18 April 2013

Greetings From Legoland!

We’ve entered the Lego phase.

Well, phase is relative. I’m pretty sure that we’re looking at some kind of Lego-themed fifth birthday party later this summer. It’s all-encompassing. It’s everywhere. They’re not just one other toy on the shelf in the toy store these days—they have their own entire store now. It’s a culture. It’s a way of life.

The Doozer has acquired several of his own sets and minifigures. But also, he likes building the old sets from my basement and those that belonged to my brother-in-law. It's funny to see the differences between the Legos then and now. They all used to have the same face, just with different hats. Or hair. Now they have facial features, sideburns or stubble or beads of sweat. Scars, maybe.

He’s also fascinated by the old catalogues. They’re so limited and so generic. City. Space. And that’s about it. Pirates. Not Pirates of the Caribbean, mind you, just pirates. Plain, old, run-of-the-mill swashbuckling buccaneers. That doesn’t stop me from doing a ridiculously lame Jack Sparrow impression while playing. Until the kid insists that I stop.

We have yet to find a set that he has not been able to build in record time. Despite the fact that the low end of the age range on the package is several years above his current age. What is this suggestion based on exactly? Are other 4-year-olds just eating the bricks? I don’t understand.

When we visit the Lego Store, I think his head is going to explode. Superheroes. Star Wars. Ninja Turtles. Chima. What the hell is Chima? What is this thing? Or the Friends line. The “girl” Legos, in the purple boxes, which seem to be there to balance out all the other ninja-fighting, pizza-eating, monster-fighting, lightsaber-wielding, Chima-ing, boy-targeting items. 

The Doozer was invited to a girl classmate’s birthday party recently and immediately said he wanted to get these for her. Of course, he picked out the karate studio and the sports car, but still. He just wants to share that love of Legos with everyone he knows. All six people.

There’s an essay in Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs (sorry, I can't say enough good things about this book, it’s basically my new official fatherhood guidebook) about this subject. In “To the Legoland Station,” he laments the over-commercialization of the Lego sets and worries that making them so specific eliminates the inspiration factor. In his day, you had to use your imagination to build whatever you want, rather than the rigid limitations of the latest superhero or Disney set. He worries until his kids prove him wrong and start mixing and matching sets at will.

But he’s right. The specificity of the Lego toys can be bizarre.

I love all the Dark Knight tie-in stuff, like Commissioner Gordon. The guy that played Sid Vicious is now immortalized in yellow plastic. Or the mini-Bane. This chilling, anarchist villain has become a child’s plaything? What? And now the Mandarin, too. Does Sir Ben Kingsley—Ghandhi himself—have to sign off on his Lego minifigure likeness? We live in a very strange world.

Of course, they’ve gone and retired the Harry Potter ones now, the bastards. The kid’s not even old enough yet to know anything about that particular pop culture phenomenon.

And now we’ve been sucked into the obsession. The wife and I recently found ourselves digging—yes, digging—through bins at Target to find mystery minifigure packages. Have you seen these? They’re these mystery packages that you have to open to find the random minifigure you’ve purchased—the one that looks like Hamlet, or Julius Caesar, or a gypsy fortune teller? Maybe it’s a judge or a DJ or a man in a chicken costume? We’re as eager to see what we get next as he is.

Is this what the whole Pokemon thing was like? Is this who we are now? Like that ridiculous Schwarzenegger movie about Christmas shopping? Or the Garbage Pail Kids phenomenon? Times change, toys change, but apparently parents don’t. There’s even a Lego movie coming out next year, from the guys who made Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. It’s got Lego Batman in it. I’m sort of ashamed to admit how excited I am to see this. 

And maybe the Doozer would even want to watch it with me.

All these Marvel superhero and Star Wars and DC Comics tie-in Legos seem designed to unite kids and parents, to appeal to our inherent nostalgia about pop culture. I would think, if they really want to connect with adults, they should come out with sets and minifigs based on Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Right? Personally, I can’t wait for the Mad Men Lego set. The Don Draper minifig with a cigarette and a scotch glass. Pete Campbell with those new sideburns. Peggy Olson with oversize storyboards. Just imagine it.

(And I want a cut if that thing goes forward.)

Watching the Doozer play with his Legos, I’ve seen him refute Chabon’s notion of homogenization. He’s mixed up judges and spacemen, monsters and cops. I’ve seen Captain America fighting Darth Vader. Yeah, that happened. Patton Oswalt was really onto something there. He has a set of miners with tools and trucks and one day he spun a tale so elaborate about betrayal and double-crossing and theft that it might as well have been a subplot involving Boyd Crowder on Justified.

But now that he’s in bed, I’m free to do my own set-ups and stories, to mix up pirates and space aliens, Ninja Turtles and Jedis. To build my own little world and climb into it. Escape the weirdness and instability of my reality, get inside a little world I can exert some regiment and control over.

What? No. I’m not going to do that. Forget I said that.

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