Hye Jin: Great effort initiating the discourse into this week’s LEGO theme. I have been anticipating this week on a number of fronts and cannot wait to read (and construct) the ideas that curators and participants bring to play with. First off, I want to thank you emphatically for including the Community clip that I remember seeing the first time it aired but would never have remembered to use. The sentiments expressed by Michael K. Williams’s character Professor Marshall Cain echo the displacement individuals can experience when time and progress march beyond perceptions of fixedness, especially in the intimate spaces we hold for experiences like childhood memories. What makes this clip even more cunning is Annie’s attempt to raise her hand (in what could never amount to an adequately whole response) and Jeff’s immediate nonverbal blockage. The double bind in Cain’s question is not only rhetorical but also individual or perspectival. I would argue that Jeff’s silent actions communicate how perspectival questions like those raised regarding LEGO’s metamorphosis become too complex for adequate response, a painful irony in that this transaction occurs in the supposed intellectual safe space of the college classroom. Of course, the question is also a meta one that the writers room likely digressed over for some time, which supplies yet another throughline to LEGO’s own postmodern turn in their products and specifically in 2014’s The LEGO Movie. What an appropriate way to ignite our conversation this week.
In response to Hye Jin’s questions, I identify with Jeff Winger’s complicated silence when purchasing LEGOs. As a child all enjoyment came from playing with the LEGOs (as sets or as original constructs) and gazing at the advent magazines that were tucked inside boxes. As an adult I still experience the same allure through the gaze (now a “twice experienced” phenomenon) of LEGO’s advent work on boxes, the Internet, in magazines and in stores. Yet I often feel loss and lack once the box has been opened and the construction complete (Lacan would have more to say on this.). If I leave them on display the sets collect dust. If I hide sets away, they break and become absent (the theoretical dualism between “presence and absence” comes to mind). The liminal solution I have is one I did not fully anticipate, parenthood.
Piggybacking Nedda, I fit the Gen X demo and locate a “second life” in my four-year-old son’s growing love for LEGOs. The limited ranges of consumer/fan emotional experiences still function, including all the acts of longing, pursuit, and the conquest of acquisition. The process of construction and the exploration of contemporary technologies like moving parts and interactive set pieces still bedazzle as well. That said, there is a threshold of adult vacancy where childhood play once existed (As a solution I fill play vacancies with scholarly approaches to thinking about these processes.). Yet I am ultimately afforded generational luxury and sit back to watch my son(s) develop his own creative senses. Perhaps this process exposes some of how legacy functions within consumerism since I affectively reenact updated versions of similar sociocultural-industrial rituals my dad shared with me.
Hye Jin: Thank you for kicking off the week and for elegantly summarizing some of the key issues with modern-day LEGO-dom!
One factor we might also consider in the toy vs. collectible debate is that many LEGOs, once assembled, have moving parts that activate the set. With movie tie-ins, these actions typically help players re-create a scene from the movie (so, again, a predetermined way to play). That said, I wonder if anyone REALLY plays with their $300 Death Star LEGO after it’s built…
Drew: Yes to everything you said. I am the exact demographic you describe: Gen X, parent to LEGO-aged child, etc. and I can unequivocally state that the LEGO tie-in sets are like a perfect nostalgia storm.
This is a great post to kick off the week, Hye Jin. In particular, I think we’ll encounter these issues of creativity/conformity, childhood/adulthood, and IP licensing throughout the week. What especially resonated with me about your post was this idea of adults playing as kids. We see this a lot in contemporary culture, from the popularity of young adult fiction, to the seemingly unstoppable popularity of comic book-inspired film and TV programs to the remakes and reboots of popular 1980s franchises to TV shows like 1980s-based THE GOLDBERGS. Part of this might be due to the fact that the individuals who are now in positions to create and produce popular entertainment came of age in the 1980s, and they are using their influence to produce entertainment that resonates with that time period. Considering that people who grew up in the 1980s are now having children of their own, it makes sense that this kind of entertainment would be popular. Seeing TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES in theaters this summer can be entertaining (potentially) for kids and nostalgic (again, potentially) for their parents. LEGO also fits with this idea, as it simultaneously allows parents to interact with their children while also providing the opportunity for parents themselves to play as children.
However, my framework here doesn’t quite account for the point you raise about collecting and displaying. As you imply, this is less about “fun” and more about collecting. Perhaps complex and expensive LEGO sets are about manufacturing nostalgia, about reclaiming a bit of one’s youth. And, given that many of the licenses are for IPs that Gen-Xers and Millennials grew up with, this adds an additional incentive to engage with these “toys.” Combining LEGO with STAR WARS, for example, gives us multiple points of engagement with the past, and it allows us to spend some time living in those worlds.
Annie, thanks for bringing our attention to “The Fosters” and what seems like a new iteration of representations of queer family that move beyond the palatable veneer of comedy. I haven’t seen “The Fosters,” so I’m not sure if the family follows along with the other main trope of queer family that we’ve talked about in here, represented by the “perfect” “Kids Are Alright” family, but from this short clip it seems like the characters, mother and son, are both grappling with issues that seem very real to our families.
Even if they play it right more often than is likely the case in “real life”—and I’m making an assumption about that given that it’s TV—it’s nice to see a show that deals with the substantive issues of queer family without dressing it up in stereotypical clothes for comedic effect. And from this clip, it does seem like the show gets at what you and Danielle both refer to as the values that seem common to many queer families—empathy and tearing down walls, fences, and boxes that marginalize some and privilege others.
Again, thanks for the insightful look at this representation of people with LGBTQ parents and their families.
“Tonight for the first time you will hear what it’s like to be raised by gay parents, from the only people who really know, their children…. Today, open and honest, the children speak.”
What a set up Babwa gives you! On the one hand, she acknowledges the power in the voices of people with LGBTQ parents, like you. Then on the other, she puts forward this assertion that you will speak openly and honestly. Not only does this deny the pressure that is put on you, which you discussed above, but it also leaves out any influence that she or her editing staff will have on shaping what you’ve said. And as you write above, they actually edited out some of your own words, altering the meaning of what you so openly and honestly said about your identity as it relates to your parents’.
Thanks for providing us a good example of how, even when we get outside of the fictional representations of people with LGBTQ parents—which as Nick and I have both said seem to be rigorously controlled to be one dimensionally positive most of the time—and into what seems like self-representation of people with LGBTQ parents in the media, we have a similar reduction in the kinds of images that the media are willing to support.
Yes, yes, spot on Aaron. I grappled long and hard with my views towards TKAA. First of, I wanted to enjoy it for the impact I knew it may have, by increasing the visibility of a COLAGE themed experience into the living rooms of millions, many who would encounter this for the first time. I wanted to enjoy it for the performances of each cast member, I thought they were wonderful, especially Annette Bening. I love Lisa Cholodenko as a filmmaker. I’m a fan of several of her movies like Laurel Canyon and High Art. I even thought the direction in TKAA had a sublime tone, mixing smart humor with interpersonal rivalries. So, what was it that bothered me so much? Was it the story? Was I bothered by Julianne Moore’s character having an affair with the donor father? Did that seem plausible? Well, yes, she needed comfort and was angry enough with her wife that sure, she might venture to temporarily soothe her egoistic needs. OK, I thought, I can deal with that, it’s odd, but fine. So, hmm, what can it be? I have my own desires based on my family experiences that I never see characterized, so that’s part of it, but that would be shortsighted and attaching that to another project would be fruitless and irrelevant. I knew that the title bothered me. I’ve expressed for the past few years in radio and newspaper interviews that we have come so far with the battle for LGBTQ rights, that while we are not fully equally, and the battle continues for millions in many American States, that we should not be looking now for approval through assimilation or having to prove that we have the ability to create perfect families. While that may be true for some families, it shouldn’t have to be the reason why we should be given the same rights. The shape of the conversation must move forward from “I’m good like you” or “I’m capable like you,” or “Don’t worry the kids will be alright” to “We’ll probably make terrible mistakes and create some monsters, just like you too.” So, while Cholodenko’s film is a vital part of the narrative, it wasn’t until reading Aaron’s curator notes here, that I fully understood why I never felt fully settled or satisfied with the film. This film has much less to do about the kids than the title suggests. It’s as if the film is saying, look we make the same mistakes just like you, we can cheat on our spouses, but we did such a great job with our kids, that they’ll handle it. The kids are all right, because we’ve normalized them within the parameters we all recognize and understand. Parameters that do not extend beyond our own comfort zone.
I was also disappointed that the series ended with the dissolution of their family unit. Thanks for giving me the term “gay family window programming,”.that was totally what it was, intended or not.Now I want to come up with other examples of that.
Nick, thanks so much for this post. I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of both this show and the your reaction to other media representations of queer families. It’s funny because when I first saw the show earlier this year, I totally missed the implications of Monica’s lesbian identity for her kids (i.e. that they would be queerspawn or COLAGErs). And I would assume that as a queerspawn/COLAGEr with a PhD in Media Studies, I might be inclined to pick up on that. But Shameless so obviously grapples (albeit comedically) with the ramifications of poverty/class and parental alcoholism that other issues are overshadowed. What that leaves us is a family defined by things other than their queerness, something that’s nearly impossible to find in other shows with queer families. Monica wields her lesbianism like a cudgel, but because it’s so obviously the tool of a manipulative and petty woman, she is irreducible to her sexuality.
I agree that we need a show with depictions of complex family dynamics that include the bad along with the good. Interestingly, like most good British shows, Shameless has been appropriated in the US and made into a show about a Chicago housing project. What I’m curious to see is whether or not they stay faithful to the story line of the original show and include a lesbian mother. My gut tells me no, and if I’m right, we’ll learn an important lesson about where the US is with representations of queer families from that absence.
Emily, Nice post, sorry I’m late to the convo—I got distracted by summer school. I’ve actually never watched the show, but as a Minnesotan I am now interested. I acknowledge the Scandinavian influence on her accent, but how about the German influence in both MN and on this specific board game titled “Guggenspitzer.” We shan’t erase the Germanic influence and all their delicious cuisine. Also, I’m curious if a writer or producer on the show grew up in MN or went to St. Olaf College (which, maybe it should be said, is the name of a college in the real-life town of St. Cloud, whereas in the show it is the town’s name. Minor stuff of minor interest. Oh, well.) Another show of that era, “Coach,” was set in MN and possibly the most famous set in MN was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Recently, Jason Segel’s character on “How I met your mother” is from MN. I wonder if MN is portrayed as an exotic local in any of those shows? Also, dare I say that only another true northerner would write about the magic of a “gift-basket … with some hickory smoked cheese and spicy beef sticks.” Perfect.
Thanks for starting off the week kellen, and for choosing such a great text to discuss.
Growing up with lesbian moms I had much the same relationship to “My Two Dads.” I’m pretty sure that I knew that they were not romantically a couple in the way my own moms were, but that didn’t stop me from seeing Michael, Joey, and Nicole as a queer family. At a point when there were no depictions of families like mine, “My Two Dads” was enough to help me feel less alone in the world of media (kind of like when I’d stumble onto the very rare reference to Hanuka in the sea of Christmas specials). In this sense, I see “My Two Dads” as a good example of what might be called “gay family window programming,” following the example of Sender (1999) on “gay window advertising,” where the heteronormative assumptions of most audiences mask the queer subtext embedded in an ad or program for viewers “in the know.” Now I have no idea whether My Two Dads was meant to have a gay subtext either, though it probably didn’t, but I agree with you, kellen, that it was still what I would call a queer family. Queerness in the family context extends beyond the sexual or gender identity of the parents to encompass anything that exceeds the rigid definition of a “conventional” cis-gender heterosexual household. That sounds like “My Two Dads” to me.
Now if only the series hadn’t ended with the men splitting up to pursue more conventional heterosexual relationships/families….