Legos, Children, and Post-Modern Cultural Production

If you’re like me, when you happen to find yourself wandering through the toy section of your chosen department store, you might wince a little bit when you see what has become of Legos. Star Wars? Indiana Jones? Pirates? Yikes. I miss the simple, more traditional sets. Of course I can see why they don’t sell as well as the theme sets, but that’s not my point. Actually, my point here, is to admit that after reading an excerpt from an LA Times interview with Michael Chabon, I have to admit that I’m wrong. But it’s more than that, too. I want to make sure that everyone out there who had stick-in-the-mud attitudes akin to mine, thinks through a bit more about just how much value these themed sets might have. And what “kids these days” might be able to teach us, if we would just pay attention to their repurposing (???). Here’s a short excerpt (but the whole interview is really quite good):

In the world of Legos, what I did discover is that my kids were taking these beautiful, gorgeous, incredibly restrictive predetermined Legos Star Wars play sets — and yeah, they really wanted it to be put together just the way the box showed it. I don’t think it occurred to them you’d want to do anything else with it. But inevitably, over time, the things kind of crumble and get destroyed and fall apart and then, once they do, the kids take all those pieces, and they create these bizarre, freak hybrids — of pirates and Indians and Star Wars and Spider-Man. Lego-things all getting mashed up together into this post-modern Lego stew. They figure out a way, despite the best efforts of corporate retail marketing. (Although this interview appears in the LAT, I should mention that this particular excerpt caught my attention in a post from Alan Jacobs’s great blog, Text Patterns, hosted at The New Atlantis, one of the best journals about technology and culture around. Wow. Subscribe now.)

Not only is this a great way of productively understanding the world as it changes around us, but it’s also relevant to so many other discussions circling around the Computers and Writing communities for the past several years. Lawrence Lessig’s Remix, is great example of a text trying to make a point similar to Chabon’s, but is less accessible for various reason. I love that he uses kids and Legos to imply discussions of things like copyright, quotation, juxtaposition, creativity, and on, and on.

I guess the real point I’m trying to make here is that there’s a lot I can learn about clarity and simplicity–that is, not “making” things simple, but “revealing” their simplicity–through careful, unpretentious, un-self-conscious prose. Which was, to be honest, the entire impulse to start this whole blog in the first place.