While many people may think that a movie about Legos would be nothing but silly family-fun, the 3-D computer-animated adventure comedy The Lego Movie brought more than just laughs to the table. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were able to make arguments about hierarchy in today’s society by creating an average-to-extraordinary hero who saves the world from a business-centered villain possessing Marxist ideas. The film makes these arguments through topics we have discussed in class such as hegemony, culture industry, simulacra and even the male gaze. The Lego Movie goes above and beyond in making serious ideologies easy to understand for people of every age.
Throughout The Lego Movie, I believe an idea that was purposefully included and represented very accurately is hegemony. Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci defines the term ‘hegemony’ as an intellectual and moral leadership that is exercised by dominant groups in society in order to win consent of subordinate groups (Bennett). Basically, power is not held just by the ‘dominant group’ but rather negotiated among social classes through a push and pull relationship. This is demonstrated perfectly throughout the film because although Lord Business claims to be in charge of everyone, there is a constant struggle for power from the master builders, who refuse to be the subordinate group. Furthermore, Emmett and many of the other “average citizens” accept the ideologies and leadership of Lord Business (dominant group) not because they are forced to, but because they believe this is the best (and only) way of life. I actually find hegemony to be a main theme of the film and the directors seem to further the argument by portraying it in a negative light. The film centers on Emmett and other master builders fighting to change the prevailing culture and let individual ideas shine, very much the opposite of hegemony. Furthermore, I think the theme of hegemony is focused on because it is an argument that applies to the social hierarchy in the real world as well. Many people live unfulfilling lives without realizing it and many others are constantly struggling to gain power and move up in the world.
Another idea represented in The Lego Movie is the concept of the culture industry. This idea, while similar to that of hegemony, is better associated with the writings of German philosophers Theodor Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and Max Horkheimer. These men, through the Frankfurt School, questioned why the subordinate group accepts their lower rank. They studied the products and process of mass culture to find that it is made up of two features, homogeneity and predictability (Storey 64). In short, the culture industry stunts political and economic imagination, not allowing the masses to think outside of the box. This is very applicable to The Lego Movie because as we saw in the film, there was no imagination. Everybody always followed their directions, watched the same mindless TV shows, and listened to the same annoying songs. No new leader was ever elected nor did people come up with creative or alternative jobs. Because Lord Business supplied citizens with what they needed, there was never a desire to evolve further. This once again creates the argument about today’s societal hierarchy and how the culture industry is relevant to the real world. In many countries the masses are satisfied with the way things are run, therefore they make no advances politically, economically, or in anything other ways.
On a different note, I find that simulacra are also represented in The Lego Movie. While I do not necessarily think simulacra are always done purposefully, I do see examples of it throughout the film. As defined by Jean Baudrillard, simulacra are essentially a sign/model/map that does not have a real life counterpart. Although Legos are a real model, these specific Legos with this story line that is animated and edited into a film has no real life duplicate. This argument shows the split between real life Legos, the toy that many of us once owned and played with, and the film, which is an entirely new and original creation that has no duplicate in the real world.
Lastly, I would like to bring up the concept of the male gaze. Arguably one of the most influential ideas in media and cinema studies, the male gaze may not be thought of as something that can be demonstrated through cartoons. Nonetheless, The Lego Movie proves skeptics wrong. In many parts of the movie, Emmett looks at Wild Style (one of the only women in the film) in complete awe. He has clearly never seen somebody like her. However, in addition to being the object of his desire, Wild Style is further subjected to symbolic castration. Castrated meaning that despite being a heroin for much of the film, in the end of the movie Wild Style is undercut, cannot save the day, and is emotionally broken when she thinks Emmett has fallen into the black hole. All the power and status Wild Style was once given seems to be taken away and given to the ordinary and considerably brainless male protagonist.
The Lego Movie puts very intense and intellectual ideologies into examples that anyone can understand. It amazes me how a film I can confidently say I would have otherwise never watched, mainly because I thought it would be foolish, could actually relate to a college course in so many ways. This film perfectly incorporates representations of hegemony, culture industry, simulacra, and the male gaze while also making that critical argument about the issues with social hierarchy that exist in today’s society.
Baudrillard, Jean (2009), ‘The Precession of Simulacra’. In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 4th Edn, edited by John Storey, Harlow: Pearson Education.
Bennett, Tony. (1982) “Popular Culture and the ‘Turn to Gramsci’” in Popular Culture, Milton Keynes: Open University Press
The Lego Movie. Dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Perf. Chris Pratt and Will Ferrell. Warner Home Video, 2014. DVD.
Mulvey, Laura (1975), ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ , in Screen 16 (3)
Storey, John. (2015). Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (7th ed). New York. Routledge.