Monday, 5 January 2015

Terms & Conditions. But mostly Terms.

It’s been a while!  Nine months since my last post!  To summarise - stuff happened and blog posting fell of the end of the list.  Hopefully normal service will now be resumed.
New year, new start and all that!
The End.

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When I got into Lego a couple of years back and started picking up the lingo, AFOL, or Adult Fan Of Lego, was just one of many terms that went with the hobby, and I didn’t pay much attention to it.  However, over the past couple of years it’s started to bother me.

Occasionally on TV, and certainly around Christmas time, you often get documentaries about toys, hobbies and the like.  James May has cornered the market in presenting these sort of things.  Now and again you get someone like Jonathan Ross, and failing that, it’ll be a ‘Top 50 something-or-others’ type programme, with a voiceover by one of the rentapresenters who turn up on these things.  

Anyway.  One of the ‘toys’ that is often featured, is the train set.  I suspect that if you surveyed a selection of random people on the street, most of them would describe a train set as a children’s toy.  

Which it is.  

But as often as not, the programme will feature a number of chaps (they’re always chaps, and Pete Waterman (1) seems to be the go-to guy when model railways are involved) who have elaborate train sets.
And everyone involved is fascinated.  They want to know how much it cost, how big the layout is, how long it took to build and so on.  The presenter marvels at the work that’s gone into it, and there’s a lot of admiration and ‘I’d have one of these if only I had the space and money’ sort of stuff.

The thing that never comes up is : ‘Why are you, a grown man, playing with a child’s toy?’

It applies to other things too.  If some bloke has a cupboard full of mint condition Airfix kits from the last few decades, it’s ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed at, and generally considered something to be aspired to.

But Lego?

You don’t have to look far, either at the off-the-shelf sets, or the Lego building community, to see that there are some staggeringly complex, detailed (2) models built using Lego, but still this… stigma... seems to exist, and the question, sometimes vocalised, sometimes just implied is, ‘Why are you, as an adult, still playing with a toy?’

Enthusiasts of Model trains are referred to, often as not, as Model train enthusiasts.  Now if you read ‘James is a Model train enthusiast.’, how old would you imagine him to be?  Fact is, you have no idea.  But if you read ‘James is an Adult Fan Of Lego.’, it’s immediately pointing out the fact that he’s, well, an adult.  I.e. ‘He’s playing with Lego, but we feel the need to point out that he’s not a child.  Because Lego is for children.  And he’s an adult.’

And ‘Fan’.  To me, the word ‘fan’ suggests a distance; a remoteness.  A fan admires something from afar.  A fan looks at something someone else is doing.  Sports fans aren’t on the team - they sit and watch the team.  A Lego fan doesn’t sound like someone who’s actively involved in the hobby, but just… hangs around.  

Quite frankly, the term ‘Adult Fan Of Lego’ has a creepy sort of connotation that I don’t much care for.

I wasn’t sure where it originated - whether it was a designation that Lego themselves started using to label a demographic that represents a small but significant proportion of their sales, or whether it was the ‘adults’ in question who labelled themselves.  Interestingly, I’ve seen some people suggest that the term ‘AFOL’ is used because of the stigma (imagined or otherwise) of playing with a child’s toy, and they wish to identify themselves as adults.   That seems a bit odd to me.

I did a bit of asking around, and the good folks of Brickset came up trumps.  Apparently the term was first used in an online conversation back in 1995 (3), when Jeff Thompson used the phrase ‘adult fan of Lego’.  The following day, Matthew J. Verdier pointed out that it sounded like an acronym - AFOL.  (4)

But whether I dislike it or not, I suspect it’s ingrained within the Lego community, and it’s not going to be changed.   When I was asking about this on Brickset, Dedgecko said to me, ‘Well could you come up with something better?’, and no I don’t think I could, simply because I wouldn’t want an alternative, I just don’t want a label at all.

But people love labels, hence there being AFOLs, TFOL’s, KFOL’s and AFFOL’s (5), plus I suspect, many more.

Still.  If that’s the only gripe I’ve been able to come up with after having been involved with the hobby for a little over two years, that’s pretty good.

Moan over.  Unfortunately over the past nine months I haven’t done a great deal of building (6), but I did manage a few small sets over the summer, plus one rather larger one over Christmas.

All of which came from a galaxy far, far away.

Reviews coming shortly. 

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(1) Record Producer.  Responsible, along with his collaborators Matt Aitken and Mike Stock, for much of the pop output of the 1980’s.

(2) And costly.  Large scale Lego building is an expensive hobby.

(3) Much more recent than I expected.  For some reason I’d assumed it dated back to the 1980’s.

(4) Many thanks to Brickdancer and bluemoose from the Brickset forum, who tracked down this original conversation.

(5) Being ‘Adult’, Teenage’, ‘Kid’, and ‘Adult Female’ Fans Of Lego respectively.

(6) Managed to keep the buying ticking over though.