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Monday, July 07, 2008

Politically correct or incorrect?

Andrew Becraft has debated for a long time whether he should post his Extraordinary rendition.

He finally did so in the context of an editorial on LEGO and military sets that has raised a lot of discussion over on the Brothers-Brick. I urge you to go over there to check out that discussion, but I wanted to take this in a different direction. I wanted to address the question of whether LEGO should be used to promote a political, social or religious viewpoint. Some would say that LEGO is for kids, and should not be used for the purpose of promoting a particular opinion. Dan has a thoughtful post about the place of political views on a kid-safe LEGO blog. My view is that LEGO is an artistic medium, like any other. The same pen and ink can be used to draw Family Circus and also Doonsbury; the same paint can be used to make a picture of a pony to go on the refrigerator door and also the Guernica to depict the horrors of war. The same with LEGO, IMO. Yes, we usually see it used to make space ships and castles, but it can also be used to make real art, such as Nathan Sawaya's recent museum tour. There are also brick version of political cartoons, including vigs like Andrew's On vacation, Steve's Poorly planned peace gesture, Nathan's Debate and Alan's 9-11 Memorial.

In large part because we associate LEGO with the innocence of childhood, using bricks and figs to promote a point can have particular impact. One of the most prominent LEGO projects out there is Brendan's Brick Testament. He is using LEGO bricks to illustrate the Bible. On the one hand he directly draws from the text, but in places his opinions about religion and various social/political issues come through clearly. For the record, Brendan is not a religious Christian and feels that if most people read the text directly they would be upset about some of the contents and rethink their own views. On the other hand, many religious people (including myself) have highly enjoyed his work and it has been used, for instance, in Sunday School classes. Parents' warning - there is some depiction of graphic violence and sexual situations (directly drawn from the original text), so you may wish to view this site first and discuss it with your children.

Perhaps the most infamous LEGO creation is the artist Zbigniew Libera's creation of a LEGO Concentration Camp. Some people were horrified by the use of minifigs to depict the Holocaust, but in my opinion this was a valid artistic expression, that certainly raised a lot of thoughtful discussion in the LEGO community and presumably elsewhere. I felt that there were a lot of messages wrapped up in this work about how we market violence to children and about how the horrors of history can be trivialized. For the record, the Jewish Museum in New York featured this work in an exhibit called "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/ Recent Art," but other groups protested this exhibit.

Just a note on the policy of this blog. I try to be "kid-friendly," but that does not mean that I will try to avoid blogging on LEGO creations with a political, social or religious viewpoint, whether or not I agree with that viewpoint. I do post lots of MOCs with "cartoon violence" or even representations of war, but have tried to avoid a few things with gross violence. I've also avoided (as far as I remember) MOCs with sexual themes. My take on links is that I cannot control the content of sites that I link to, so following any link to another site is at your own risk. If I tried to avoid linking to sites with kid-unfriendly content I basically could not link to anything, as there are images on Flickr, for instance, that I wouldn't want my kid looking at, and some community sites are conversations among adults and have varying levels of harsh language or inuendo.

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SJB said...

Funny to see my creations in a Lego political post. I'd kind of forgotten about that one...

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