Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



The year 2012 is now a couple weeks old.  As always, with a NEW YEAR comes lots of new things for us to figure out.  There are new laws, (You cannot buy liquor in the 'self check' aisle in the supermarket),  new rates (Thanks for the 3.5% increase, UPS!) and new TV shows (Napoleon Dynamite...the Cartoon?).  Anyhow, since it's the job of the DUNER BLOG to 'keep you informed on news items you might have missed,' we felt it was our duty to tell you about LEGO FRIENDS.  It's a new line of Lego Toys that debuted January First with the stated goal of getting girls to build with Legos.  Not surprisingly, it has unleashed a wave of debate about gender roles and children.

Not familiar with LEGO FRIENDS?  Well, let's take a quick tour of 'Heartlake City,' the newest Lego Community.  Construction is booming...there's a café, a bakery, veterinarian's office, a beauty shop and a puppy house.  Now let's meet the friends.  Mia and Andrea are white, Emma is Asian, Olivia's a Latina and Stephanie is black.  (Sorry, no Arabs or Hindus in Heartlake City yet!)  Anyhow, the girls all dress quite smartly in shades of pink, lavender, light purples and baby blue.  In fact, just about everything in town from the Vet's roof to Olivia's tree-house to Stephanie's Cool Convertible is some frilly pastel shade. In short, LEGO FRIENDS is one big, fat gender stereotype packed in a box.

All of which goes completely against the original concept for Lego.  When first introduced in Denmark back in 1949, the toys were decidedly gender neutral.  Although preferred by boys, girls also enjoyed constructing massive creations as well...as evidenced by a now-famous magazine ad from 1981. (See photo).  All that changed eight years ago.  Unable to compete with newer, technologically driven toys and games, in 2004 the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.  To save Lego, corporate executives decided upon a risky strategy:  They would focus completely on theme-based sets for boys.  The result was stunning.  Lads worldwide began swapping up expensive sets and started building Harry Potter castles, Indiana Jones airplanes and Pirates of the Caribbean ships.  It worked: Lego earned more than $1 billion in profits last year.

As of the moment, representatives from the company are being coy about the situation.  In response to the numerous online petitions demanding "Princess-Free Zones," a spokesperson acknowledged they "expected backlash."  Before releasing LEGO FRIENDS to the general public, the corporation hired an army of anthropologists to conduct copious amounts of research.  They wanted to find out how boys and girls play differently.  Four years and millions of dollars later, they concluded that boys prefer fantasy themes...science fiction, ninjas warriors and mad sorcerers...things that don't exist on earth.  Girls, on the other hand, associate more with reality based concepts...they prefer role-playing with actual characters, doing meaningful activities.  Hence, LEGO FRIENDS lets girls build a city that operates on a more functional level.  It's a world completely without spaceships, nun-chucks or wizards.

So...before you sign a petition calling for the destruction of the Lego Factory in Copenhagen...take a deep breath and remember: Lego is constantly changing and developing their toys to make them better.  JOHN BAICHTAL, author of the book "The Cult of Lego" reminds us that "there is still time for Lego to improve" this new, controversial product.  "We're trying to get more girls into sciences and technological pursuits," he said. "Having a really cool toy that encourages that would be a societal good." Let's face it: Even though everything in Heartlake City is a shade of aquamarine, it's still much more practical than the current top selling toy for girls...the Pretty Party Outfit from the American Girl Doll Collection. 

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