How the LEGO Movie Breeds Questionable Values
Critics have applauded The LEGO Movie as a tribute to individuality, childhood creativity, and a movie with enough "smart" popular culture references to please parents while the fun colors and high jinks engage younger viewers.
My opinion diverges from the movie's 95 percent positive rating on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes.
The LEGO Movie is one of the most ideologically conservative and sophisticated efforts at manipulating an audience (one that skews towards the young) in recent memory.
I am not surrendering to hyperbole for the sake of controversy or attention; I left The LEGO Movie feeling both frustrated and disgusted. The LEGO Movie is 1) a feature length commercial for overpriced toys, and 2) reinforces a lie about how in an era of Casino Capitalism that the corporation, democracy, and the self are somehow symbiotic, and can coexist in a positive relationship with one another.
The following observations about The LEGO Movie contain some mild spoilers.
1. Modern advertising works by creating a sense of emotional identification between the consumer and a product. The transition from the 1980s and early 1990s to the present emphasizes "individuality" and self-actualization as made possible by consumption. The marketing of Apple products is a master example of this practice wherein millions of people show their individuality through the purchase of a consumer good that they believe makes them "special" or "unique". Engaged and active citizenship is moved to the marketplace in the Consumer's Republic.
The LEGO Movie is a feature-length reinforcement of that ideology.
2. The LEGO Movie suggests that we are special and unique individuals by virtue of our existence. It is not our actions--positive or negative--that define our value. This is an ethos of what has come to be known as "snowflakes" and "I am special and unique and unlike any other" that has infected a whole cohort of young people, affectionately called the "Facebook Generation", who are afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder.
The LEGO Movie is smart and very self-aware: it transparently uses the above language in order to dismiss the critique as a means of legitimating its own ideology of pseudo-individuality through consumerism and conformity.
3. Huxley versus Orwell? Would power control the citizenry through the suppression of pleasure and information? Or would power instead overwhelm the public with stimuli, and thus create a society ungrounded from its own history? The LEGO Movie is a space where those conflicting strategies of social control are clearly and directly presented while offering a space for both possibilities.
4. Insincerity and hypocrisy. A huge global corporation creates a blockbuster film with a superficial narrative that argues for individuality all the while encouraging the viewer to find their individuality by purchasing its over-priced goods. Here a "radical" critique of conformity is actually an encouragement to consumerism and group think. In all, if you want to be "free" see The LEGO Movie and buy the toys.
5. Corporations begin to build relationships with their consumers when the latter are children, most impressionable, and when their psychological defenses are the most weak and vulnerable. The LEGO Movie is an example of that foundational concept in modern marketing and consumer psychology in practice.
The documentary The Corporation details the corporate-child-marketing strategy here.
6. Moreover, The LEGO Movie's themes of self-actualization through conformist individuality and consumerism also echo the claims made in the acclaimed BBC documentary The Century of Self regarding the rise of the citizen consumer democracy, the management of desire, and the self-help industry.
7. Fox News and the other parts of the Right-wing propaganda machine have attacked The LEGO Movie because it is "anti-business".
The propagandists in the Right-Wing echo chamber have either not seen the movie, are tethered to the lie of "the liberal media" and "Big Hollywood", or both. The LEGO Movie ends with a reconciliation between father and son that is sealed with a surrender to the corporation as the beating heart of the good society and a fulfilled and happy individual.
The hero of The LEGO Movie makes peace with and rehabilitates the "villain" by reminding him that the people need big business and corporations to make things so that consumers can improve those goods as a way of showing how they are "real" individuals.
Here, the individual is enhanced by the corporation. Moreover, to teach children and the public in an age of globalization, neoliberalism, and a Culture of Cruelty, that the Corporation is a person (one who is just misguided)--and that Main Street and Wall Street are allies--legitimates a broken society where the plutocracy's and banksters' power over the day-to-day lives of hundreds of billions of people is normalized and subsequently made into the natural and inevitable order of things.
There is no real freedom in the society and fantasy offered by The LEGO Movie: democracy is an illusion. The best that an individual can hope for is to self-actualize and fulfill their human potential by purchasing consumer goods from a global corporation.
Ultimately, The LEGO Movie is a dystopian exercise in the guise of an "innocent" and "positive" children's film. Its politics are dishonest. There is no liberation or agency to be found in the type of individuality suggested by The LEGO Movie. Instead, we are all citizens in society where freedom is mistakenly conflated with the ability to buy things, and to find self-help validation through feature length toy commercials.