from the paging-dr.-streisand dept
LEGOs. Yes, the basic building block of our youthful imagination also holds a rather ugly over-protective side, in which it uses whatever tool happens to be nearest by to smash up any use of its products that it doesn't fully endorse. Which, when you think about it, is really weird for a company that makes products that are essentially all about imaginative uses. Children building their own colorful castle? Awesome! But an adult using LEGOs to create political art? Oh, no, no, no.
Yes, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has, in the past, used LEGOs to create portraits that have been featured in national art galleries but was recently refused an order his studio placed for a large amount of LEGO blocks, with the company reportedly stating that its building blocks can't be used for political speech.
In an Instagram post on Friday evening, the artist said Lego had refused the bulk order in September, quoting the company as saying it “cannot approve the use of Legos for political works”. The artist’s accusation follows news this week that British firm Merlin Entertainments will open a Legoland park in Shanghai in conjunction with a Chinese partner. That announcement, timed to coincide with Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK, seems to have prompted the artist’s Instagram post.Now, while it's tempting to write this off as a company bending over backwards to commit a small amount of censorship in favor of a larger business opportunity, it's worth noting that LEGO has done this sort of thing before. Maia Weinstock had put in a request for LEGO to make blocks specifically designed to allow for works that would celebrate female Supreme Court justices, which the company refused to fulfill. And, hey, if LEGO wants to refuse orders to specific people, it certainly can. But it can't actually control how its blocks are used for the purposes of expression. Not in any nation with competent free speech rights, that is. Were Weiwei to try to crowdsource the blocks he needs, for instance, LEGO has little hope of silencing whatever he comes up with.
Which is what makes all of this so silly, because now a well-known political artist's endeavor has been Streisanded into the news and the public consciousness. An art project that might have once garnered much more limited attention instead is being featured in national news stories. Whatever hope LEGO had of minimizing the political impact of Weiwei's art has been dashed by its own actions. So...way to go?