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LEGO Society

July 12, 2014

*SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen The LEGO Movie yet, do so and then return and read this. I have no idea if anything I say will ruin anything for you. If you teach Sociology, you should consider doing so sooner rather than later*

I watched The LEGO Movie for the first time this weekend, and it was enjoyable and even occasionally surprising. It had a nice message and (in the spirit of Rocky and Bullwinkle) could be subtitled either “Rugged Individualism FTW” or “Rage Against the Machine.” In short, Lego society is nice and orderly and filled with nice, orderly minifigures who follow rules and use instruction books. The nicest, orderliest, most boring one of all is Emmett, a construction worker who, while somewhat lonely with no family, goes about life every day doing what he should. By fate or accident, he ends up falling into a pit and finding the “piece of resistance” (did I mention the movie is pleasantly corny), the only thing that can stop the prophesied destruction of the world by “The Kragl,” (i.e. KRazy GLue) the most powerful relic in history.

Emmett is clueless about his task, but is promptly whisked away by the few remaining uncaptured master builders, minifigures (including among others Batman, Wonder Woman, Shakespeare, a robot pirate, and a generic space minifigure from when I was growing up in the 80s) who can construct amazing creations out of LEGO pieces that happen to be nearby. Of course the master builders, with Emmett’s help, save the day and stop the evil “President Business” from using the Kragl to freeze the perfect orderly society exactly as it is forever. Because that’s the American way: people who do cool stuff that’s different from everybody else (without being evil) win. Loosen the grip on your instruction books and all that.

Except… I think there’s more that could be added, specifically an alternate moral that you could take away that suggests a different vision of ideal society.

You see, the master builders had tried and failed to overthrow Business ever since he took over, and most of them had already been captured and put in the “think tank,” a giant room where they were held captive with little LEGO brain scanners that the President used to come up with the instructions for everything across any number of societies (ranging from the Wild West to Rainbow Happy Cloud Land). It was only Emmett, who was completely unremarkable, except that he was part of society and removed just a little bit by his circumstances, who was able to come up with workable solutions to things like how to survive when your submarine is destroyed, how to get into an impregnable tower, and how to stop an evil mastermind from destroying the world.

While the bold italic underline MORAL was clearly intended to be “think outside the box, be creative, be yourself,” the submarine was not perfect because the master builders were so individualistic they couldn’t build something together quickly enough. Everybody wanted it to be theirs. So maybe the moral might be better (although less catchily) put: If conformity is a 1 and Total Individualism is a 10, maybe you could try moving from a 3 to a 5 or 6 and see what happens.

The theme song for the President’s empire (yes, I know, it would be an emperor then) is a catchy little ditty that goes “Everything is awesome- everything is cool when you’re part of the team…” Maybe if we treated teams like other societies do, as opportunities to contribute and maximize together without worrying who gets credit (think Japan), the song could still be all right and not the evidence of all that is bad. And Emmett could live on as the hero, but a real hero that real everyday people can be like.

It’s telling and ironic, I suppose, that in the whole line of LEGO Movie tie-in LEGO sets, none of them is part of the Master Builder’s Academy (which is a thing). Each has instructions (designed by a real-life master builder) for building the model one or two ways to help you recreate the creative building that saved the day *non-creatively*. Or maybe it is creative, because master builders are inspired by real sets and designs (I should know, since my son is an aspiring one). Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hero, but Vitruvius was right: Emmett, boring old Emmett, is the special. And it took both his special and his boring to save the day.

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