An authoritarian society is typically seen as a dictatorship, in part because most of the typical authoritarian leaders enforce some form of fascism or communism, as seen with Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin to name a few. Another authoritarian political leader that can be added to the list is President Business from The Lego Movie. President Business’s use of hegemonic leadership as the monopolizing antagonist of the The Lego Movie is used as a plot device to gain power over the citizens of the Lego Universe.
Tony Bennett, (1986) defines class hegemony as “a dynamic and shifting relationship of social subordination, which operates in two directions,” (Bennett, 1986). President Business is the CEO of Octan, an ambiguously described corporation that owns everything. Octan provides everything for the citizens of the Lego World to be comfortable, employing them, and creating a safe life for them, despite taking full advantage of the company’s monopoly on all markets, from coffee to television. A commercial for “Taco Tuesday” explicitly says, in an ominous tone, that he will put the citizen’s “to sleep,” obviously meaning death. Immediately following, Business distracts the audience with a television show – owned by Octan – called “Where Are My Pants?”
Although the President is overtly explaining the abuse of his power, none of the citizens question what’s going on because he is providing for them. This is an example of the exchange of power between the bourgeois and the aristocratic. Another, similar, form of hegemony is are the builders. In a comparable way, Octan is providing jobs for all these working-class citizens, and in return, Octan is providing for them. There is no reason for the builders to ever have to think, because, as the Oscar-nominated song says, everything is awesome (although that song is more of a commentary on fascism rather than hegemony).
This hegemony is strain and challenged when Emmett discovers the MasterBuilders – people who can build anything from their own imagination, without instructions – beyond the wall of his world. In Bennett’s definition of hegemony, it is required of a subordinated. The MasterBuilders were the only people who opposed this subordination, disrupting the relationship between President Business and the builders.
Part of the movie’s humor is how unambiguously authoritarian President Business is. One of the aspects of the movies that does so is the Micro-Managers. At the climax of the movie, as Taco Tuesday commences, President Business releases his Micro-Managers to control every aspect of the Lego Universe takeover. The very name “Micro-Managers” is a play on the blindness that the builders are living in, referring to the overbearing nature of the authoritarian government enforced by President Business.
The blindness transcends into the daily lives of the builders and how they, not only work, but go about life. Each builder is given a “Guide to Being Awesome,” which is essentially a handbook for how they interact with others and conduct and activity, without any emotions or opinions attached. In addition, when Wyldstyle/Lucy breaks him out of the literal bubble he’s been living in, Emmett cannot function without instructions. Everything that he knows requires instructions, going beyond just building. Through these instructions, President Business has created the bubble that the builders live in, both literally and figuratively. Although the instructions are seen from the outside as negative and oppressive, this is a form of hegemony. The instructions, and the bubble as a whole, create a safe life for the builders and citizens of the Lego Universe, exhibiting the give and take aspect of hegemony.
Outside of the Lego Universe, the audience is taken to the real world where that relationship between the builders and President Business is mirrored in a father and son relationship. In the same way that President Business provided for the builders, the father provides for his son, with restrictions, just as President Business has for his people. As the son plays with his father’s lego display, creating the film’s narrative, he is combatting his father’s restrictions, requiring his father to use Krazy Glue (formerly known as “Kragle” in the Lego Universe) to impede on his son’s imagination – a direct exemplification of the oppression in the Lego Universe. This mirroring in the real world reveals truths about our society, that hegemony is an ideology that embeds itself in aspects beyond national government.
In brief, the government exhibited in the Lego Universe is hegemonic. Through the various aspects of the films, including monopolizing corporations, brainwashing media, and explicit oppression, President Business heavily influences the minds of the citizens of the Lego Universe. The subordination of the bourgeois displayed a give-and-take relationship with the aristocracy by supplying work in exchange for security. With the help of the MasterBuilders, exiled to worlds outside of President Business’s, Emmett shatters the disparity between the relegated and their superiors.
Bennett, Tony. POPULAR CULTURE AND THE “TURN TO GRAMSCI” Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.