Stage 3: Sky-fi and the Absence of Reality
LEGO builders of all ages have built entire communities and worlds relating to the creation of MOCs, and much LEGO play—since the earliest interchangeable bricks—has likely happened without following any instruction booklet or manual. The more recent trend of LEGO fan communities exchanging ideas, as well as the influence of licensed properties and the desire to build scenarios and vehicles that are included in these storyworlds (such as Star Wars) but not produced as licensed sets, best demonstrates Baudrillard’s third stage, in which he argued that the proliferation of images “masks the absence of a profound reality.” The application of Baudrillard’s third stage to LEGO can be broken down into three parts: the proliferation of images, the absence of a “profound reality,” and the fact that the former obscures the latter.
The proliferation of images can be seen by how LEGO MOCs, LEGO communities, the development of advanced building techniques, and a host of other LEGO-related image-building activities separate from official LEGO sets all interact with and build off each other. These activities even impact official LEGO sets. For example, LEGO Ideas is a way for LEGO users to get their MOCs produced as official LEGO sets. In other words, images made with LEGO bricks proliferate, with fans and the LEGO Group all influencing each other in myriad ways that lead to the creation of even more images.
As for the second part of Baudrillard’s concept, in talking of an absence of a profound reality in the third stage, he did not mean that reality no longer exists. Instead, he was drawing attention to the increasing proliferation not just of images in general, but specifically of images that appear similar to real objects and settings yet are not representations of anything that actually exists. For instance, the “J-24 Katana” by Jon Hall skillfully recreates a color scheme often found in actual Japanese airplanes of WWII but does not represent any particular Japanese aircraft.6 Many of this builder’s other works have similarly realistic paint schemes and designations. The Brothers Brick highlighted a MOC by Stephen Chao of an airplane depicted in the animated film Porco Rosso by Hayao Miyazaki, the “Savoia S.21.” While this is an airplane created by Miyazaki, there was actually a different airplane built in real life bearing the same designation.7 The point is not that there is no distinction between fantasy and the real world, or between a MOC of a real World War II plane and a superficially similar original creation. The point is that this distinction between reality and fiction is becoming blurred so that the two are becoming difficult or impossible to distinguish from one another. The difference is becoming irrelevant.
Finally, Baudrillard argues that the proliferation of images obscures the absence of a profound reality—in short, these realistic but fictional images are referred to interchangeably with images of real-world equivalents, and often the two are used to play off each other— meaning that this process is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. So, for instance, the Savoia S.21 from Porco Rosso mentioned above is a MOC based on a fictional airplane which uses the designation of a real plane by a real airplane company. Undoubtedly this MOC will, in turn, influence new creations of realistic but fictional aircraft, perhaps referring to actual airplane manufacturers and designation systems and including realistic-sounding backgrounds and specifications.