A few weeks ago PBS idea channel posted a video about The Lego Movie. In the video, Mike talks about how The Lego Movie argues for free and open culture. The video got me thinking about the movie and the act of interpreting media in general. I started to think about how all of the different little components of The Lego Movie (no joke intended there) allowed the movie to be so open to interpretation; then I wondered what I took away from the movie. I remembered my feelings towards the different characters, the situations, the final scene (I cried and you did too, you liar). It’s been some time since I’ve seen the movie and this has allowed me to give the movie a wider perspective, and give my feelings at the time a source. That is how I came to my interpretation. I’m not saying other interpretations are wrong, quite the contrary, I agree with Mike’s interpretation in the video. This is just one of the interpretations I took away, personally, from the experience once I put the movie under a microscope. I also wanted to bring up Idea Channel’s video because some of the ideas I’m going to talk about I did not form on my own (link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs4dCNO4A84), so I wanted to give credit where credit is due.
I see The Lego Movie as an allegory for the artistic cultural struggle between art society, capitalist production companies, and the everyday, off the beaten path and little artists. The new and different artists basically. Lord Business is obviously a symbol for art in a curated capitalistic fashion. Wanting to maintain things as they are and not wanting to change, in addition to having things be in perfectly structured order. While I see the Master Builders as a symbol for high art society, who say they encourage creativity, but ironically hinder it.
High art society has a history of pompousness, and with good reason. The high art society has repeatedly condemned new and emerging genres of art. To this day, a lot of the society will not accept digital art and graffiti. Roger Ebert was vehemently opposed to the idea that video games could ever be considered art. In galleries, they still display works they deem “true art” when on sites like Pixiv and DeviantArt, there are thousands of works the general public would agree are much better. Instead, they display four brush strokes on a canvas. Hyperbole, but you get my point (actually no there has been displays that are literally just that).
I see wild style as an art student. She is a rookie with a large, taught, admiration for all of the artists before her, almost to an obsessive degree, and accepts nothing outside of what is considered great by the Master Builders. The Master Builders represent high art society. Both are a form of group that congregate in the higher end of social ladders, very selective as to who’s a member, they arbitrarily determine what constitutes as creative and great, it’s seen as incredibly prestigious, and only accepts what they decide fits an arbitrary criterion of art.
In the movie, the Master Builders consistently shoot down and berate Emmet’s ideas, because they don’t meet their criteria of great and grand. Even though, at one point, one of Emmet’s ideas saves their lives. You can interpret this tension between Emmet and the Master Builders as a parallel to the clash of high art society and many forms of new and different artistic expression like graffiti and digital art. Ironically, this dismissal by the art society sends the message that only certain works possessing certain attributes can have the title of great or creative. Instead of encouraging creativity high art society and the Master Builders stifle it by limiting people’s options. Instead of encouraging the creation of ideas through all spectrums, they limit the scope of creativity. It’s ironic because this is what Lord Business and major production companies are doing.
As Mike pointed out in the Idea Channel video, Lord Business represents major production companies, and the Cragle is Copyright law as it stands now. An excellent case study for this is the music industry. Over many decades, the music industry has settled on formulas for what constitutes good music. The music industry curates songs with very similar beats, chord progressions, melodies, themes, lyrics, and rhyming patterns. Constantly shoving out monotonous songs one after the other. You almost can’t turn on the top 40 with thinking “hey this actually sounds just like this one song from a couple months ago”. This is the way industries stifle creativity through influence, but the other way is the one Mike mentioned (again, go watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs4dCNO4A84). Copyright is strict and long, very long. Creativity is the creation of original ideas, but it is also the rearrangement, altering, and modification of older pre-existing ideas (this is represented by the Lego bricks in the movie). Your work, if it contains a similar idea can be brought down upon and you could be potentially sued. Granted there are some ideas so general and old they can’t be copyrighted; like the revenge plot can’t be copyrighted (I would hope). Yet, it just needs to be similar enough. Say for instance you are making a movie, and you really like how Star Wars tells the audience the back story in the upward back scrolling text in the beginning. So you mimic it in your movie with the lore of your own world, but otherwise the rest of the movie is your own idea. You could be sued. Let’s say when you’re growing up you listen to a lot of metal music. Megadeth, Iron-maiden, Slayer, Metallica; you love them all and they inspire you. Then let’s say you want to start your own metal band, and you’re definitely influenced by the bands you listened to growing up, but overall it’s your own music. Someone listens to one of your songs and says “hey this one sliver of chord progression sounds very similar to X song”. You could be sued and get in a lot of trouble. I think you’re starting to get the point by now, but I really want to hammer home the concept that influence and the use of pre-existing ideas are not exactly copying and not really even a bad thing. Cartoonists and animators are probably the most prime examples of using pre-existing ideas and altering them to your own. They constantly grow up practicing drawing by mimicking the styles they like and eventually this develops into their own styles, but you can always see slight hints at their influences. This has been the case with many artists and animators, some of which have gone on to make fantastic work using these styles.
This is how large companies and copyright represent aspects of The Lego Movie. Lord Business represents large companies in the sense that he is not concerned with the creative endeavors of others. Instead, Lord Business is concerned with a selfish self-serving interest and goes about doing that by keeping the worlds tightly neat, and only allowing things to be produced that are formulaic and adhere to form. The Cragle, as Mike points out, represents copyright. By not allowing pre-existing ideas to be free flowing, copyright is essentially gluing ideas in place, just like how the Cragle doesn’t allow for the free movement of Lego bricks.
It’s very ironic that these industries condemn works that exhibit very clear influences and ideal use when they do the same on a much larger, curated, capitalistic, and formulaic scale.
So the summarize; I believe the master builders represent the stifling of creativity by the condemning of works they deem unfit and setting goals based on arbitrary standards. Industries stifle creativity by curated influence and the putting down of artists that “infringe” on their Copyright. Both dictating strict ideas of what constitutes as “good” content.