A scientific study released earlier this month indicates that the faces of Lego action figures have gotten angrier over the last 30 years. Amy Graff of The Mommy Files noted in a recent post on SFGate that Christoph Bartneck, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the study’s lead author, wrote, ”We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play.” Graff added, “This afternoon I decided to sort through my son’s Legos and take a look at the figurine faces. In his neatly arranged tackle box, I found 50 faces. Three of them were happy; the rest looked at me scornfully.” 47 out of 50 angry faces! That’s quite a disturbing ratio of malcontent.
Graff says the Legos her son plays with at his grandparents’ house “are the plastic blocks my brother and I snapped together as kids in the 70s,” which her son says “don’t have a lot of fighting so the people are happier” than in the Lego sets sold to boys today. Graff writes, “The sets my brother and I played with were gender-neutral and meant to build houses, hotels, fire stations, shops, cafés.” Legos marketed to boys today feature lots of battle themes, as does the Cartoon Network Lego series, Ninjago, which is filled with scary and angry Lego faces. My daughter watched it once with a friend – a boy – and I couldn’t believe how much fighting was shown on screen. Meanwhile, Lego’s marketing to girls has gotten much softer and more pink. None of the Lego Friends have angry faces. I should also tell you that when I went to Target recently to buy my daughter a plain set of multi-colored gender-neutral Lego bricks, they didn’t have any. My only choices were battle-driven sets and a pastel-colored set that came with instructions about how to build a house, so I went with the house.
After reading the results of the study and reflecting on Graff’s take on it combined with my own experience with children’s toys, I decided to comb through the web to determine if toys looked angrier across brands and gender marketing lines than they have in the past. What I discovered was that though there are still plenty of happy toys out there, like anything Disney- or Pixar-branded (Toy Story and Cars figurines, Disney Princesses), there are also lots of intense, angry looking toys – and not just weapons-related stuff marketed to boys. Take a look:
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