The Lego Movie (Lord & Miller, 2004), while being a movie that focuses primarily on its narrative of adventure, the power of kindness and creativity, and working together, also has a lot to say about the ways that mass culture affects a population. In The Lego Movie, mass culture is depicted as silly and brainless; a façade that hides the evil intentions of President/Lord Business to use his Kragle to freeze all the Lego people so they never become unruly. He keeps the Lego people under control by infusing their world with happy pop songs and tv shows, and literal instructions of how to live.
“Mass Culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by business; its audiences are passive consumers” (Macdonald, 1953, p. 13). In The Lego Movie, President Business, who is in charge of everything in Emmett’s Lego world, uses the song “Everything Is Awesome” to control the masses. They listen to the song, passively accept the message, and in turn view everything in their life as awesome. It is awesome to go to a construction job every day to build things according to the way President Business wants them to be built (passive building instead of active and imaginative building like a Master Builder), to follow the manuals on how to behave in socially acceptable ways (like watching everyone’s favorite show Where Are My Pants), and declaring that it is awesome to pay $40 for a cup of coffee. This is what Macdonald (1953) calls “homogenized culture” (p. 15), homogenization referring to the process of when the fat from milk is broken up and mixed in so it doesn’t separate from the milk.
It is also interesting to note that one of the elements of homogenized culture, according to Macdonald, is the blurring of age lines- how movies and radio and tv made for children are also enjoyed by adults (1953). The Lego Movie is a perfect example of this blur, which MacDonald (1953) would say is a mental escape by adults who are “unable to cope with the strains and complexities of modern life” (p. 20).
Maloney (1999, p.255) talks about how, instead of appealing to a specific audience, mass culture tries to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Again, the song “Everything Is Awesome” comes into play. In the scene where Emmett and Wyldstyle are covered in gum wrappers to disguise themselves as robots to break into Lord Business’ tower, they are about to be discovered as frauds by the real robot construction workers. Emmett begins to beatbox the tune of “Everything Is Awesome”, and the robot workers get so distracted by the song, with one exclaiming “No way! This is my jam!”, that they forget about figuring out whether or not Emmett and Wyldstyle are actually robot workers. The song is so pervasive that even Lord Business’ workers can’t resist the catchy tune. Everyone in this Lego world (except Wyldstyle, a Master Builder) loves the song.
Maloney (1999) also talks about how “the masses” are often referred to as if they are uneducated and working class. This holds true in The Lego Movie with the portrayal of Wyldstyle compared to Emmett. Emmett is under the spell of President Business. As mentioned before, he is a passive person in a passive culture. He in uneducated in the sense that he is unaware of President Business’ true agenda, and he is initially incapable of building anything without a set of instructions to follow exactly. He also has a job as a construction worker- about as stereotypically working class as it gets. Wyldstyle, on the other hand, is neither uneducated nor working class. She is fully aware of the reality behind the curtain, and is working with the other educated Master Builders to develop a plan to save all the Lego universes. She is also not working class, instead she is part of a rebellion and considers herself too smart to follow the rules and have a job and a daily routine like everyone else. This is the type of person Maloney (1999) refers to as “liberal, intellectual, and implicitly urban”- someone who can “imagine themselves as superior” (p. 255). Wyldstyle’s frustration towards Emmett’s lack of building imagination, and her indignation at not being The Special, definitely show that she images herself as superior.
The end of The Lego Movie shows a destruction of mass culture and homogeneity. Will Ferrell, the real-life version of Lord Business, allows his son to play with his Lego collection and creatively build instead of following the instructions that come with each set. In the Lego universe, President Business pours water over the people he has Kragled, setting them free- the Lego people can now collide and mix their universes and live harmoniously. Instead of Emmett’s world of one mass culture, he now has the understanding gained from the Master Builders to create his own culture. Now (as long as they can defeat the Duplos), everything really is awesome.
Lord, P., & Miller, C. (Directors). (2014). The Lego movie [Motion picture on DVD]. Roma: Warner home video.
MacDonald, D. (1953). A theory of mass culture. Diogenes, (3), 1-17.
Maloney, C. (1999, Fall). The faces in Lonesome’s crowd: Imaging the mass audience in A Face in the Crowd. Journal of Narrative Theory, 29(3), 251-277.