The Lego Rebellion, Vladimir Putin and the “You Might Be Gay” Dinner Conversation

putin

The fact is, something terrible has taken place. Because we weren’t paying attention. Remember when Legos were a building kit?

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Recently, I was making dinner while my eight year old son sat on the rug, constructing Lego kit #nine million and three. It may have been Chima, or Ninjago, or the Ghost Slappers, or Dino Grabbers or who the hell knows what. I can’t keep track anymore. Man, oh, man what an unrelenting bulldozer of a franchise. Lego is like the H&M of toys. Building kits relegated to the storage bin three days after they arrive in anticipation of what comes next. It’s consumerism run amok for four to ten year olds. We, the beleaguered Lego parents of America, really need to start some kind of nationwide lego recycling exchange. We need some kind of giant tumbling cleaning stations with an auto sorting function that plucks individual kits out and dumps them in leftover Whole Foods bags. Here. Chima Battle Blaster Boat. Don’t mind the shredded kale.

Seriously, we could call ourselves the Lego underground. We could send those pasted together notes to Lego headquarters with the following threat scrawled in letters cut out of Oprah magazine. The note would read, “Lay off the new product lines for six months or the Hobbit franchise gets it.”

Seriously, we could call ourselves the Lego Underground. We could send those pasted together kidnapping notes to Lego headquarters with the following threat scrawled in letters cut out of Oprah magazine. The note would read, “Lay off the new product lines for six months or the Hobbit franchise gets it.”

If we could recycle just enough to take a 10% bite out of their annual sales projections, the bastards would be throwing themselves off the top of Lego tower, wherever the hell that is. “The sales projections are down 2.6%! Everyone is fired! EVERYONE!!!!!”

And now they’re coming at us with the Lego theme parks. Dear God. Are you people serious?

I mean, lets take a moment here and review. I’m already feeling surrounded by legos. And I don’t mean the concept of Legos. I mean actual giant physical piles of Legos all over my LIFE. Legos that I have spent years scooping and dumping into big plastic bins. Stop for a moment and think of the sound of hundreds of scooped up Legos falling into a bin. That sound. Lovely, yes? And then, there’s the sound you make when, in the middle of the night, you step barefoot on Razar’s Battle Glider of Powerful Powerness. Not to mention the relentless discussions of (new) Legos products, plot point by point plot summaries of Lego’s TV shows, Lego Club magazine URL incitements and so on.

The fact is, something terrible has taken place. Because we weren’t paying attention. We really screwed up and now look at where we are. Remember when Legos were a building kit? Think back with me now. Blocks, right? You would get a certain number of them and then you would think up things to build and build them. Out of the blocks. That you had a certain number of. NOW we’re buying new sets of these identical building blocks all the damn time. Stir them up in a large bucket and YOU CAN’T TELL THEM APART. WTF  is going on here?

And now you want me to go the a Lego theme park where GIANT LEGO CHARACTERS are surrounding me for days at a time? If I want to see that nightmare again I’ll sleep in an extra hour. But I can’t sleep in because I have to clean the damn house, which is full of …

But I digress.

So, Legos issues aside, my son and I were listening to the news on WNYC here in New York. We typically hang out in the evenings like this when I’m making dinner. It’s a mix of talking, building, drawing, homework and so on…and sometimes, we hit this relaxed rhythm that feels like perfect contentment. Its not always like this, but when we are in the groove, I feel eternity spreading out before me. I KNOW I’ve had a good life. Because of moments like this.

And, we’re hanging out and the radio is on and a report airs about a new Russian law aimed at making it a crime to advocate for gay issues in public. “Gay propaganda” is what they call the gay rights movement in Russia. Nice, huh? The right wing tried that language in the US but it didn’t focus group well. Clearly, the new law is an effort on the part of the Russian government to stir up anti-gay sentiment in order to distract Russians from the disastrously corrupt, oppressive and incompetent government of Vladimir Putin.

“Gotta take some kind of action here,” is my next thought. So, I look at my son who’s playing on the floor. He’s just heard the report, too, and I say, “You know, Gus, some day when you’re older, some of your friends may tell you that they’re gay.”

He looks up from his project and says lightly, “I know.” Then he returns to his work. He’s tracking it. He knows some people are against gays. He knows what gay means and he’s fine with people being gay. I know this about him by his tone.

There’s a simple and wonderful reason for why he feels this way. Just like at President Obama’s daughter’s school, there are gay parents at my son’s school. Two dads and no moms. Two moms and no dads. They have been a part of our children’s lives for years. They are just normal everyday parents in the eyes of our school’s community. They are friends and fellow exhausted moms and dads. And in the eyes of our kids, they are simply people. The ongoing gay rights struggle is invisible to our children. Our kids never had to decide to “support” gay people, because at the PTA and the Spring Festival, gay people don’t need support. Gay people haven’t been invisible. They have been right there all along.

I go back to chopping my bell pepper, content in the knowledge that I have done my part for raising an open minded kid. Yep. And then it hits me. I have one more thing I need to say to him.

I go back to chopping my bell pepper, content in the knowledge that I have done my part for raising an open-minded kid. Yep. And then it hits me. I have one more thing I need to say to him. So, continuing to chop, I say, “You know, some day you may tell me that you’re gay.”

For the record, I don’t know if my son is going to be (is?) gay or not. He’s just a little kid. Setting aside the likelihood that no one is entirely gay or straight but in fact existing somewhere on a continuum he will probably self identify as something or another. And when that moment arrives, I want him to know his way of being in the world is okay. I want it to be okay from way down deep inside of himself. From his earliest recollections.

Happily, little kids don’t have to worry about who they are in this way, yet. But, we, their parents, have to lay the groundwork for the future. We need to care deeply whether or not any of our children will be hated for their gender, sexual identity or physicality. Because harsh judgements and agendas are running amok in the world.

One powerful way to do this is regularly check in with our children about these things. It is in the little pepper chopping conversations like this one that we can see and understand how our children are growing their ideas about the world.

There is a reason I didn’t look up when I said to my son, “You might tell me you’re gay some day.” I didn’t look at him right away because I didn’t want him to sense it was a loaded issue for me. But it is. I want this to be a world where my son doesn’t think this statement is a big deal. Vladimir Putin aside, I want this to be a world where being and declaring oneself to be gay is a right so inalienable that it ceases to be an issue at all. I want my son to live in a world where his relational options are wide open, not oppressive and limited by hate and ignorance.

I paused for a moment, listening. He hadn’t made a sound, so I looked over.

He had a huge smile on his face. “That would be awesome,” he said.

No doubt, in his child’s world, he’s probably envisioning a 24/7 Lego building sleepover. And for now, that’s just fine with me.

♦◊♦

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GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
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Comments

  1. THANK YOU for calling Lego out! As someone involved in marketing for a living, I applaud Lego’s ability to rebrand themselves for new generations, but yeah, it’s getting out of control.

    Oh, and also — great convo with your kid about knowing gay people/being gay. Gives me hope! :)

    • Thanks, Brent. Yeah, I mean, we both know its about teaching kids to enjoy with they have instead of always looking to what’s next, but the viral marketing influence of other kids at school is FREAKIN’ POTENT. (sigh.) Thanks again for the comment.

      • Mark,

        I came to this thread wondering what the person who very articulately talked about the importance of platonic touch had to say about LEGO and unlike the well informed piece on touch and sexuality I found a thin, ignorant, letter to the editor style rant.

        I can perceive, behind the bitching, that underneath this front of ‘up in arms’ liberator, is a man who clearly loves his son and feels very pressured by his sons interest, fandom or even perseveration to want to give him everything, and can’t, and feels this is the object of his interests’ fault for being, well, plainly, AWESOME.

        LEGO’s marketing is simply an extension of how well their designers and artists put together excellently themed imagination zones that really, unlike many companies, caters to the wants and needs of its public. Sure it’s a commercial juggernaut, but at least it’s real. I’d rather you spend $74.98 on The Goblin King’s Lair and build it with your son and watch him trip all the traps on the daring dwarves as he plays with it for hours than to cave and buy him Grand Theft Auto 5.

        LEGO is still a building system. The fact that it can accomodate so many themes is a testament to how GOOD it is, not how BAD it is. LEGOLAND, coming at you? I am glad for it. When I was 8 I dreamed of going to Billund but knew I never would. Now I’m glad to say that if I really wanted to go back to LEGOLAND California (which is getting a little tired looking actually, but is still amazing) I could drive there if I wanted. When we were young there were dumb old bricks in like 8 colors. Now there are a myriad of shapes and sizes and forms and functions in 121 official colors (plus a few rare discontinued ones). That sound of lego being sifted, that’s grushtelling (trust the Germans to name it). But the fact that you step on LEGO is where I know you are just plain DOING IT WRONG.

        FIRST: LEGO deserves respect. By respecting LEGO with your son you “responsibilitize” the activity. LEGO needs a special space like modeling does. It needs a table, or tray to work on so that it can be cleared quickly. It needs bags and bins to allow it to be sorted,not just tossed together willy-nilly. It needs a shelf so that creations, either bought or self-made (MOCs) can be displayed. If you create routines around LEGO that demonstrate respect it will be returned to you from your son tenfold, because he will honor your honoring of his (probably) favorite pastime.

        My three rules:
        1. No LEGO on the floor (or outside) unless it’s on a tray lid or other lipped building space (or mat or blanket).
        2. No LEGO in your body or around food. (Sticky LEGO? Yuck!)
        3. There are no other rules. Enjoy!

        If you want a LEGO Rebellion, we are here. We are the LUGS (LEGO Users Group), AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) who both use and subvert LEGO, like Brendan Powell Smith. We post the instructions of every set, we sell the parts off individually, we share designs and pictures of our ‘We did it better than the kit’ and we even make our own pieces.

        So, before you call your resistance movement to arms, acknowledge what that would do to your relationship with your son. When you tell him there’s a Christmas without LEGO, it will be like when you have to explain there’s no Santa Claus.

        Just be smart.

        Don’t Cave and buy some ridiculous Chima set. Go online and get the Lion dude’s head for a buck and then hit your local LEGO hobby shop and get some awesome wheels and stuff and give it to him with a jumbo pack of baggies and plastic bins from Dollar Tree and sit down with him and say “hey, I think this can be Doozor, Lionface’s cousin. What kind of pants does he wear? (get digging and hey look, blue legs – jeans, that’s cool.) He found these awesome wheels in the Chima Swamp. What kind of vehicle does he have? Then get digging, or grushtelling (count on the Germans to name that sound) TOGETHER.

        You can be HERO Dad on a budget. You just have to give it your mind and heart.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwQqkX3qZak

        Admittedly, I am biased. I am an AFOL, LUGGER, Educator and FIRST LEGO League coach. When I saw what kids could do with the Mindstorms robots I was returned to my youth and frankly, I don’t want to come back. I interact with kids interacting with LEGO for 10 hours a week and it is exhausting, difficult and absolutely the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. It has converted my wife (she asked for LEGO Christmas decorations last year) and is the underpinning of my thesis on the affordances of constructionist technology in curricular engagement.

        So tell me again, other than being able to represent a world for smaller hands and powerful imaginations, what LEGO is doing wrong.

        • Hi Mr. K,
          I really did intend for this article to be a bit tongue in cheek. Really, I did. Sometimes, I find my sense of humor isn’t all that universally appreciated. Please know, I do like legos and what they inspire. The character driven component is a little challenging for me.

          By the way. Your advice on how to responsibilities legos activities is pretty cool.

          That said, lighten up a little, okay? I don’t think my article is going to single handedly threaten the Lego empire.

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