Well, if you watched the whole movie, then you know the awesomeness of the Lego civilization was constructed from several layers of facade. The Lego Movie released on Feburary 7 of this year to waves of approval from viewers and critics alike. The critical reception in particular was impressed with the film’s boldness in both its story and characters (Batman in particular was some wonderfully ruthless satire). As I watched it, I was impressed with its deconstruction of the “chosen one” narrative, a lazy narrative formula that grows ever more tiresome. After ruminating on the movie for a while, I found the element that is sticking with me is the Lego Movie’s depiction of a dystopia. Some Dystopian Background Dystopian fiction has been around for a very long time and has taken on many forms. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a dystopia as “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible.” The OED records the first use of the term “dystopian” in 1868 by J.S. Mill, who used the term “dys-topian” in a discussion regarding the impossibility of a utopian existence. The term increased in use in the 1960s. The novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell are two of the earliest, and still most recognizable, works of dystopian fiction. The genre never went away (Bioshock, Idiocracy, and Wall.E are all great, more current examples) and lately it has seen a resurgence in popular culture. From The Hunger Games to The Last of Us, harsh worlds that test the very fiber of humanity are on everyone’s minds.The Lego World The Lego Movie takes the first approach but frames it in a different way, similar to the flying city of Colombia (Bioshock Infinite), the audience is presented with a world that seems like a wonderful place but there are little hints, the street signs, President Business, a comedy show, and a pop song, that the average lego person either would not notice or find suspicious. Emmet, the main character of The Lego Movie, is our portal into this bright and happy world. We meet him as he is wakes up in the morning with a smile on his face and bids a cheery good morning to all the inanimate objects in his house. His first order of business is to pluck, from his book shelf, an instruction manual on “How to: Fit in! Have Everybody Like You! And Always Be Happy!” This manual is Emmet’s guide for interacting with the world, as it details the steps to be a successful a happy Lego person. The steps include:
Step 1: Breathe
Step 2: Greet the day, smile, and say “Good morning city!”
Step 10 (maybe): Watch tv
Step 12: Obey all traffic signs and regulations
Step 13: Enjoy popular music
Emmet religiously follows these steps (narrating them as he goes) and as he drives, through the city to his job, he passes under and beside street and building signs that display and encourage the rules. A scene where Emmet is pulling up to a checkpoint shows signs that say things like “Conform,” “Don’t stay up all nite,” and “President because I said so.” During his morning address, President Business, makes a comment about putting people to sleep who don’t follow the rules, which Emmet notices but immediately forgets when he sees a preview for the popular sitcom “Where are my pants?,” which refers to Robocop’s “I’d buy that for a dollar.” The world ruled by President Business provides many distractions and indoctrinations for its subjects to keep them in order, which President Business prizes over everything.
Everything Seems Awesome
The instruction manual (discussed above) and the popular song “Everything is Awesome” are both great examples of the indoctrination; both encourage the values of the society while assuring the Lego folk that their lives are awesome! The driving montage up through the construction scene put this indoctrination into practice, as we watch the city blissfully operate according to the rules. They all park in the lines (the synchronization of the parking really hammers the point home), drop off their dry cleaning, get their expensive coffee, and root for the local sport team in unison. Even at the construction site, they demolish everything “weird,” follow the instructions, and hang a sigh of President Business that says “I’ve got my eye on you!” with such satisfaction that they seem truly happy. Because they are. The Lego Movie delivers a dystopian world filled with happy people who do not know any better. This dystopia, built on ignorance, is what I imagine a real dystopia would function, because ignorance is a powerful force. Pervert art to distract and indoctrinate and give the masses a friendly face with which to identify and create a façade of awesomeness for everyone to enjoy and no one will be the wiser. Or will they?
Read about the use of Postmodern tropes in The Lego Movie here.