A few weeks ago I got the chance to meet Jumpei Mitsui, one of only a small number of Lego Certified Professionals. Jumpei has an impressive ensemble of sculptures, competition victories and public image under his belt. He promotes a culture of acceptance for Lego as an artistic medium and an educational tool.
Meeting Jumpei got me thinking, what was the Lego culture I grew up in? I certainly remember Lego being much harder to get in general (as were most things before on-line shopping). For me, an all-Lego day was a great day. I grew up in Morecambe (quite a rough town in Lancashire, England). Needless to say I didn’t get out much and couldn’t have friends around after school or on weekends, or well, ever. Lego provided my escape. I could watch a programme and then spend days or weeks recreating a ship or a base out of Lego, then endlessly remodelling, improving, expanding the universe I created and adding my own spice. I had Martian tripods, a Daedalus, the Enterprise A, E, Voyager, my own designed ships. At one point every base had to have a Stargate and to be compatible with my puddle-jumper cars. Landing pad didn’t have room? Not a problem. I simply made the gate lift from it’s mooring, then tilt to horizontal, allowing vertical access (think Ashen harvester). To paraphrase The Doctor (Doctor Who), all of time and space, everything that ever was or ever will be. One condition, it has to be made of Lego!
In primary school I got my first and only childhood taste of other people finding my Lego cool. I constructed a marble maze for the school fare, where people who tipped the marble through it to the other side got a prize. The game was a success and my friends and their families thought it cool that the maze was made of Lego. However, I was the only one of my friends who was a true CFOL (Child Fan Of Lego).
After a school day, Lego was my life. But after I hit my teens, the culture of that life was not one of acceptance. To everyone around me Lego was seen as a children’s toy; something for me to be growing out of. My parents (individually both protagonists and antagonists) encouraged what Lego did for my spatial reasoning but also had more and more reservations as I got older. They even used me liking Lego to advocate that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Eventually they decided it was time for me to get rid of it all. They were then decidedly upset when my girlfriend (now wife) helped me to pull it all apart. Such bittersweet inconsistency.
Parents aside, Lego was always my secret. My immediate family knew I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a topic for my friends and fan clubs were unheard of. In short the Lego culture, for me, was a lonely one and certainly not a career prospect.
Wind the clock forward a few years and my Lego collection is rapidly rebuilding, assembling if you will. I miss all the cool elements you used to get in the Spyrius, MTron, Exploriens etc. and have even taken to buying an old MTron set off eBay as treat. Thankfully my wife is extremely supportive of me doing anything I love, especially Lego. I now get to meet people who have a true passion for it, see impressive public displays that were professionally commissioned and (somewhat oddly to me) work with a ‘building material’ that is coveted my the masses. This is a far cry from a niche, closet hobby of my childhood.
What was the Lego culture that you grew up in like for you? Was Lego encouraged for you or shunned? Did you have other toys, artistic mediums or hobbies that felt more or less accepted? Please let us know in the comments below.