“Lego for Girls”

For the past two weeks there has been an uproar over Lego’s new line, Lego Friends. The line is targeted towards girls and includes characters that are vetranarians and horse groomers. The sets come in pastel colors and doll-like figures as opposed to the iconic minifigure standard with Lego sets. New to this will be books about the characters, a la American Girl dolls.

The uproar is caused by the fact that Lego is creating a line that is specifically for girls rather than saying their current sets are for all sexes and genders.

This isn’t the first time Lego has created a set geared towards girls.

I am old enough—or young enough, depending on your view—to remember when Lego launched the Belville and Scala sets, which also featured doll-like characters similar to what will be in the Lego Friends theme. Bloomberg Businessweek even put together a graphic explaining that this isn’t new for Lego. As someone who grew up playing with Legos, I never understood the appeal of the larger bricks and wasn’t surprised when the lines wound up in the Lego theme graveyard. You can still buy the Lego Beliville line from Lego’s website, but it’s a “Hard to Find” item.

However, I enjoyed playing with the large buckets of bricks that gave only suggestions for what to create. With that you could create your own stories and worlds while still following the laws of physics and engineering. My sister and I grew up with Legos, although she also played with Barbies while I found them to be boring. (I liked building, but hated cleaning up.) While once visiting the flagship Toys R Us store in Times Square I was shocked to find Lego dominated by sets that tied in with films and TV shows. What happened to originality and creating your own story on Mars or in the Earth’s crust? Lego has returned to this with their City, Pharaoh and Ninjago lines, which feels like a return to my childhood.

Although there are some who might say that this is a nice change for Lego from violent lines. Violence or crime themes in Lego sets is not new and I remember the first set I got was a knights set where the hero wore a helmet that looked like a bat head. The figures carried swords and a terrifying looking witch came with numerous sets. There were pirate sets, themes set in the Wild West, one that involved exploring Egypt.

The thing to remember is that Lego has come a long way from what it started off as with wooden blocks for creating. In a way, this is business as usual, but refined and with hours of market research poured into the development of themes. In a way, most of what Lego does now isn’t that different from when my generation was young, but our attitudes have changed.

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Observations from 12 Years of Iowa Life

If you aren’t friends with people from Iowa, you may have missed Stephen Bloom’s Atlantic piece on Iowa and the fury it is inciting. The issue is mostly that Bloom, who is a teacher at University of Iowa that is currently teaching in Michigan, has portrayed Iowa as how everyone outside of Iowa thinks of Iowa. It seems as though Bloom decided to write the piece, “Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life,” to try to explain why such a podunk little state would have such importance in the presidential election.

The problem is that rather than painting a portrait saying “Yes, Iowa has some issues, but it’s not a backwards hick state like everyone thinks it is,” Bloom has mostly created broad stereotypes or reinforced those stereotypes.

Now, as someone who spent 12 years living in Iowa, I will dissect Bloom’s piece.

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What is “Chicago-style” Theater?

I realize it might be my ignorance because I stopped seeing four plays a week more than a year-and-a-half ago, but I have no clue what the term “Chicago-style” theater means. I know what Chicago-style pizza and Chicago-style hotdogs are, but “Chicago-style” theater is beyond my comprehension.

The term started appearing in press releases I received a few months ago and I recently noticed it in some reviews. So after a question asked by Denise Schneider, publicity director of the Goodman, I thought I’d try to explore this phrase.

I do see a lot of theater compared to the average person, even though I went a few months without seeing a play this year. While I’m also now seeing theater in Milwaukee and have spent most of my life seeing theater in Iowa, I still see a lot of theater in Chicago compared to the average person. I have seen Broadway musicals getting their out-of-town tryout, plays performed in spaces smaller than my apartment, plays and musicals at the largest theaters in the city, shows at well established and fairly new off-Loop theaters. Maybe this is why I’m confused by the term, not to mention that my mind immediately thinks of food.

Does Chicago-style refer to a certain aesthetic seen in Chicago theater? This doesn’t make sense to me since aesthetic can change depending on what the play is and where it’s being performed, mostly due to space. Does it mean a play with a Chicago director and a cast made up entirely of Chicago actors? It would be nice if all theaters could use local actors, but that doesn’t happen in Chicago. Furthermore, it wouldn’t make sense since the phrase was used in a review of Chicago Shakespeare’s Follies, which did not use an all-Chicago cast. Since “Chicago-style” has been applied to large Equity productions, it couldn’t be a synonym for “small” or “storefront.” The best I can come up with on my own is ensemble-driven or based theater, but then that doesn’t make sense since some of the press releases I’ve seen have not been for theater companies with ensembles.

The closest thing I’ve gotten to a close idea of what a Chicago-style production is came from a tweet Schneider sent me last night after I was kvetching over the use of the term. She tweeted “Couldn’t Mamet be a singular exception?” This in many ways makes sense to me since Mamet has a distinct way of writing and directing style, not to mention I think he’s associated with Chicago theater, but I could be wrong about this.

Does anyone have any suggestions for what Chicago-style theater means? Or is this a term as confusing to others as it is to me?

Content and Paywalls

The big Chicago media news today is that the Sun-Times will now be using a “metered method” for views of their articles. Readers will get 20 free views before they will require a digital subscription, similar to what The New York Times does.

Here’s a potential problem: I dont’t have a reason to go frequently go to the Sun-Times website. The Sun-Times rarely gives me a reason to go to their website and when they do, it’s usually because of something Lynn Sweet, Mary Mitchell or Michael Nagrant wrote.

This is potentially a problem since I’m constantly consuming the media. It could be thought that a problem is the site design, which isn’t that great.

But the website for the Journal Sentinel isn’t stunning either. In fact, the layout is somewhat similar to the Sun-Times.

For the time being, the Tribune does not have a paywall or “metered method” and people could always flock to that for news after they reach those 20 views.

But the thing the Journal Sentinel, which I will mention for a point of comparison since it’s also a local paper that won a Pulitzer this year, has as well as the Tribune are things that enhance the articles, such as videos, applications and interactive graphics. Both the Journal Sentinel and the Tribune have released these in conjunction with investigations and special reports, which makes some stories even more interesting. I have never seen the Sun-Times do this. The Sun-Times never gives a unique visitor experience, which could potentially be a problem with the paywall.

The Sun-Times still does great work and write articles no one else is writing, which could be their benefit. But if they really want to make the paywall work, they need to possibly give their site a redesign or at least provide more content to make readers want to pay for it for other than the occasional column.

“You Go Alone to Have the Evening of Your Life”

La Cage Aux Folles, is coming to Chicago at the end of the month for a run from Dec. 20—Jan. 1. I will miss it since I will be in Milwaukee for a much-needed vacation, even though it is one of my favorite musicals.

So how is it that a far-from-perfect musical is one of my favorites? To be fair, very few musicals are perfect and yet some of my favorites have flaws*. So why does La Cage manage to be beloved by many, including myself?

The show has a wonderful score by Jerry Herman. There’s the simultaneously peppy and sad “A Little More Mascara” about Albin’s transformation into Zaza, the beautiful “Song On the Sand,” the amusing “Masculinity,” the rousing numbers “I Am What I Am” and “The Best of Times,” and the thoroughly delightful “La Cage Aux Folles.”

But the interesting aspect about La Cage Aux Folles is that it was written in the 1980s and portrays a homosexual relationship as normal, particularly one where a child is raised. While it still has a standard stereotypical gay relationship—Georges is masculine while Albin is a screaming queen—the main characters are really no different from a heterosexual relationship.

The reason why La Cage Aux Folles always seems to survive is because it is in many ways a tradition musical with classic sounding numbers. Is it the greatest musical ever? No, especially since the son seem despicable with his treatment of Albin, but it’s ultimately a fun musical with a great score. This is a world where the titular place is where people meet their boyfriend, mistress and wife, where a duchess can get pregnant at a bar and one can sip their Dubonnet in the nude. It is a place many of us couldn’t imagine. The score and a decent production is fun and provides an escape for the evening.

Assuming the tour is as delightful as the Original Cast Recording always proves to be, then seeing the tour when it comes to Chicago might be a good idea. It runs from Dec. 20-Jan. 1 at the Bank of America Theatre and is sadly not coming to Milwaukee anytime soon.

*Seriously, William Finn, the lyric “People might think I’m very dykish” is simultaneously the most awesome and awkward lyric ever.