Stage 1: Basic Bricks Represent Reality
Many early LEGO sets appear quaint now. Through the early 1980s, most of the pieces consisted of basic plates and bricks in a limited selection of colors, and the builds were often correspondingly basic. Vehicles were boxy and, early on, even solid; buildings were often little more than rectangles with windows and roofs, occasionally sparsely furnished. It is precisely this basic, unspecialized quality that made these early sets correspond to Baudrillard’s first stage, in which images represent a “profound reality.”
These early LEGO sets had many of the same elements and themes of current LEGO offerings: there were castle, space, and town themes, for instance. Superficially, town sets appeared much the same as they do now, with police, fire, and other emergency services, gas stations, houses, and so on, with a large emphasis on vehicles. However, there was a key difference—there was little sense of narrative provided with these sets. Police officers, for example, did not have specific roles or functions. Most sets prior to the late 1980s consisted of a vehicle or two and a police minifigure or two, such as the 1983 Police Car (set #6623). There is no equivalent to sets like the 2008 Police Command Center (set #7743) and 2011’s Mobile Police Unit (set #7288). Implicit in the early sets was the idea that police officers could be found patrolling the community, interacting with citizens, engaging in car chases, or acting much as any other minifigure, whether filling up the tank or eating a meal at home or at a truck stop. Even the yellowskinned minifigures, although arguably not as racially neutral as some may claim, could still much more easily be interpreted as representing anyone than the flesh-colored minifigures found in later, licensed product lines.
This wide range of potential activities and roles allows these sets to be fairly accurate representations despite their basic, rough-hewn appearance. Indeed, the simple aesthetic allowed the form and function of the builds to stand in for real-world equivalents. In the real world, police officers, for instance, are complex humans with a multiplicity of personalities, activities, and social meanings; presenting the LEGO police in a very basic, unstructured way can reflect this clearly.