The dissident artist Ai Weiwei has finally found a target, other than the Chinese government, worthy of his scorn. It is that notorious corporate source of evil â€¦ Lego.
Yes. The artist who criticises Chinaâ€™s suppression of free speech and who has campaigned for important causes such as justice for the victims of the 2008 Sichuan province earthquake, has turned his ire on the Danish toymaker.
After Lego refused to sell him bricks in bulk for a new artwork, on the grounds that it cannot endorse â€œthe use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agendaâ€, Ai has protested and has been flooded with offers of used Lego bricks from all over the world to help him fight the power of Lord Business and his evil empire.
Well, he canâ€™t have my Lego. And we have a lot of it in our house, from my old 1970s bricks to a new bag bought at Legoland a fortnight ago.
This gutsy and noble man risks looking silly by claiming to be â€œcensoredâ€ by Lego. He is playing a game, pandering to people in the west who love the idea that corporate behaviour in the democratic world is as bad as the actions of the Chinese state. He, of all people, has to know that is untrue.
Hereâ€™s what Ai said: â€œLego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalised economy with questionable values. Legoâ€™s refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination.â€
I am shocked that someone who has experienced what it is to be oppressed by an authoritarian regime, who was held for 81 days without charge and who has documented real, murderous abuses caused by his countryâ€™s lack of democracy, would be so glib as to confuse a clumsy PR move with actual â€œcensorshipâ€.
Lego is not stopping â€“ and cannot stop â€“ Ai from creating art out of its bricks. It knows that and so does he. It has simply refused a request for a direct bulk order. No one has been silenced. Lego has not imprisoned him or banned his art.
Ai quotes the hilarious Lego Movie, but has he watched all of it? The Lego Movie starts out as a satire on the power of modern corporations. It seems to speak directly to todayâ€™s mood of protest and anti-capitalism. Lord Business controls everything, including â€œall history booksâ€ and â€œvoting machinesâ€. A band of heroic Master Builders must fight this all-embracing corporate power.
But it turns out to be all about toys. The whole thing is a little boyâ€™s fantasy, and the real story is about his relationship with his father.
Lego is a toy, not an evil empire, and Ai is regurgitating trendy banalities in attacking it. How does this toy company promote â€œquestionable valuesâ€, as he claims?
The values Lego pushes are creativity, education and the freedom of play. It is not a global conspiracy, just a great toy. I played with it as a child and still do as a parent. The range of stuff Lego makes is truly â€œawesomeâ€.
Surely Ai Weiwei can see the difference between the best toy on the planet and a force for oppression?