from the blockheads dept
Late last year, we relayed the story of Ai Weiwei, an artist who had previously used Legos to create political art in the form of portraits, being refused a bulk order of Lego blocks by the company. At issue was a long-standing company policy prohibiting its facilitation of blocks being used for political speech. As a result of Weiwei going public about the refusal, the story was Streisanded into the public consciousness, resulting in condemnation and shaming from more of the masses than would have ever been aware of the project otherwise.
And, in a classic example of how the Streisand Effect often culminates, Lego is now reversing course -- not only regarding Weiwei's project, but it's nixing the entire policy.
On Tuesday, Lego announced that it would no longer ask what the "thematic purpose" of a project is. Instead, customers who intend to display their creations in public will be asked to make clear that Lego does not support or endorse them.It would have been too much to hope for to expect Lego to come out and flat out admit the policy it had previously adopted was simply wrong on a moral level. Still, this is a lesson in the power of public shaming, particularly in an era where the internet has fostered wider connections than had been possible previously. Would Lego have revised its policy if Weiwei's story had not gone viral? I think we know the answer to that question, given that this isn't the first time the question over Legos being used in political artwork has come up, but is the first time the policy has been revised.
Asked whether it was in response to Ai's case, the toy-maker said it had been asked whether it supports human rights and freedom of expression. In an email, spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek wrote: "We always have and continue to do — this is at the heart of what Lego play is all about. ... We hope the new guidelines will make it more clear what we stand for."
Oddly, after Lego had initially refused Weiwei's order, he turned to a Chinese competitor instead. This was done as many speculated that Lego had taken its actions in order to appease the Chinese government, as Weiwei is a Chinese dissident.
The Melbourne exhibition, which opened in December, was to feature 20 portraits of Australian pro-freedom figures made from Lego bricks. Instead, it used similar bricks from a Chinese company, Ai said.And now the Streisand Effect has multiplied to include the greater exposure of a Lego competitor. Perhaps that's the reason for the policy change.
"I couldn't tell much difference and the price is much, much lower," he added.