The Lego Movie (2014) is about an unlikely individual becoming the hero but while action-packed adventures make up most of the film, there is an underlying message of how much of an impact mass culture has on a society. The film shows the brainwashing effect that mass culture and mass media can have on individuals and society as a whole and how a ruling class can use that to control its subordinates.
Mass culture is defined as culture that is widely spread via mass media. That can be seen clearly just in the first five minutes of the film. The main character, Emmet, wakes up and the first thing he does is read a book of instructions on “how to fit in, have everyone like you and always be happy.” After breathing like the manual tells him to, Emmet reads the next step which is to “greet the day, smile and say, ‘good morning, city’” in which the entire city is shown doing the same exact thing, therefore implying that every resident in Emmet’s city in on the same schedule and has read the same manual. This manual literally controls the lives of those who read it. Emmet recites the steps as he does them, showing that he has no other routine other than that of the how-to book. As he is on his way to work, the song ‘Everything is Awesome’ plays on the radio and it seems to be everyone’s favorite song as seen later at his work. Emmet is still reciting the manual as he does his morning routine with the entire city such as “parking between the lines”, “drop off drycleaning before noon”, “rooting for the local sports team” and getting outrageously expensive $37 coffee which Emmet claims as “awesome”. Everyone’s live are ‘perfect’, ‘awesome’ and rigidly confined to a manual made by the president, President Business.
Dwight MacDonald, in his ‘A Theory of Mass Culture’, states that “Mass Culture is imposed from above… The Lords of kitsch (German for mass culture), in short, exploit the cultural needs of the masses in order to make a profit and/or to maintain their class rule,” (MacDonald, 13). President Business uses music and television to make everything in life “awesome”, even $37 coffee. When he appears on TV, he subtly whispers that anyone who doesn’t follow the instructions “will be put to sleep” but that is quickly dismissed with the announcement of Taco Tuesday and the childish, repetitive ‘Where are my Pants’ TV show. President Business feeds the city’s hunger for entertainment with simple, brainwashing media that is accepted without hesitation, even with threatening messages. Even President Business’s robots are brainwashed. When Emmet and Wyldstyle are infiltrating the tower, the robots are suspicious of the two but quickly get distracted by the two singing ‘Everything is Awesome’ in which the robots claim as “their jam” as well.
Gramsci’s idea of hegemony is also shown in the film. Tony Bennett talks about the Gramscian concept of hegemony being “the processes through which the ruling class seeks to negotiate opposing class cultures on to a cultural and ideological terrain which wins for it a position of leadership,” (Bennett, 95). President Business provides entertainment and “his love” for the citizens with Taco Tuesday to gain their interest and unconditional trust. The citizens trust and obey President Business (who later reveals himself as Lord Business) so much that towards the end of the film when President Business orders the citizens to keep dancing for Taco Tuesday, the citizens keep doing what they’re doing without question until they notice that other civilians are being glued. Throughout the entire film, the citizens are unaware of the surveillance they were under because of the amount of trust they had in President Business. In the beginning of the film, there is a billboard of President Business saying “I’ve got my eye on you”. Hegemony, in the sense of “intellectual and, thereby, political leadership over the whole of society,” (Bennett, 95), can also be seen between the Master Builders and Emmet. Emmet is deemed as the ‘Special One’ but he isn’t a Master Builder and therefore booed in front of the crowd of Master Builders. They even end up throwing things at him, call his ideas “dumb” and express disappointment continuously throughout the film (mainly Batman). The fact that these so-called Master Builders, who can build anything out of anything, see themselves as superior to Emmet because of their creative ability shows that their intelligence puts them ‘above’ someone who can only build a ‘double-decker couch’.
In the end, the hegemonic nature of both President Business and the Master Builders get broken down. President Business, convinced by Emmet, sets the glued citizens free and trashes his plans to take over the world. The Master Builders, to fight President Business, listen to Emmet to follow instructions instead of letting their creative ability build massive destructive weapons. Everything turns out well and everyone lives in peace with each other. Emmet creates a culture of his own, breaking away from his life controlled by mass culture. Not ‘everything was awesome’ but with ideas mixing and manipulative authority being stripped away, ‘everything is becoming awesome’.