A Blessay by Michael Stahl
A recent Newsweek article about falling levels of creative aptitude in American children over the course of the past two decades is incredibly alarming if one subscribes to the thought that there is a correlation between a person’s creative ability and their chances of constructing a thriving life of productivity. E. Paul Torrance did and he was dubbed “The Father of Creativity.” Torrance was able to whip up a series of tests that have become the “gold standard in creativity assessment,” which are still used today. Scores have been decreasing, after holding steady for thirty years, which likely comes with little surprise to even the most casual of pop culture observers, who have watched sitcoms dematerialize into reality television and Hollywood produce countless unoriginal movies either based on already-published works of literature or previous films. In the first week of 2012, Jersey Shore unleashed their fifth season on the universe with promises of more “crazy” antics and nine of the top ten grossing films in America are either film versions of another’s written work or a sequel, with the lone exception, The Darkest Hour, having “a flatlining screenplay and [an] absence of even a single compelling character.” (Perhaps the next winter solstice will bring a more favorable “spiritual transformation;” the doom and gloom is already here.) However, a subtler trend has also emerged that further exploits a lack of priority placed on creativity and it lies in the recent advertising campaigns for one of the nation’s most beloved toys: LEGO bricks.
Currently, LEGO heavily promotes their play sets, which come with pieces more intricate than ever before and instructions that are similar to those for IKEA furniture.
The advanced LEGO technology has made it difficult for children to create their own unique toys because the pieces included in the sets are specifically designed for kids to construct the model on the front of the box, with the directions also stifling independent thought on the part of the builder. Furthermore, the commercials barely have the presence of a child at all. Faceless fast-motion hands put together a toy that resembles something kids have recently seen in a movie or a cartoon that miraculously comes to life on its own. Capitalistic cross-promotion is at work here, creating a greater disconnect between the builder and the authenticity of what they have assembled.
Play sets have always been a cornerstone of the LEGO brand, but advertisements for the older ones reveal that those sets, despite their primitive look, had a greater amount of choices for the builder to make. They included more bricks and fewer accessories that added minute details to the models. LEGO’s whole angle was that kids could create a variety of things, with the “and more” exclamation at the end implying a limitless range of possibilities. Kids were prominently on display building and putting their own creations into action, which emphasized their unique ownership of the toy they produced, something that was echoed in their print ads of three decades ago that also projected the pride a child would experience in playing with LEGO bricks.
Print advertisements for the LEGO company that are produced in other countries uncover the notion that this is in fact an American phenomenon, with a Norwegian picture of a tremendous tipped over bucket of LEGO bricks (not a sleek boxed set) that have the capability of being turned into a dragon and British ads that see the company still holding true to their traditional message that LEGO bricks can be imaginatively assembled into anything.
The LEGO website also does little to promote creativity in young people, which the company says is their mission. More specific boxed sets are conspicuous throughout the site and there is a concerted effort to promote LEGO video games as opposed to their Design byMe program, which will cease to take orders on January 16, 2012. Video games offer no means for a child to produce something and were pointed to in that Newsweek piece as a possible reason for America’s recent decline in creativity. The Design byMe idea seems to spur creativity by allowing the website’s users to draft their own LEGO toy and have the needed bricks shipped right to them, but this requires complicated downloadable software. The revamped version of this has yet to be launched, with the current alternative being that a kid can still upload a picture of an original digital LEGO creation (given that they can figure out how to use the software), put it in a gallery for the world to see, like Flickr, and then order the individual bricks that they think they might need for it through LEGO’s Pick A Brick service, which is typically used as a resource to find bricks that have gone missing. Going to the LEGO store or, hell, hitting the website to buy a prepackaged Harry Potter knight bus seems like it might be a bit easier though.
If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Lincoln Logs seemed to have followed suit, but, fortunately, there are still TinkerToys to be had in their traditional packaging, although they are apparently an incredible risk to children because of a severe choking hazard.
Newsweek points out that school curriculum makers and teachers who have been forced for decades to “teach to the test” are part of the problem too as they stand side-by-side with video game producers watching American children have their creative breath withdrawn from them. The LEGO Company has either unknowingly participated in this setback as well, tapped into the trend in order to profit, or both. Perhaps a LEGO reality show race between the best brick builders in Jersey is in order.
For Natalie Ray and Patrick Harris and his Albuquerque Isotopes
Beginning to make his rounds on Internet blogs, Michael Stahl is on a mission to alter your perception of stuff. Be it the world of entertainment, sports, culture, or society as a whole, read him only with an open mind, or harm yourself trying. Check out his film and television “counter-criticism” blog Walter Peck Was Just Doing His Job. With whatever energy you have left, consume his interviews for IntellectualTimes.com, STAHLing for Time. He has marked his territory on MindBombed.com and now is proud to leave an imprint upon Sugar-N-Thunder.com.