Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Contrary to What Fox News Would Suggest, The LEGO Movie is a Dangerous Pro-Corporate Propaganda Film About Maximizing the Self Through Consumerism

Critics have applauded The LEGO Movie as a tribute to individuality, childhood creativity, and a movie with enough "smart" popular culture references to please parents while the fun colors and high jinks engage younger viewers.

My opinion diverges from the movie's 95 percent positive rating on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes.

The LEGO Movie is one of the most ideologically conservative and sophisticated efforts at manipulating an audience (one that skews towards the young) in recent memory.

I am not surrendering to hyperbole for the sake of controversy or attention; I left The LEGO Movie feeling both frustrated and disgusted. The LEGO Movie is 1) a feature length commercial for overpriced toys, and 2) reinforces a lie about how in an era of Casino Capitalism that the corporation, democracy, and the self are somehow symbiotic, and can coexist in a positive relationship with one another.

The following observations about The LEGO Movie contain some mild spoilers.

1. Modern advertising works by creating a sense of emotional identification between the consumer and a product. The transition from the 1980s and early 1990s to the present emphasizes "individuality" and self-actualization as made possible by consumption. The marketing of Apple products is a master example of this practice wherein millions of people show their individuality through the purchase of a consumer good that they believe makes them "special" or "unique". Engaged and active citizenship is moved to the marketplace in the Consumer's Republic.

The LEGO Movie is a feature-length reinforcement of that ideology.

2. The LEGO Movie suggests that we are special and unique individuals by virtue of our existence. It is not our actions--positive or negative--that define our value. This is an ethos of what has come to be known as "snowflakes" and "I am special and unique and unlike any other" that has infected a whole cohort of young people, affectionately called the "Facebook Generation", who are afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder.

The LEGO Movie is smart and very self-aware: it transparently uses the above language in order to dismiss the critique as a means of legitimating its own ideology of pseudo-individuality through consumerism and conformity.

3. Huxley versus Orwell? Would power control the citizenry through the suppression of pleasure and information? Or would power instead overwhelm the public with stimuli, and thus create a society ungrounded from its own history? The LEGO Movie is a space where those conflicting strategies of social control are clearly and directly presented while offering a space for both possibilities.

4. Insincerity and hypocrisy. A huge global corporation creates a blockbuster film with a superficial narrative that argues for individuality all the while encouraging the viewer to find their individuality by purchasing its over-priced goods. Here a "radical" critique of conformity is actually an encouragement to consumerism and group think. In all, if you want to be "free" see The LEGO Movie and buy the toys.

5. Corporations begin to build relationships with their consumers when the latter are children, most impressionable, and when their psychological defenses are the most weak and vulnerable. The LEGO Movie is an example of that foundational concept in modern marketing and consumer psychology in practice.

The documentary The Corporation details the corporate-child-marketing strategy here:

6. Moreover, The LEGO Movie's themes of self-actualization through conformist individuality and consumerism also echo the claims made in the acclaimed BBC documentary The Century of Self regarding the rise of the citizen consumer democracy, the management of desire, and the self-help industry:

7. Fox News and the other parts of the Right-wing propaganda machine have attacked The LEGO Movie because it is "anti-business".

The propagandists in the Right-Wing echo chamber have either not seen the movie, are tethered to the lie of "the liberal media" and "Big Hollywood", or both. The LEGO Movie ends with a reconciliation between father and son that is sealed with a surrender to the corporation as the beating heart of the good society and a fulfilled and happy individual.

The hero of The LEGO Movie makes peace with and rehabilitates the "villain" by reminding him that the people need big business and corporations to make things so that consumers can improve those goods as a way of showing how they are "real" individuals.

Here, the individual is enhanced by the corporation. Moreover, to teach children and the public in an age of globalization, neoliberalism, and a Culture of Cruelty, that the Corporation is a person (one who is just misguided)--and that Main Street and Wall Street are allies--legitimates a broken society where the plutocracy's and banksters' power over the day-to-day lives of hundreds of millions of people is normalized and subsequently made into the natural and inevitable order of things.

There is no real freedom in the society and fantasy offered by The LEGO Movie: democracy is an illusion. The best that an individual can hope for is to self-actualize and fulfill their human potential by purchasing consumer goods from a global corporation.

Ultimately, The LEGO Movie is a dystopian exercise in the guise of an "innocent" and "positive" children's film. Its politics are dishonest. There is no liberation or agency to be found in the type of individuality suggested by The LEGO Movie. Instead, we are all citizens in society where freedom is mistakenly conflated with the ability to buy things, and to find self-help validation through feature length toy commercials.


kokanee said...

Damn CDV, I was looking forward to seeing this movie and taking the kids to it.

Two thumbs up to "The Corporation" and "The Century of the Self."

P. S. Did you see the movie The Lorax?" I hated it from start to finish.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

perfect comment

Myshkin the Idiot said...

On the author of those 45 points on communism:

After retiring from the FBI in 1951, Skousen joined the faculty of Brigham Young University, the Latter-day Saints university in Utah. He then enjoyed a tumultuous four years as chief of police in Salt Lake City. During his tenure he gained a reputation for cutting crime and ruthlessly enforcing Mormon morals. But Skousen was too earnest by half. The city’s ultraconservative mayor, J. Bracken Lee, fired him in 1960 for excessive zeal in raiding private clubs where the Mormon elite enjoyed their cards. “Skousen conducted his office as Chief of Police in exactly the same manner in which the Communists operate their government,” Lee wrote to a friend explaining his firing of Skousen. “The man is a master of half-truths. In at least three instances I have proven him to be a liar. He is a very dangerous man [and] one of the greatest spenders of public funds of anyone who ever served in any capacity in Salt Lake City government.”


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I learned a little after I posted that, this Cloen Skousen is Glenn Beck's personal hero. from Salon (I posted in response to kokanee)

Daniel Goldberg said...

You're more right than you know. Molly Wood's rant on the abrupt changes in Lego's business model in the last 5 years is compelling:


chauncey devega said...

Thanks for sharing that link. Have you seen the film? The song "Everything is Awesome" would be a great theme for Mao, Stalin, or Pol Pot. That is supposedly the points as it then helps to "liberate" the citizens of the world later on when it does nothing of the sort. And as a comment on contemporary society everything is clearly not awesome. Watching a bunch of adults gleefully and unreflectively sing that song was unsettling.

kokanee said...

Re: "You should see the firm."

I've lost interest. Frankly, I believe you.

Daniel Goldberg said...

I haven't and probably won't. Even though you are no doubt right in what you say about popular culture, I still cannot engage, especially with my child involved. Example: I think princess culture is literally pure concentrated evil and HULK SMASH the very idea of it. My child is well-aware of the rabid prohibition in this case. And the general adult lack of awareness is present with this phenomenon, too.

Miles_Ellison said...

If a film with the title The Lego Movie was anything other than capitalist consumption porn, it would be a shocking surprise.

OldPolarBear said...

I don't think most liberals even know what the game is or that there's even one going on, let alone how to play it.

OldPolarBear said...

I saw a brief trailer for this on TV and thought, hmm ... maybe that's kind of cute. I watched this trailer and it didn't even pass the chuckle test, which is if I can't even chuckle once at the trailer for a comic/light movie, which is 3 minutes of the most attractive material, I probably won't want to see it.

I see another aspect of this movie that for me is highly problematic, and this may be at odds with the popular likes of many. This appears to be a movie of the "superhero" genre and I have become so "meh" on the superhero genre. The idea of one person becoming transcendent somehow and saving the world or even rallying everyone else to save the world seems kind of tired and stale to me. Not only that, I think its effects on the mass consciousness may be pernicious. The fantasy and escapism of it may be fun, and people leave the theater feeling upbeat and optimistic about the good guys winning, but ... I wonder if the effect of exposure to this meme over and over again actually implants the idea that "if only we had a superhero with superpowers to come and fix things for us." We don't, of course, so we might as well not bother and just wait to see the next blockbuster superhero movie with the great special effects, rocking score, etc. It's even worse when the implicit solution to the problems of the world, as it appears from your description to be the case in this movie, is to buy the right things.

OldPolarBear said...

... HULK SMASH the very idea of it. My child is well-aware of the rabid prohibition in this case.

Bravo for you! Have you seen the recent proposal that a young woman is petitioning the Disney Corp. to add a Fat Princess to their Disney Princess lineup? A lot of the feminist and/or fat-acceptance blogs have been talking about it. And I get it; to the extent that they are going to have such a thing, it might be desirable to have one to help acceptance of other body types. But what I haven't seen in the comments of these blogs at all is, why do we even want to promote the concept of "princess" at all, let alone "Disney Princess"?

Anyway, I applaud your attitude; hang in there, and if your daughter thinks you are being mean, I bet she will thank you later.

Paul Sunstone said...

I'd be surprised if the Right was not more advanced than centrists and progressives in those regards, Chauncey. After all, they've got more think tanks than us these days.

PNUT1 said...

Our think tanks actually have thinking going on, theirs are all about propaganda,thinking be damned