Is LEGO a cult?

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The write-up for Sunday's documentary The Secret World of LEGO in the Radio Times this week asks an interesting question: "is LEGO a cult?".

I certainly had not thought of it as one myself but then that could have been because I didn't really understand the full definition of the word. According to Oxford Dictionaries a cult is:

  • A system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object.
  • A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.
  • A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing.
  • A person or thing that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society.

Having read that, maybe it is. Paraphrasing the above, I think many of us are guilty of 'devotion directed towards a particular object' and maybe also 'excessive admiration for a particular thing' although perhaps not with the same level of zeal as the fans of a particular technology company.

Are we all worshippers of the Brick, whose mecca is in the centre of Denmark? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

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55 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

A few years ago, before my son was born and I came out of my dark ages, I indulged my nostalgia for GI Joe/Action Force figures and Transformers. I had a fairly large collection of these when I was a kid back in the late 80s, and so I suppose I wanted to reclaim some of my childhood. Anyway, during this time (the mid-noughties, not the 80s), I had opportunity to contribute a chapter to a book on the theology of childhood, and my chapter ended up being about why adults collect 'objects of childhood' (i.e. toys!). As I was writing the chapter, a number of religious/Christian parallels between collecting toys and practising (Christian) faith emerged for me. Here's a paragraph from my chapter:

"Transformers and Action Force each had an elaborate story behind the toys themselves that was explicated through comics and television cartoon series (though these were often produced for a North American market and so imported into the United Kingdom with appropriate editing). The Transformers were a race of mechanical beings from the planet Cybertron who had been embroiled in an age-old civil war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Action Force was the codename for an elite anti-terrorist organisation seeking to extinguish the threat of Cobra and its Hitleresque leader Cobra Commander. These comics and cartoons acted almost as a kind of liturgy, introducing complex and diverse narratives to establish characters that, until that point, had been nothing more than moulded, coloured plastic. Placed alongside ‘file cards’, the set texts that accompanied each toy to provide information about the character’s personality, motives and fears, the media enabled the devout child to respond reverently and commit so much more to the toys by recognising the life infused in them. As each newly acquired robot or soldier adopted its role in the play-ritual stimulated by the media-liturgy, the child was invited to enter into the stories themselves and so encouraged to re-enact them – or to devise new plots inspired by them – with the assortment of toys in possession. Playing with action figures required the ability to make sense of the liturgy and to interpret its sequence of events from one medium to another, which in so doing helped to develop the imagination; but this worthy activity could not happen without some degree of financial commitment."

(I won't bother putting the publication details down, but if anyone wants them I can post them.)

So I'd say that LEGO isn't really a cult - certainly not a cult as commonly conceived - but human behaviour is generally ritualistic and ordered, and I dare say manifested in diverse ways, including in LEGO-play.

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By in Germany,

All AFOLs must get to Billund at least once in his (or hers) lifetime

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By in Belgium,

Short answer: No.
Long answer: Noooooooooooooo. :D

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By in Germany,

impact of lego on our society is bigger than most people would expect.
when kids nowadays play with lego city themes overloaded with police forces we should start to pray that they don't build prison and police states in reality when they're grown ups.
now at 30 years old, i've discovered for myself that if an idea is changing the society too much so that most people would disagree with it, then these ideas are implemented on kids.
when these kids are grown up they'll build it as real-life stuff.
monorail = transrapid, v8 awd supercar = audi r8, ...

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By in United States,

@The Wrights

Well, I must say, that's very well written!

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By in United Kingdom,

Thank you, Dragon_Master_48.

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By in United Kingdom,

It's no more of a cult than One Direction (or any other pop group I can tell you nothing about).

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By in United States,

It's kinda vice versa. It's my toys who have a cult or religion. They all worship me...or rather...i control their lives, I choose who stays and goes, who they should be paired with, what their job classes and abilities are. That kind of stuff.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think any fandom can be viewed this way;
as a fan of Doctor Who the obsession side often comes out from people i meet at conventions

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By in United Kingdom,

No, it's not. Perhaps one could ask instead, "Are all modern journalists and documentary-makers such bone-idle sensationalists?"

I mean, it used to be that if you wanted to present a biased documentary you had to carefully edit and clip your soundbites to support your own warped view of the world. Now you just step-in and stage-manage everything you're recording instead, comfortable in the belief that you have the right to intrude on anyone's personal affairs if you dictate it to be 'in the public interest', and that everyone is pre-conditioned to comply for the simple reward of a chance to appear on TV.

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By in United States,

Dunno. Maybe LEGO could design a theme around this! ;)

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By in Germany,

Among my friends there are only a few AFOLs. But really everyone else knows Lego and in most cases had Lego in their childhood. I have lots of Lego in my living room, most of it Star Wars. And those friends with a SW addiction always say "wow Star Wars! Yeah Lego. I used to play as a kid. man.. it's just cult!" Something like that but always "it's cult" about Lego. Case closed.

q.e.d.
j.

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By in United Kingdom,

as Joefish says don't trust 'meedja' types to accurately portray anything.

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By in United Kingdom,

I'll say something more. It's a question of perspective

You diligently (I nearly said "religiously") go to a large area with thousands of others and shout at 22 men running after a ball - that's OK cos it's "mainstream"

You work obsessively twisting clay into shapes to portray something - that's OK cos you're an "artist"

But should you use the same materials as your child does to create something of interest to others that displays your talents in engineering and imagination - why you're a cultist.

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By in United States,

No, I am a Christian. Does it take up a little too much of my attention. Probably.

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By in United States,

It may take a good portion of my time and $$$ but no it is not a cult to me.

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By in United States,

This article really ad me chuckle .... lol literally.

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By in United States,

I would spend more time on it but I do not have the room. I can't build anything because there is no room to put LEGO anywhere. Is watching the LEGO movie an issue? Because I watch that over and over.

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By in United States,

A cult: No. An addiction: probably.

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By in Australia,

@The Wrights - A great perspective
I don't believe it's a cult. I have to agree with @Knuclear200x comment

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By in United Kingdom,

On the definitions given from the dictionary its hard to say that its not a cult. For me I'm happy either way as I don't see a cult as a bad thing (although others clearly would disagree). If the community was mainstream I wonder whether it would be as interesting and enjoyable as it is?

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By in United States,

Did this article really need to be written?

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By in United States,

Based on that definition, I'd would say that some FOLs are part of the LEGO fan base, others are part of a cult

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By in United States,

Before I got to the fourth one, I would have definitely said "no." I don't think there's anything "religious" about LEGO.
However, it does fit with description number 4... :P

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By in United States,

Nah, I just like LEGO for it's creativity and love to build. Im not religious about it and eat and sleep LEGO.

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By in United States,

Lego for me is a hobby and something to collect, nothing more. If someone wants to call it a cult so be it. I've never cared what people I don't know think about me.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think that the term 'cult' as most people would understand it (as as the article surely wants to infer) isn't correct, for that would require the leader (or organisation) to have a high degree of influence over their devotees lives. Lego do not issue commands, and the material from them that we do 'consume' is frequently distorted and warped by us followers to create something completely outside the control of the organisation - if anything it promotes self-expression, whereas cults revolve around conformity. Though there may be veneration of a thing or object, there is no particular belief system based on, or derived from, that object to provide a unifying framework.

And, unlike the basis for many belief systems, we all have physical evidence that Lego actually exists...

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By in United States,

Of course it's not a cult, and that's a typically insulting way to view groups that one's not a part of (usually by their own choosing). LEGO is no different than any other fandom: passionate. Heck, people still love Firefly, which aired for all of one season over a decade ago. Whether it's comics, cars, toys, gardening or what have you, being passionate about something you truly enjoy is all too often viewed as weird and foreign by our eager-to-fit-in culture.

I guess you could flit through life maintaining your front of hip, ironic detachment, never belonging to anything that makes you seem sincere or vulnerable. But that's a sad way to go through life. I'd be willing to bet that whomever came up with this sensationalist "cult" idea has their own passion, but one they view as more acceptable and "cool" than LEGO.

Having said that, I do wish this site were a bit more objective in its presentation. For example, clone brand names aren't used in articles, and it was mentioned last week that negative reviews aren't often posted. To me, that gets a little too much into slavish devotion to the product even when a more balanced or critical discussion is merited. Just my lone thought, anyway.

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By in United Kingdom,

"Worship the Brick" - love it!
Surely this be a two by four, but what colour?
This is where schisms creep in and before we know it wars will break out between the Plate-lovers, the Brickers and the Single-Stud-Cheese-Slicers.

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By in United States,

Lego is a hobby, not a cult. I'm into Lego, but unlike groups like Jehovah's Witnesses, I do not refuse to salute the flag or refuse blood transfusions.

The author of that article is a complete and utter idiot.

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By in United States,

I think writers of these program descriptions will write anything to draw more viewers. I'm surprised they didn't add that Lego is the cause of the majority of divorces and/or recent natural disasters.

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By in United States,

How dare you question the brick! I must now purge my mind of all negative thoughts about this most venerable of hobbies that this article may have produced.

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By in United States,

Based on the dictionary definition, LEGO is definitely NOT a cult.

LEGO is now the largest toy manufacturer in the world, so it's not a "relatively small group of people" who are fans of LEGO. Even more so when you consider that other leading toy brands like Hasbro and Mattel have product portfolios ranging from toy cars to action figures, while the LEGO Group primarily makes building toys.

It's also hard to argue that admiration for LEGO is misplaced. The company and its product have been around for as long as they have as a result of high quality and innovation. LEGO bricks are made to an exceptionally high standard of low tolerance.

Finally, the last bullet point (thing that is popular among a particular group) could be applied to just about any hobby or activity, from playing golf to collecting shoes.

Does LEGO have a cult-like following? Absolutely. Is it a cult? To say it is would be ignorant.

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By in United States,

Lego is not a cult. Cult-like following, yes. Why? Great design, able to make the world as you see fit and it fits as your plan. Lego will never be Jonestown making people drink the Kool-Aid. Haha.

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By in United States,

I agree with @myscrnnm. Lego is definitely NOT a cult. Maybe a ton of OVER THE TOP followers, but most definitely NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT a cult!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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By in Canada,

I don't think Lego is a cult. More like a very addictive drug.

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By in United Kingdom,

All hail the mighty plastic brick!

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By in United States,

I think most of us are LEGO enthusiasts/hobbyists. Just because a person is 'into' a particular topic or business, etc., does not mean that they are cultists. People who enjoy their jobs are not cultists, either. The definition given in the article is pretty poor. Cultists have a blind devotion to a person or object, regardless of lack of truth or abuse to one's person. Addiction is like cultism in some psychological respects.
Most of us here will say if we think a set is rubbish. Most of us get upset at TLG if they gouge us on the prices (Dimensions is just about there...). Most of us wouldn't let our houses go into foreclosure because we bought LEGO sets rather than pay our mortgage (I hope, anyway). But cultists can be like that as they go further and further down the rabbit hole, so to speak.

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By in United States,

Absolutely not.

I've had extensive dealings with a certain cult here in America and I've done a lot of research not only on Christian-based cults, but others as well.

For what most people think of as a 'cult,' you simply can't pick one of the descriptions above and ignore the others. They all go together, or you don't even have anything remotely like a cult. The most critical is "having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members," and the most critical part of that is the "imposing excessive control over members."

I would add that a cult needs a strict, authoritarian hierarchy with a clear-cut power structure, usually with a single powerful individual at the top (either out in the open, or behind the scenes). The other major aspect of a cult missing from the Oxford definition is the way cults emphasize the in-group at the expense of everyone else, including family.

Cults win members not by helping people become better, but by isolating them from everyone else, breaking down their mental barriers, and rebuilding them in the image of the cult.

The LEGO hobby is nothing like that, therefore nothing even remotely like a cult.

Now that doesn't mean that cult-like groupings can't spring up within the hobby. But I haven't seen that kind of devotion to anything or anyone anywhere in the hobby. And there are aspects of the hobby that look like serious addiction problems for some people. But those are completely different from what happens to someone sucked into a cult.

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By in United Kingdom,

Thank you everyone for your insights!

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By in United States,

I prefer the term 'hobby' too...

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By in United States,

I'd say the first one's about right ;)

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By in France,

To be fair, there seem to be cults about everything nowadays. And when it comes to the workers' evangelical zeal, that seems to be the case for many companies, they don't just want workers, they want assimilation, I find this quite scary.

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By in United States,

I sure don't worship Lego!! I like it, but If people are worshiping them I would be supper sad and angry and confused. :( :( :( :( :(

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By in Denmark,

Anything can get an unhealthy possition in our lives and become a "god" to us. I tend to think that very few worships nothing at all. Its in the human nature to idolise something. An a hobby can turn "religious" for some.

But if one categorizes "Lego" as a cult - I think "soccer" is an even bigger cult.

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By in Italy,

If you look at a slightly different casual use of the word cult it probably makes sense to use it with regards to Lego. For example, you'd say that some films have a 'cult following' which generally means they are unusual enough to only be seen or loved by a minority, not the majority. I've heard the same phrase used for hobbies, games and technology albeit with a slightly edited meaning on a situational basis. It therefore wouldn't be a huge stretch to say "Lego has a 'cult following' of adults since the majority of all adults are not Lego hobbyists". I think some people would use it as a throwaway term for something that wasn't mainstream.

As soon as you drop religious beliefs in the mix though, that's when Lego is definitely not a cult as a good number of people are saying. In that case it's just sensationalism.

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By in France,

when I look at the comments on the brickshow, there are people who seem to go ballistic when Jason or Stephen simply mispronounce some of the names. That's kind of worrying sometimes.

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By in United States,

Lego is a hobby, not a cult.

This article makes me sick.

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By in Spain,

ALL HAIL THE STUD!!!!

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By in United States,

One day soon, blockey black helicopters will rain down streams of primary colored blocks on the Whitehouse...

Illuminatie conformed!

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By in Denmark,

Well... I went to Mecca (Billund) for our family holiday this year (this past week actually).

Were it not for Lego I'm pretty sure we would have gone somewhere/anywhere else :)

Anybody needs a Lego House set? :)

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By in United States,

LEGO is a much a cult as Apple is.
That is to say: not at all.
They may have cult-ish followers, but... no.

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By in France,

Most powerful brand? I would have guessed some food or computer brand. I wouldn't even expect a toy brand to be in the top 10.

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