Well, maybe not evil, but “highly problematic.”
First, let’s remove what we all *think* Lego is (i.e. our own nostalgic memories, our aspirational beliefs, or $250 robot sets), and instead concentrate on what Lego today is, for the most part: It’s movie-tie-in model sets marketed pretty much exclusively towards boys.
We’ve gotten my son a Lego advent calendar for the last few years. It’s typically a pretty sweet affair: figures with ice skates, a snowman, a Christmas tree, that kind of thing. This year’s choice, on the other hand…
It features a bunch of robbers stealing stuff, some cops, a catapult for some reason, and a nice log cabin you can build. Except it’s a jail. Oh, but you get Santa on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho.
We ended up getting the Lego Star Wars calendar instead, which is awesome except that it’s not particularly Christmassy (though you do get a Yoda dressed as Santa at the end (that’s in continuity, right?)) and it cost an unbelievable $40 because of the licensing fees (it’s like $10 more than the normal calendar).
This is par for the course in old Legoland now. Outside of the Movie tie-ins (Star Wars and Harry Potter being the marquee products, Pirates of the Caribbean and (inexplicably) Prince of Persia holding up the rear), they’ve created a series of in-house brands like Ninjago, Atlantis, and Alien Conquest that hew pretty closely to the spaceships-n-guns success they found with Lego Star Wars. Ninjago goes the extra mile, with a spin-off DVD series.
Lego City, the one readily available (read: you can go to Target to buy it) Lego series that hasn’t traditionally hewn to the ships-n-guns model has gone deep on cops and robbers this year.
Look: I will fully admit that these sets are really, really cool. My son is getting a gigantic Millenium Falcon set from Santa this year (DON’T TELL) and both my wife and I are excited to play with it too.
But it’s a model kit. We will put it together once and we will play with it a lot and that will be that. It won’t get remixed, won’t get hacked. Eventually it’ll come apart and be put away and not rebuilt because 1000 pieces is a pain in the ass.
The reality is that the unisex, open-ended, building and imaginative creation sets that my peers normally associate with Lego are gone. Look at this ad
That ad is remarkable for two reasons: First, it presents Legos as a playset where you can just make stuff, and it revels in it. But even more remarkable is that it features a girl holding Legos. I seriously can not remember the last time I saw a Lego marketing image of a girl holding their product. The girls in my son’s first-grade class? Only the tomboys play Lego—all the rest “used to.”
Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are (I bought my son a Mindstorms kit with my book advance). But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.
"The new Lego girl minifigures have names like Stephanie, Olivia, and Emma, and the building sets include a veterinary clinic, a hairdressing salon, a horse academy and a clinic."
Oh. Dear. God.
I don’t want Lego to end up like Nerf (Don’t. Get. Me. Started.), I DO want it to be a great thing for every kind of kid. But right now it’s not. And that makes me depressed and uncomfortable.
PS. As usual Omar says it best.