So what did happen with LEGO as Prof. Kane asks in this clip from NBC’s Community? First, LEGO has become a multimedia empire over the years with its successful spinoff of LEGO Ninjago into Cartoon Network’s popular animated series, Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, numerous LEGO related videogames and books, and of course, the box office hit, The LEGO Movie.
Second, LEGO (or the way people understand LEGO) has shifted from children’s toy to adult collectibles. The growing Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL) community and attendees at LEGO conventions such as BrickCon and BrickFair (venues for adult LEGO hobbyists and fans to share their passion for LEGO) indicate how LEGO is no longer (or really never has been) just kid’s play. Third, licensing deals with various pop culture brands including DC Comics, Marvel, Warner Bros. (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter), and Disney (The Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, Cars, and now Star Wars and Indiana Jones as it bought out Lucasfilm) have helped LEGO to reinvent itself and its brand identity.
Based on these transformations, I have two questions that might help us rethink about LEGO.
First, is LEGO a toy to play with or to collect? When we’re done assembling all of the pieces do we disassemble them and put them away or do we leave them for display?
Second, as LEGO sets have become more specialized, particularly the franchise tie-in kits which contain many special bricks that are more difficult to use for other constructions, are we encouraged to create something entirely new or nudged to follow the detailed instructions included in the set and replicate whatever LEGO has planned out for us?
LEGO does encourage its fans to “build outside the box” and provide space for fans to share their creative models in “Create & Share” on the LEGO website. And even with specialized sets, LEGO can inspire us to unleash our creative energy to build original LEGO constructions that go beyond what LEGO can offer as in the case of Alice Finch (a LEGO hobbyist well known for her LEGO Hogwarts and LEGO Rivendell creations). But when LEGO sets are now packaged in licensed kits with detailed instructions on what to make, LEGO also seems to invite us to conform to the rules of the “trademarked, conglomerate-owned, pre-imagined environments” of Legosphere as Michael Chabon wrote in Manhood for Amateurs.