|Crystal Reaper on right|
Friday, July 6, 2012
I wrote thisin 2009 and it was published in an online magazine, Rigor Mortis, which now seems to be altered or defunct, so I am republishing it here. It seems that all of the links to the Lego site no longer exist, so I've put in a couple of Youtube links. It will take some time to find all of the original material. Unfortunately, the Lego site was all in flash video and I didn't have the means to extract them at the time.
Ethical Problems with Human-Centric Narratives in Lego Mars Mission Play Sets.
Between 2007 and 2008, Lego produced a series of toy building block sets under the theme “Mars Mission”. Like all contemporary Lego series, the release included different sizes of sets ranging from 50 pieces up to 1000 pieces. To entice product/series loyalty and to establish a jumping off point for play, the Lego company created a website where one can find narratives behind their toys. In the case of “Mars Mission”, the story is about human explorers who have come to Mars, have discovered some sort of powerful energy crystals, and have begun to excavate the surface of the planet to extract these crystals. They do this through the use of a huge machine that rips open the surface of the planet. Then, according to the human Lego characters, they become the subjects of unprovoked attacks by the Martians who are stealing the crystals (http://marsmission.lego.com/en-us/News/2008-1_Blog5.aspx) back from the humans. While two small text messages in one Lego character’s “blog” suggest that the green aliens are actually from somewhere else, this does not diminish the implication on the product packaging artwork and animated web videos that these aliens on Mars are Martians. Therefore I argue that there is insufficient information imparted to the toy user (the kids) to allow them any interpretation other than that the aliens are Martians, therefore I will maintain that assumption in my reading of the Lego narratives.
It is not difficult to re-interpret the Lego web site videos to see that the Martians are only reacting to an aggressive human (alien) invasion of their world. Case in point, the video (http://marsmission.lego.com/en-us/default.aspx) depicting the Lego MT-61 Crystal Reaper shows the humans callously ripping through the planet surface, attacked by the aliens as a reaction to their invasion. This “reaper” machine is a giant strip mining tank that would certainly be questioned as a tool if used on Earth, but in terms of quickly conquering and colonizing Mars, such ethics and precautions are cast aside. Furthermore, the design of the MT-61 Crystal Reaper features one of the aliens connected to the machine for reasons that are never explained. However, the hose inserted into the chest of the prone alien that leads to the central reactor of the “reaper” suggests that the alien is the battery/power source for the machine and that the mining effort is as much to collect aliens as it is to collect power crystals. This is further supported by the larger Mars MB-01 Eagle Command Base which features pneumatic tubes for sending prone aliens from station to station.
Thus, my view of the “Mars Mission” Lego is one of invasion, colonization, slavery, and unethical scientific experimentation. Being “just toys”, there seems to be little critical discussion of the implications of the visuals and narratives that are presented alongside of the toys. While I do not advocate for absolute political correctness in all matters, I do suggest that the marketing departments recognize that their stories and products have a cultural impact and may be interpreted, even by children, as having subtext. Deeper meanings behind the stories affect the way children play with the toys and relate to each other while playing. I have watched and listened to my son (http://williamloveslego.blogspot.com/) and his friend play with these Lego sets, creating never ending variations on the stories that were rooted in the website. When playing with “Mars Mission”, neither of them ever choose the role of the aliens as their own, nor are they meant to as implied by the catch phrase “No matter who the enemy, you can defend the mission” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH_noXoltnM&feature=related The Martian aliens seem to be voiceless, non-communicative aggressors. They evoke no sympathy or empathy from the kids who see them undoubtedly as being responsible for their own situation. Worse yet, the green aliens are not human and in the realm of Lego, there seems to be no worse crime. Without exception, non-human figures in Lego Castle, Lego Space Police, and Lego Power Miners are villains. With such a human-centric pattern spanning every original fantasy/science fiction set designed by Lego, it is surprising that they have not attracted more negative critiques so far.