The Culture Industries
There are many elements in the Lego movie that seem to be aiming at a certain critical statement about society. However, the main focus will be on how the Lego movie represents the theory of the culture industries and how it affects the masses. The “culture industries” are industries which produce products and processes of mass culture: television, radio, magazines, film, music, etc. Any product meant for a mass audience to enjoy is produced by the “culture industry”. These forms of entertainment are all in place to promote conformity in the masses and maintain social authority.
The Lego movie is an extreme and hyperactive representation of our American society and its obsession with popular culture, and therefore the culture industries. It is exaggerated because the presence of the entertainment industry is literally everywhere in the city which the Lego people live: billboards with advertising messages are constantly blaring around every corner, they all seem to be listening to the same song “Everything is Awesome”, and a reminder for “Taco Tuesday” lights up on various screens, as if they are all expected to maintain the same meal schedule. The Lego people are constantly being bombarded with these representations of the culture industries, or pop culture.
Depoliticizing the Masses
The culture industries, are provided to the masses by the ruling class, or the capitalists who make gains from the labor of the working class. The ruling class in the Lego movie is symbolized by “President Business”, who controls the whole city and the messages that are sent to the masses in order to keep them docile and unaware of his evil scheme. According to John Storey, “The culture industry has worked to depoliticize the working class […] in short, discourages the ‘masses’ from thinking beyond the confines of the present” (p. 67). The Lego Movie supports the idea that the Culture Industries work to depoliticize the masses in order to bring more power to the ruling class.
Emmet: Model Citizen
The main character, Emmet, is a protagonist who starts off as a completely cooperative member of the system the culture industries are working to support. He absorbs everything the culture industries gives him and literally obeys “instructions” for how to live. He is in complete acceptance of the system and is perfectly content with doing what he is told. As discussed in lecture, one of the central questions of Marxism is “why do people who are subordinated or oppressed accept their subordination?”, to which the Frankfurt school theorists answered in terms of the culture industries. It is because they are distracted by the entertainment the culture industries provide. According to Storey (2015), “By supplying the means to the satisfaction of certain needs, capitalism is able to prevent the formation of more fundamental desires. The culture industry thus stunts the political imagination” (p. 67). This means that the media and entertainment we consume (as masses) is working to numb us so that we do not see the harsher reality of our place in the oppressive capitalist society in which the ruling class is taking advantage of the working class. This is perfectly exemplified by Emmet watching television when a newscast comes on the screen: President Business is making an announcement to the people of the city. At the end of the friendly-voiced announcement/instruction he adds “or you’ll be put to sleep”. This happens so quickly that Emmet laughs, then suddenly realizes what he just heard. However, as he starts to say “wait, did he just say we’d be put to sleep?!”, he is cut off by the resuming of the regularly scheduled programing: a sitcom called “Where are My Pants?” and seconds later he is laughing again. This silly programming is present to keep Emmet happy and entertained enough to immediately forget the menacing message of President Business. It is almost as if the message is wiped from his brain when he is fed entertainment. This is the culture industries’ aim, to keep the masses happy with the entertainment that they produce, in order to suppress any kind of rebellion.
Only when he is removed from his everyday life by a sudden decision to follow a Lego, “Wildstyle”, who appears to be a rebel, is he able to go on the journey to realize the evil scheme of President Business to end the world. He has to be removed from the culture industries who penetrate every part of his everyday life because they are what keep him contained in his comfortable perception of reality. The entertainment works to depoliticize the working class and stunt their political imagination, but when Emmet is removed from it long enough, he is encouraged and able to think more critically about President Business’s agenda. By simply freeing up the space in his mind that the culture industries’ entertainment was previously occupying, it allows more space for the “political imagination” to take shape. Thus, he is able to develop the individual creative thought required of a “Master Builder” in order to foil President Business, who represents the capitalists who produce the culture industries, and capitalism as a whole.
Storey, J. (1971). Cultural Theory and Pop Culture. New York, NW: Routledge.