaar- the toy that had once been a part of the historical process as a reified commodity, a fetishized object, a toy of idealized desire,  dies a social death passing through the stage of cultural dialog to artifact. Crucially, for Benjamin it is at precisely this time in which it exists as a has-been gone to seed object, that its potential to reveal or manifest a not-yet born again arises, a form of reinvention and reappropriation that exposes the objects heretofore mythic dimension for what it was.

---Next week my new students will learn a little bit about Zbigniew Libera's project LEGO Concentration Camp (1996). Libera worked with the LEGO corporation to create a seven box set of different buildings within a concentration camp. Although much of the set contained LEGO materials, some of the faces of the guards and prisoners were manipulated with paint (to suggest expressions of sadness or glee). The last box of the set was full of personal objects and possessions, inspired by the loots that were taken from prisoners during the period.--- Read More:

For Benjamin, the once idolized, wished for object in a now wasted, used and disabused form  only exposes the collective fantasy or wish-image that had once made it a valued object of social desire.The consumerist cycle of creative destruction only to be re-born elsewhere. Think Ronald Reagan and his “its a new morning in America.”  However,  demythification also indicates a potential for change intrinsic to the obsolete object. Benjamin called this a redemptive dimension where a fallen object, devoid of social value still outlives a conventional, normative, and collective social function and becomes revived, rising from ruin. Something which makers of cultural objects like Lego don’t want. That is, forsaken objects exposing the ideological underpinnings of bourgeois values and the commodified culture it spawns. The Lego art by Libera and others contains what Benjamin called “precious but tasteless seeds” of their own temporal form of redemption where the form is deconstructed  and rebuilt.

---Legofesto is a politics-junkie and news-hound, with a thing for lego. This is not a blog for children. She is very, very pissed off about how the War on Terror (or whatever we're now calling it) is prosecuted around the world, led by US/UK. Human rights abuses and real events in the world are recreated in lego. LEGO© in no way endorse this blog or the images within.--- Read More:

RICHARDS: Well, I mean, they themselves say they want to have that broader responsibility in their core mission and vision statement. You know, they want to encourage creativity and innovation, but you know, they’re absolutely failing to do that with this toy line.

I’m sure it’ll sell to girls who want that type of line, but I just feel like, if this is the only option they’re going to offer to girls, they’re really failing their market.

MARTIN: What about on the parents’ side? I mean, just like, as a parent, it’s your job to keep your 3-year-olds from swallowing the blocks. You know, isn’t it your choice what you buy your daughter or your son, for that matter? I mean, why couldn’t you equally buy, you know, a crane set for your daughter and then – whatever – a castle for your son?

RICHARDS: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, you know, no one is saying parents are forbidden from buying Legos Star Wars for their daughters. It’s more just the marketing. You know, parenting doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Girls who see Legos marketed directed to them are going to be more likely to want that, as opposed to wanting to branch out into the larger Lego experience as a whole.

Part of, you know, what Lego has done is sort of create what we call pink ghetto for girls with this. They’ve got the Lego Club Magazine, which my younger brother gets, but now they’ve got the Lego Club girl magazine and it’s very significantly different from the original Lego Club Magazine.

And I think, to me, the most disheartening difference in this is how they’re expecting girls to interact with Lego. The Lego Club Magazine has build instructions. It has storylines that are, you know, very adventure and activity-based.

The Lego Club girl magazine very noticeably lacks any build instructions and the storylines are very domestic. They’re very limited. It’s the characters eating and partying and looking for a lost puppy, as opposed to going on these big adventures that they’re selling to boys.

MARTIN: And why don’t they have build instructions? …Read More:


In Heroica and Ninjago, LEGO presents violence not as a necessary evil, but as something enjoyable. And since women are not invited to help defend home and hearth, the association between violence and masculinity, seen in other areas of our culture, is reinforced. (For the record, there is a female character in Ninjago who likes to fight, but the video clips associated with the toys show her being kidnapped and left behind to mind the store when the boys leave, so it doesn’t appear that she makes much of a contribution.)

This seems a heavy load for me to dump on one company, and I am certainly not trying to pin the blame for gender stereotypes and their impact on LEGO alone. The themes I’m talking about here emerge across all of the pop culture aimed at boys from preschool through the primary grades. But unlike some other toy companies, LEGO is uniquely positioned to do something about it. It is one of the largest toy companies in the world, loved by children around the globe. Read More:
“Sam’s Club received numerous concerns from our members and parents about the mature content in what is perceived as a children’s book. Accordingly, Sam’s Club made a business decision to discontinue sales,” a Sam’s Club spokesperson told The Christian Post via email on Friday.

Although parents might have a problem with the book, its creator says he was only trying to be true to the Word….

---“it was reps from Walmart/Sam’s Club who had seen an advance version of the book and said they were very interested to place a large order of the book for their stores, but only if we were willing to remove or replace a dozen of the Old Testament illustrations — out of 1,400 total — that showed Lego people in sexual poses.--- Read More:

“From the start, my goal was to create an illustrated Bible that stood out from all others – not just because it was illustrated in LEGO, but because I would be using only direct quotes of scripture to retell the stories just as the Bible tells them,” the book’s illustrator, Brendan Powell Smith, told CP in an email.

“I also endeavored not to water down the stories or censor them for content. If it was in the Bible, my thinking was, it was worth illustrating,” he said. “That decision has meant, though, that not everyone considers The Brick Testament appropriate for all children, since the Bible is chock full of graphic violence throughout, and contains a few stories with sexual content.”

Although his website contains images of some suggestive material, Smith claims that his publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, agreed to remove any sexual illustrations from the book version “at the request of reps from Walmart/Sam’s Club.” According to a report from CNET, however, a Sam’s Club spokesperson said the company had no involvement in deciding the book’s final content…. Read More:

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