Drew, you highlight several rich autoethnographic insights into what enables LEGO’s TT video game union continue to proliferate. Clearly, LEGO met a number of FAN-tasies when they successfully launched tie-in brand merchandizing with the mother of all toy titans, Star Wars. I remember telling myself as a kid that “if only they would make _____ LEGO I could die in peace.” Well, they have. Over and over. I think you draw upon two of the largest key terms here in “repetition” and “nostalgia”. I am reminded of a key chapter from Eric Gordon’s book The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities from Kodak to Google (Dartmouth, 2010). The chapter, aptly titled “Rerun City: Nostalgia and Urban Narrative” examines the interwoven ways in which the television rerun has repeated in other cultural forms. I see an important link here where Gordon observes that, “The repetition of historical memory [is] profitable” (164). Indeed, LEGO has found great profit in the collective memory of consumer nostalgia both for their product and now those produced by Hollywood.
I might add one more suggestion through what Genre Studies theorists identify as the tension between imitation and innovation. The video games seem to wholly imitate these movies that reach us as audiences, yet they also provide innovation (slightly) by conjoining these cinematic narratives with the yellow brick ontology of LEGO’s constructed look and “humor” as you note. Nice work bringing these rich terms into play with your topic theme.
Thanks for a great post on the LEGO Movie, Alan!
Hye-Jin’s post from Monday also discussed the creativity vs. conformity issue, which is one of the major themes in the LEGO Movie, as you describe here. LEGO seems uniquely adept at walking this fine line.
I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to LEGO Ideas. This site, formerly known as LEGO Cuusoo, is a LEGO-sponsored site where amateur builders share ideas for sets.
Members of the Ideas community vote on the sets they’d like to see LEGO put into production. Once a project reaches 10,000 votes, it is reviewed by LEGO to see if the project would be commercially viable. There are also prizes and incentives to keep users engaged.
I kind of have to marvel at the genius of this scheme. LEGO has effectively created an R&D department, but one that is completely fueled by the (free!) creativity of its diehard fans. So no matter where you come down on the creativity vs. conformity debate, LEGO has figured out how to harness that passion and profit from it.
This question is less analytical and more simple curiosity, Drew, but since I don’t play video games regularly…
I wonder if how gameplay in a LEGO game compares to gameplay in another game where the characters are humanoid and therefore (I’d guess?) have a fuller range of motion. Or is the limited “body” of the player part of the fun?
Truly fantastic post, Garret—and such nice symmetry between your name and object of study. Several things immediately stuck out to me in your post and response: 1) fan-made media is organized around a kind of hierarchy ultimately mediated by “discourse gatekeepers” or C-C hosts, 2) the website and forums act as a social space generating creativity but also acts as a recursive cultural system profitable to LEGO, and 3) users and uploaders of LEGO content act as a hive mind. In mentally juggling these three considerations, my first thought was what happens to all the content that doesn’t quite make it through the official (and unofficial) filters? What happens to a user generated video like the one you curate—and which is so well done—turns to the shadier portions of European medieval warfare? Does C-C have a policy against LEGO depictions of pestilence, famine, rape, genocide, infanticide, etc? From my own anecdotal experiences playing with older cousins and friends, historical reenactments tend to turn horribly dark. User-generated content, especially on imageboards like 4chan and other social media sites often take these impulses to its extreme conclusion. Is there a space for subversive or perverse videos to exist or are they stricken from official participation? FInally, what is your response to C-C’s gatekeeping policy?
The concept of “play” seems to be a taken-for-granted term that at first glance seems to inform the audience—in this case, for instance, other LEGO players—all that we need to know. After all, when I tell someone that I play with LEGOs, the conversation tends to veer around nostalgia over specific sets or childhood experiences with LEGOs, as Catherine points out astutely above. For me, what is interesting is the “how”—that is, how do you (or I) play with LEGOs? The answer is likely to be quite different and indicative of the many ways in which playing is accomplished. As a child, when my sets were not warring with one another, my prized figures would spend months outside in the rain or shot into space from a slingshot to test their durability; like many of us responding to this post, we find new ways to play with LEGOs as a a parent, scholar, or adult. While nostalgia certainly plays a powerful role in the re-playing of LEGOS, especially for those of us who have not touched a set since childhood, I am not entirely comfortable in grating nostalgia the affordance in how it governs the way we play. To do so, after all, eliminates the possibility of new discovery, which the toys of the best quality routinely seem to provide. Even in models like the Death Star that comes with a pre-fixed menu of playing options has the potential and likelihood to be played in ways that transcends its original design.
I liked the movie more than you did but definitely agree that it wasn’t about the kids experience. That was not the point of view and in particular they way they handled the kids’ burgeoning sexuality rang false. They were both way prudish, which in my experience is not the case with most Queerspawn. I think we tend to be more open and comfortable about sexuality than the average, regardless of our orientation. I see the assimilationist tendencies you are talking about but I guess they didn’t bother me as much, maybe because they rang true for me as someone who is both white and middle class.
Back in 2010, I wrote my own review of the movie, it’s a little long winded and I’m not sure I stand by all of it currently but here it is: http://www.kellenkaiser.com/uncategorized/im-all-right-i-dont-know-about-the-rest-of-them/
It’s so interesting to me that y’all want more accurate representation because I am totally down with sugar-coating. I am sure it comes from some fear based place but I am horrified whenever I see a news item involving gay folks misbehaving, especially as parents. I guess I just feel like we’ve barely made it into being seen at all and i’d rather get a good reputation before shading in the details. I am happy among ourselves to recognize all the nuances and issues but as far as the rest of the world is concerned….i’m into keeping it simple.
P.S. I totally tried to get a gig consulting on “The Fosters,” with absolutely no luck. I thought they should have at least one person on staff with lesbian moms.
P.s.s. But it is a really sweet clip and it is an awesome and revolutionary show.
Drew, thank you for your inquisitive extensions that really open up key ideas that drew me to the sub-category topic and Classic-Castle website. I would not contend that the heavy users of Classic-Castle’s forum work to differentiate themselves from other fan groups as much as they labor toward complete Castle-related immersion within the confines of this particular website. The board creates “rules” that almost suggest a kind of ‘staying in character’ dictum for users. In this way, the fandom remains relatively centered. That said, users (serfs?) appear more than welcome to comply by creating Castle-LEGO inspired avatars, staying within guidelines in discussion threads, and contributing to the growing number of forum-hosted “competitions” for original LEGO creations (always related to pre-determined medieval/fantasy/Castle themes). Based upon C-C observations that date back to 2008, I would not suggest users are in “competition” for fan legitimacy so much as they revel in the communal online experience.
As for LEGO’s foray into brand merchandizing, only themes that come close to Castle receive sanctioned discussion (again, users best abide by the King’s law). In addition, whenever the Castle theme cycles into a dormant phase (after a three-year cycle or so with each new Castle line), something must fill the “new” void. As a result, there is a lot of traffic generated around reactions, reviews, and critiques of LEGO’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sets. There are interesting trends that I’ve observed in how users collectively accept/reject certain product lines or individual sets. With many users often following the lead set by high posters or mods (lords?), which is a typical trend on forums. I generate the impression of fandom feudalism that could also be read as a “hive mind” mentality at times. To this degree, C-C constitutes a kind of cyber fortress, a mediated medieval stronghold where anyone is welcomed and encouraged…so long as they speak the [LEGO] King’s English. In this way, the lords of Classic-Castle definitely serve as discourse gatekeepers through methods that inevitably communicate endorsement of LEGO and thus protect the brand legacy as a kind of sacred relic.
Hye Jin, I really love your post. I wanted to comment on your second discussion point that with the tie-ins perhaps LEGO is wanting us to replicate their plan. While it may be true that they still promote creativity I think that the sets are not where this is promoted. The LEGO stores seem to provide more of a creative outlet allowing you to buy separate pieces. I went on their site yesterday and they are promoting LEGO sets from the LEGO movie that was just released. The caption for the banner read “Build and play scenes from the movie” so there is no doubt that they want you to follow their plan to a certain extent.
I think the collect vs play question is a little harder to answer. Nedda had a good point, with the expense of the bigger items you have to wonder if people actually play with them. For those who have children though, they get to have a double dose of nostalgia with some of these sets because they may have grown up with LEGOS and the franchise they’re partnering with.
Thanks for a fascinating post on LEGO fan communities, Garret. I don’t know much about these highly specialized LEGO subgroups, so I was wondering if you could expand on a couple of things. Do groups like Classic-Castle work to differentiate themselves from more recently-developed fan communities? In other words, do they make claims to be “more real fans” than the pop culture nostalgia-based fandom of the “Hollywood” LEGO sets (STAR WARS, LORD OF THE RINGS, etc.)? Does this feudal structure, as you put it, function as a type of gate keeping to keep out other groups of LEGO fans?