My take on #legosforweiwei and censorship

LEGOs for Wei Wei

Image credit: Elspeth De Montes from AzureBrick

So… I was planning on completely staying out of the heated debate around #legosforweiwei. If you aren’t aware of the issue, check out this BBC article which goes into detail.

Following the hashtag on Twitter, I was hesitant about jumping into the conversation and offering up an alternative viewpoint since I know better than to get into an argument over Twitter.

That all changed when a journalist from Canadian newspaper Globe and the Mail contacted me to ask me for my perspective on this as a LEGO fan. I hadn’t seen anyone else offer an opposing argument on this issue so I decided to volunteer my thoughts.

You can read the article that I was featured in here – it’s a lot more balanced than most of the other articles I’ve read.

They didn’t include my whole response, so I’m sharing it here so that you can see my take on this whole silly issue:

As a LEGO fan and someone quite familiar with how The LEGO Group operates, this response isn’t uncharacteristic at all and I believe that LEGO are fully within their rights to decline selling or supporting Ai Weiwei’s art piece.     I believe that the media have largely blown this out of proportion, taking LEGO’s decision out of context. I think it’s very unfair to equate LEGO’s stance to not support or sell bulk bricks to Ai as censorship as LEGO did not explicitly prevent him from using the bricks for his installation – they just didn’t want to supply the bricks directly. 

The LEGO Group is first and foremost a toy company, with their core audience being children and parents. As a private company I also believe that they’re fully within their rights to be mindful of protecting how their brand and products are associated. This is also why LEGO will never produce sets with War, religious or political themes.

I’m a huge supporter of Ai Weiwei’s cause and am planning on visiting the NGV to see his exhibit when it opens but in this case, I feel that his use of social media to attack LEGO’s decision is purely to drum up negative publicity. It’s a little petty, to be honest.

If Ai Weiwei really wanted LEGO, he could’ve used other avenues such as Bricklink (an online LEGO marketplace) to source the parts he needed. Bricklink is a huge resource for LEGO fans worldwide to create some of the amazing models, displays and sets that you often see in the news or fan events – many of which are not endorsed by LEGO.

I don’t think it’ll negatively affect the brand at all. LEGO will still remain a great toy for kids to adults and that perception will not change because of this.

Attacking LEGO’s values is also a bit of a cheap shot since LEGO have proved that they are open to considering their stance on public issues. They recently severed ties with Shell due to environmental concerns after a widely publicised campaign by Greenpeace – so it’s not like they’re totally opposed to dialogue and feedback from fans.

So yeah, I definitely side with LEGO on their decision – I don’t think it’s fair to force The LEGO Group into a political dispute and cry censorship when they refuse.

I typed that up on the train ride home yesterday but in hindsight, I would’ve also mentioned added that LEGO does have a good reason for not wanting to support or endorse political works of art.

Zbigniew Libera LEGO Concentration Camp Polish Artist Zbigniew Libera once requested bricks from LEGO, which they so graciously provided and he went ahead and produced a concentration camp set – complete with the LEGO logo and the words “sponsored by LEGO” were famously printed on the box.

Now LEGO provided the bricks but they didn’t specifically sponsor or endorse that set – and I believe that LEGO weren’t aware of what the end product would look like as well.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents on this issue. So far, chatter on LEGO forums and Facebook groups have been large supportive of LEGO’s decision so most fans are unfazed. Update: LEGO have also started responding to the outrage on Twitter.

Seems like a fairly level-headed response and a slap in the face to everyone who has been crying CENSORSHIP.

What do you think about this?

13 responses to “My take on #legosforweiwei and censorship”

  1. Leave politics out of Lego says:

    This artist Ai Weiwei seems to have a skewed logic, and in the 1st place, has dubious motives to use Lego’s reputation to his advantage – promote his own ideological view.

    The logic comes down to this: Jack is selling one set of curtain in his house. Bob comes in and say “everyone loves your curtain, I need a bulk order for all curtain in your house so I can create “art” to show people my good taste. Jack politely says no, and bang, Bob spits the dummy and blasts Jack in social media as “act of censorship and discrimination”. Feel like moral blackmail (inappropriate one that is) or a kindergarten act.

    Everyone has their own views, however I will refrain to impose those views (especially political ones) to others, or call anyone names, let alone an serious accusation such as “act of censorship and discrimination”.

  2. I cannot say anything, I WILL not say anything. Just gonna let this steamroll over us… Yeah… That sounds nice.

  3. Neil says:

    The question is did Lego supply a bulk order at a discounted rate for Ai Weiwei’s recent exhibition at Alcatraz, which was extremely political. If they did, why not once again. Lego is not completely clean in this matter and to claim otherwise is extremely naive.

  4. Well, that was a well-balanced and reasoned response to the whole schemozzle. Which means it’s destined to be drowned beneath the tidal wave of screaming clickrage and manufactured hysteria. Well said, Jay.

  5. Ben Teoh says:

    The quality of reporting on this is getting worse and worse. Journalists are trying really hard to create a media sensation about something that’s not there.

    Just adding some points to what you had to say:

    The issue here is the request for bulk LEGO at a discounted rate.

    The artist asked for access to a bulk LEGO pricing but was denied because the discount could be seen as an support/endorsement/sponsorship of the project. Because LEGO don’t endorse political works, they said no. That’s their policy and it’s fair because we’ve seen it go pear-shaped in the past (as you’ve pointed out).

    That’s all – in fact there are a lot of large corporations allow/deny discounted or completely donated products to different charity organisations based on a strict set of criteria. LEGO’s approach is no different.

    Unfortunately for them, it comes at a time when they’re looking at opening a factory in China and the company that owns/runs LEGOLAND (Merlin Entertainment – not The LEGO Group) are looking at opening a new park in China – and “journalists” are really stretching to make a connection between all of these activities.

    • Jay says:

      I agree – so much taken out of context and The LEGO Group demonised for being consistent with their policies.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ben. It’s just one of those cases where LEGO are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. With LEGO being so popular now and it being a pretty slow news week, it’s just an easy topic for the media to pick on. Also like you mention, LEGO doesn’t even own Legoland – something that was conveniently not mentioned.

      For crying out loud, people seem to forget that LEGO are a toy company!

  6. Matt Merrill says:

    I think Lego is in their right to stick to their policy like they have. They could have wavered on this and taken it as an opportunity for some free publicity but they stuck to their guns and took the bad press instead. Honestly, I lose a little respect for the artist making a social media event of their decision, he comes off like a whiny child who didn’t get their way. Just my two gold studs on the matter…

    • Jay says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Matt – a lot of people within the LEGO community share similar views. It’s just blown out of proportion as usual and unrepresentative of the LEGO fan community.

    • I agree with Matt Merrill. Lego is apolitical. It CANNOT be gendered. It CANNOT be ideological. And it certainly cannot hand out bricks to Ai Weiwei. I wonder, of all the people across the globe, lamenting the decision taken by the Lego Group, what proportion are familiar with the artists work? I seriously doubt the majority can pronounce his name, let alone appreciate who he is. This gentleman is an artist, equal to Damien Hirst. And Lego would be daft to involve themselves in the work of Ai Weiwei. If your still confused by all the fuss, check this out
      On a personal note, I see this as an opportunity to be involved and contribute to the work of one of the greatest artist of our era. Its just a pity he wants Lego.
      I posed nude for Spencer Tunick in 2001, and I’d do it again tomorrow. But Ai Weiwei aint getting any of my Lego for his art! I won’t even share my leftover pieces with my children.

      • Jay says:

        Hi Clare

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That’s what I’m most peeved by – when Ai Weiwei said “As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego’s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.”

        He’s projecting this image of what he thinks LEGO should be, without taking into consideration whether LEGO sees or wants to see themselves as an “influential cultural and political actor”.

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