Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Occupy Legoland

Sometimes it feels as though things were better when I was kid. Mostly, this is just a nostalgic illusion, aided and abetted by the fact that, like most half-centenarians, I had more energy, fewer responsibilities, fewer shattered illusions and better health back then. But some things really were better when I was a kid, Lego being one of those things.

With old school Lego you got a limited suite of relatively inexpensive, generic bricks and, with enough bricks and enough imagination, you could create a blocky facsimile of any object you could possibly imagine. Today, the Lego company survives and thrives by marketing relatively expensive kits, each of which requires different, specific types of bricks, designed to be non-interchangeable, each kit being designed to makes only one model of one thing. This goes against the whole philosophy of interchangeability, universality and unfettered imagination that made Lego 1.0 such a brilliant toy.

I know that there are sound commercial reasons for the change. The brilliant simplicity of the original concept makes it easy for someone else to make similar bricks more cheaply, so the only way to go was probably to move up the value chain into marketing well-engineered, non-interchangeable kits that traded on quality and brand recognition (of Lego itself and of the franchises, like Star Wars and Harry Potter that spawn so many Lego tie-in kits). But Lego 2.0 is worse for parents (more expensive) and kids (it's not as universal, although kids can start to break the one-kit-makes-one-thing rule if they're lucky enough to have a reasonable supply of generic bricks, plus enough kits to experiment with inventive hybrids made of parts scavenged from various kits). The interests of consumers and producers are clearly not as seamlessly aligned as some fans of the Invisible Hand would have you believe.

But now I'm starting to feel better about Lego 2.0, via the people responsible for the spin-off Lego movie, on the grounds that somebody associated with Lego is now annoying the right people. Specifically, Fox News, who seem to be having a "Won't somebody please think of the children?!" moment, now they've noticed that the Lego movie villain is a power-crazed corporate tycoon. What does the Fox say? That the Lego movie is *obviously* corrupting tender little minds with a subversive, anti-business, socialist, freedom-hatin' message.

One of the Fox commentators even pops up to cite that American Christmas favourite It's A Wonderful Life as evidence that the Lego Movie is just the latest example of a long line of red propaganda coming out of Hollywood, with the corporate villain of the Lego movie being the modern iteration of It's A Wonderful Life's heartless tycoon, Mr Potter, for whom the opinionista seems to have rather a soft spot.

Needless to say, this is complete baloney. For a start, villains have to have some sort of power to be scary. Scarily powerful people might be crime lords, monarchs, wicked viziers, generals, evil wizards, galactic emperors, corrupt politicians, tyrants, terrorists and, yes, occasionally even businessmen.

As far as anyone knows, Shakespeare wasn't a revolutionary republican, even though he wrote plays featuring  usurpers (Henry IV, both parts, Macbeth, Hamlet), weak kings (Richard II), foolish and even mad ones (King Lear) and plain bad ones (Richard III). He was interested in power and in telling interesting stories about people and conflict. Stories about bad kings don't make him an anti-monarchist any more than a film featuring a bad boss, told by successful Hollywood film-makers, featuring products from a successful commercial enterprise, (Lego), is anti-business.

The Fox people seem to have noticed the weakness of their argument when they add the supplementary accusation of hypocrisy on the part of the film-makers and Lego for being in the money-making business, yet daring to portray a fictional plastic plutocrat in less than flattering terms. Which is kinda adorable, coming from the Fox network which is responsible for beaming the commie agitprop of It's a Wonderful Life into American homes every Christmas and introducing the world to that libellous misrepresentation of America's selflessly philanthropic boss class, Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

It occurs to me that a political philosophy that's feeble enough to be threatened by a children's film about Lego people might have one or two problems.

On the other hand, creating conspiracy theories out of almost nothing is quite a creative, fun activity - a bit like Lego 1.0 for paranoids. So, I figured, why should the guys at Fox have all the fun? And on the basis of having watched one trailer for the Lego movie, I've discovered another shameless example of dirty Hollywood liberal propaganda being used to brainwash innocent kids. Specifically the scene where our moulded heroes are introduced to part of Lego World named "Cloud Cuckoo Land", by a character called Princess Unikitty:
Princess Unikitty: Here in Cloud Cuckoo Land there are no rules. There's no government, no babysitters, no bedtime, no frowny faces, no bushy moustaches and no negativity of any kind.
Wyldstyle: You just said the word 'no', like, a thousand times.
Princess Unikitty: And there's also no consistency. 
This is quite clearly a partisan political satire on  the simple-minded, ill-thought through libertarianism of the Tea Party, which has absolutely no business popping up in a wholesome family film. They ought to be ashamed, won't somebody please think of the children, etc...

Lego. Deconstructing the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism, one brick at a time (at least if you believe what they say on Fox News).



Steven Scott said...

Brilliance in cinema. Better than the Matrix for what it set out to do.