WHEN the plastic construction toy maker LEGO announced its new product last month, it received a mixed response.
Everyone Is Awesome [pictured] is a set of figures presented against a background, coloured in the stripes of the Progress Flag, a 2018 update of the well-known rainbow flag adopted by LGBTQIA+ communities around the world since it was created in 1978.
Some in the LGBTQIA+ community feel this kind of product is unhelpful. For example, one response I read said:
“Oh wonderful, another product with a rainbow on to prove how inclusive these big multinationals are.”
“It’s a moot point whether tokenism advances issues of social justice – but it may be a sign that attitudes are changing? In that we might find some reason to give thanks.”
There is no doubt that some companies merely produce Pride-themed products to make money, in the same way that they might for Christmas or any other celebration, without engaging with the deeper meaning of the event. Some appear to show no active support for LGBTQIA+ people or causes despite displaying a rainbow logo. A minority have been found to continue supporting anti-LGBT causes, while some actively contribute profits to LGBTQIA+ causes or use their influence to raise awareness and challenge prejudice.
I believe Everyone Is Awesome is in that last category. It’s not clear whether LEGO donates any profits to LGBTQIA+ causes, though they do work with LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall and other organisations to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The product was also designed by a gay man, who has written about his inspiration and intention:
“I think by taking small steps and having products like ‘Everyone is Awesome’ out there and people representing the LGBTQIA+ community, it allows everybody to see that things do get better over time and there is a place for everybody. That’s what’s been so important to me in getting this set out with a message that we can be really proud of.”Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group
The model takes its name from the song Everything Is Awesome from the 2014 computer-animated adventure comedy The Lego Movie. Changing ‘everything’ to ‘everyone’, the creator explains, is a statement of the intention to be part of creating a more inclusive society for everyone:
“We do truly feel that everyone is awesome. We all have the right to be accepted, to be loved and also to be creative.”Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group
I was a huge LEGO fan as a kid, and I loved designing my own models. I even got teased as an 11-year-old for still playing with it. So it’s amuses me now to know many Adult Fans of Lego (AFoL) – they even have their own Facebook group! So I was interested to note that the product’s box recommends that it is rated as for age 18+. Usually LEGO sets are rated according to complexity, but with only 346 pieces. Everyone Is Awesome is pretty simple. A LEGO spokesperson told Gayming magazine:
“This set is intended to be a display model rather than a playset and was designed with our adult fans in mind.”
It’s open to the interpretation that it’s unsuitable for younger people because it celebrates Pride, which is unfortunate, as the creator also said:
“If I had been given this set by somebody [when I came out], it would have been such a relief to know that somebody had my back. To know that I had somebody there to say ‘I love you, I believe in you. I’ll always be here for you.”Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group
I pre-ordered the set, and it arrived within a few days of being released on 1st June. I took it with me when I led a Pride Month themed service at Open Table Reading, and incorporated it into my reflection as a visual aid [see photo]. It reminded me of one of my favourite Bible texts, Psalm 139, which includes a verse that is often translated as:
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”Psalm 139, verse 14a
While I love the overall message of the psalm, I struggle with this translation, because many of us, particularly in the LGBTQIA+ community, have spent long enough living in fear because of prejudice against our identities. I don’t believe we need to hold on to a theology that expects us to be fearful of God, or of our own selves. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I’m reliably informed that the Hebrew word yârê, often translated as ‘fear’, has been translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as ‘reverence’, ‘respect’ and even ‘awe’. How different does it sound to say: ‘I am reverently, respectfully, awesomely made!’ That speaks to me of a theology that is more affirming and life-giving for everyone, but especially those who, like LGBTQIA+ people, are often told they are ‘less than God’s best’. It also evokes the modern sense of ‘awesome’ – not just ‘inspiring awe and wonder’, but also ‘impressive’ and ‘excellent’.