(Lego) Piecing Together Gender Stereotypes

Gender is biologically what you are born into; however, gender stereotypes have been shaped around media and pop culture. Although Hollywood has made an effort to include more female leading roles, for example, the new Ghostbusters film and Bad Moms as we discussed in class, there is still a need for improvement. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s film The Lego Movie, unfortunately does not break the gender stereotypes. The film uses characters and clichés to reinforce gender stereotypes. Legos are typically considered a “boys’” toy even though the brand makes “girl” parts as well. The main character is Emmet Brickowski who is an ordinary guy construction worker who accidentally finds a Lego piece, the Piece of Resistance, which is imbued with special power. Based on a prophecy of the wizard Viruvius, Emmet is assumed to be “the Special,” who will bear the piece that will stop a super weapon of mass destruction, the Kragle. The female lead and Emmet’s object cathexis is Wyldstyle who is a “tough” girl. Although it’s clear the main character is a male, Wyldstyle is depicted as a stronger and wiser character than him in the beginning of the film. This already builds the gender stereotype by having an ordinary male who by circumstance finds himself cast in a heroic situation as the lead character as opposed to the female character who actually has heroic qualities. The directors also made the choice for Wyldstyle to have a boyfriend in the beginning of the film and to end up with Emmet after he proves his worthiness. This choice is saying the female character always needs a male with her, otherwise she won’t be able to function on her own or act independently. Sean Nixon states in the reading that Mulvey describes three different looks that are organized to produce the split in looking characteristic of Hollywood cinema. This split set in motion the interplay between the narcissistic aspect of pleasure in looking and the voyeuristic aspect of looking. The male characters, Emmet and Lord Business/Finn and “the Man Upstairs,” are positioned as the bearer of the look (the active eye) in the film story, while Wyldstyle is the feminine coded as visual spectacle (passive object to be looked at). This can be illustrated by Wyldstyle’s character when the film slow motions to her hair flipping around as Emmet gawks at her. Even though his character does not know her, Wyldstyle acts as the object for Emmet’s eyes to look at before he knows anything about her personality. Another example is found when the two characters are riding the horse, and all Emmet hears is “Blah, Blah, Blah” coming from Wyldstyle because he was so distracted by her physical form as an object.

A large part of the movie surrounds the fascination and awe that this special Lego piece that gets attached to Emmet’s back generates and its pivotal role for rescuing and renewing Lego society. However, while Emmet makes a heroic self-sacrifice in attempting to destroy the Kragle, it is Wyldstyle who rallies and leads the Lego people to fight Lord Business. As Laura Mulvey points out in her article, the “woman stands as a lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies.” Indeed, the Piece of Resistance itself represents a phallus symbol. The piece is attached to Emmet and it is a highly coveted object to be sought after and protected at all costs. This represents the patriarchal elements of the film and ties back to Mulvey’s point. One of the plot lines is additionally how Emmett is trying to woo her, rather than the other way around. This somewhat breaks up the typical gender stereotype because the female is usually trying to woo the male lead.

Yet one effort the film makes to break the gender stereotype is depicting Wyldstyle as a more “cool girl” or tough character and showing her leading the Lego people, instead of depicting her more of a dream girl or a passive damsel-in-distress. The male character has sacrificed himself but someone must lead the people, so it is refreshing that it is a female character. We are introduced to the father and son at the end of the movie who are the only human characters. The father tries to discourage his son’s creativity on his work Lego project, but sympathizes with him in the end. Finally, the Man Upstairs character introduces his young daughter at the very end of the film. This could potentially open doors for a Lego Movie Part 2 with a female lead and her interpretation of a Lego World. This adds to the gender stereotype of the film franchise starting with the male lead prior to the female.

This is a link to an SNL skit recently done where the actors are dressed up like real celebrity actresses talking about their role in Hollywood. It’s pretty funny, so check it out!

 

Works Cited

Nixon, S. (1999). Representations. (312-315).

Mulvey, L. (1989). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. (57-68)

The Lego Movie. Warner Brothers, 2014. DVD.

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