Critical Theory, Culture Industry, and the Lego Movie

Everything is Awesome Clip” -- The Lego Movie, 2014, 4:57 -- -- Submitted by Chris Hardnack

One of the most interesting concepts within Critical Theory is the culture industry, a concept developed by Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, which refers to the tendency of mass culture to pacify and stupefy the population through mass deception in the form of television, film, and music. They argue that the content produced by the culture industry is not a representation of culture that is created to enlighten and liberate the masses. Rather, because of the culture industry, which posits a fusion of culture and the profit motive, culture is sold to the population as mass produced commodities.

In The Lego Movie, Emmet, a construction worker, who lives a life that is empty of any social connections describes his typical day. Throughout the scene, there are aspects that relate to critical theory, for example, scientific rationality comes into play when Emmet takes a book from his shelf titled, Instructions to Fit in, Have Everyone Like You, and Always Be Happy.  Emmet then reads through these instructions, eventually turning the TV on to see President Business, say that people should attend Taco Tuesday or be put to sleep, but Emmet is distracted by an episode of Where are My Pants?  This is followed by a montage where Teagan and Sara and The Lonely Island’s song, Everything is Awesome! satirically implies that pop music convinces the masses to go with the flow, to follow social norms, and that although things are not awesome, the culture industry convinces you that it is.

The clip can also spur discussion of the Marx’s concept of alienation by way of Emmet’s isolation and experiences at work, where the workers do not have control over the process of production. Weber’s characterization of modern society as one of increasing rationalization can also be discussed in relation to the film clip.

Submitted by Chris Hardnack, California State University, San Marcos. Twitter: @chrishardnack