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The Death of Imagination

By Shlomo Maital

   Tuesday’s New York Times has an article, “How to make a movie out of anything”, by Alex French. In it he describes how Hollywood producers are desperately searching for IP, slang for intellectual property, as the basis for movie scripts. Translation: Find something people recognize easily, and build a plot around it.

   Examples: the Lego movie; the recent Emoji movie; the Angry Birds movie; and soon, yes, the Fruit Ninja movie.

     So what’s wrong with that?

     I grew up in the 40s and 50s, in the era of radio. I listened to Boston Blackie and the Cisco Kid. I heard horses hooves, a pistol firing…and I had to imagine the horse, the revolver… everything.

       Today? In the era of TV, MTV and virtual reality and smartphones – all the images are there, given to us…no need to imagine. A Lego movie? Lego is building blocks. How can you make a blockbuster Lego movie? Turns out that you can – if you start with something people are familiar with, they do not need to use their imaginations.   But if you start with a conventional movie plot, a story, however strong, people need to imagine – and it looks like our young people no longer can. We need to have the images stored in our brains already, because…we’ve lost the ability to create them ourselves.  

   This sounds like a cranky old curmudgeon yearning for the good old days. Perhaps.   But if this new Hollywood trend portends the death of imagination – then we’re in real trouble. Worse yet, nobody seems to care much.

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 Lego Rules, or, Break the Rules!

By Shlomo Maital          

       Minecraft

In 2005 Lego (the Danish company that makes plastic bricks) surprised the world with its hit video game Lego Star Wars.  Since then, there have been 15 released, published by Warner Bros.  The latest is The Lego Movie Videogame, based on the hit 3D  The Lego Movie, #1 in North America!  In the Lego video games, everything is made from Lego pieces. 

   But there is a catch.  According to Stephen Totilo, writing in the Global New York Times (Feb. 13),  “those pieces can be built into only one thing, whatever the game designer intended them to form.”

   This is extreme irony.  The whole beauty of Lego blocks, of which I am a lifetime fan, having played with them with our four children and today, with our dozen grandchildren, is that you can imagine, dream and make anything out of them.  Why in the world did Lego dump this crucial aspect?  It reminds me of the cartoon I pasted above my desk:  “Teacher: ‘I insist that you kids all be creative and imaginative – and do exactly as I tell you.’ “.  

    There is an alternative.  The Swedish 2011 virtual building-block game Minecraft lets you build absolutely anything you wish, anything you can dream. And it’s a huge success. 

   Lego vs. Minecraft.   This, in miniature, is the dilemma of our schools.  Teach kids the right way, the only way… or teach them to find their own way, other ways, imaginative ways. 

   We need Minecraft schools.  But how in the world do you create them, when our educators seem unable even to imagine them.   It seems the Lego bricks we use to build schools lack a few key pieces — the ones labelled “think different” and “let your imagination soar”.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
October 2017
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