work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

The Lego Movie as Consumer-Capitalist Myth: The Cultural Tragedy of Production and the Expropriation of the Brickolariat

11.04.2014 · Posted in Uncategorized

Current Capitalism is in crisis. This is well known. Capitalism always is in crisis. From early on capitalism was experienced as unsettling, unbalancing and unstable. Gone was the cherished Aristotelian feudal/aristocratic ideal of moderation (σωφροσύνη) which locates virtuous behaviour in the considered middle (μεσότης) of two vices or excesses. It was replaced by an ever accelerating Faustian drive towards innovation, and self-transformation.[1] The ageing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe expressed this sense of loss of the, as he felt, healthy aristocratic middle as one of moderation and balance in favour of a bourgeois middle that constantly has to keep surpassing and transcending itself only to remain mediocre while becoming both more extreme and more common.[2]

The Myth of the Producer

This corresponds to another ancient concept of the middle – that of Aristotle’s teacher Plato. Plato’s concept had very little to do with moderation, but it does anticipate the strained situation of the middle classes in the capitalist logic of development about two and a half millennia later. For Plato the middle was an ontologically precarious position in which the downwards trajectory into total chaos could only be prevented by a relentless effort to move upwards towards perfect rational order.[3] Man, who presented himself to the Athenian citizen Plato as proto-bourgeois subject,[4]is conceived of as being suspended in an unstable intermediate position. In the Symposium God Eros (Ἔρως),[5] and with him the drive that defines Man, namely love-as-desiring-ambition, is son of Penia (Πενία) – Want, Poverty – and Poros (Πόρος) – Wealth.[6] Earthbound Eros is continuously dragged back down into the mires of his maternal origins while he struggles to become similar to his father: rational, beautiful and rich. Locating Eros – and with him Man – in quasi-economical manner between poverty and wealth anticipates the market citizen even before Plato’s horrified student Aristotle discovers the market economy.[7]Because Eros starts out with nothing his middle position, his μέσον, is that of a self-made man: It results from a ceaseless effort to achieve. He is the model for the world- and self-improving producer whose position remains always insecure and subject to the continuation of his focused pursuit of perfection, always ascending in order to avoid decline and dissolution. We find repercussions in cultural reflections on capitalist man, such as Goethe’s Faust – and it is no complete coincidence that Faust nearly fails in his pursuit of rationalisation because of a downward erotic and hypo-chthonic distraction.[8]

This producer is then placed within a world which is not only open to such ambition but outright dependent on it, since it has to reproduce its own likeness continuously to avoid disintegration. An imperative of permanent production is inscribed in the very fabric of this cosmos.[9] Plato’s metaphorical creation myth in Timaeus is prophetic in view of capitalist modernity: It is an architect, engineer, technologist,[10] a demiurge (δημιουργός), a producer who puts together the cosmos.  He does this – anticipating the Marxian analysis of the labour process as relation with nature and between natural forces[11] – by channelling the chaotic primeval substance (χώρα) which in its random movements follows blind necessity (Ἀνάγκη) into rational and orderly processes.[12] He attempts to bring them into a state in which they resemble as closely as possible the blueprint (παράδειγμα) of eternal Being (the famous Ideas or Forms). This resemblance must remain incomplete – Eternity can only be reproduced as Time, as a process, as Becoming.[13] The closest resemblance is achieved in the perfectly timed movements of the celestial bodies. This means that constructing the cosmos is not a singular effort – the cosmos has to be maintained in order to prevent descent into chaos. Man and cosmos in their permanently threatened state of in-between-ness (μεταξύ) find themselves in an unending existential crisis – (κρίσιςas decision between being and not-being).[14] Plato gives us a foundational myth of capitalist middle-ness whose position is achieved through the production of the world and which needs to be reproduced again and again to avoid the loss of class position… and the loss of world.

Nowadays of course such producerist fervour is fuelled by the dynamics of capitalist accumulation and the indeterminacy of money which opens an infinite horizon of opportunity. Dominik Schrage has characterised such producerist surpassing as an attempt to enhance and exceed life quantitatively by means of scientific and technological procedure.[15] But such surpassing has its limits – not so much economic limits but material-cultural ones. Money is abstract and infinite. But products are not. At one point the world is thoroughly produced through. From Marx to Picketty this phenomenon has been understood as the growing domination of capital (as past and dead labour) over living labour. If – as Christoph Deutschmann[16] points out – living labour is indeed the crucial ingredient in the entrepreneurial function of creative destruction (i.e. Joseph Schumpeter’s[17] notion of innovation of products and processes against the resistance of the already existing ones), then it is not surprising that the overbearing domination by dead labour constitutes an existential crisis. While Marx appropriated this figure of thought for his politico-economic theory from Hegel’s analysis of the objectivation of the Spirit, Georg Simmel has translated this process from the economic into general cultural terms – into what he called a tragedy of culture.[18] Here past creative expression which has objectified itself into a work of art, or any other kind of cultural product in the widest sense, impedes and threatens to suffocate present expressive action.Simmel voiced a concern that was widely felt and in his implicit reference to Marxist thought made it possible to think the recurrent crises of overproduction in the economy and the recurrent crises in cultural production as part of the same logic. Here the modern mind departs from and transcends the Platonic paradigm. The ideal endpoint, the maximum possible resemblance to the Forms in a rational-dictatorial steady-state can no longer be achieved once the metaphysical certainty about the Absolute has evaporated. The ceiling of the possible that once was the firmament has been shattered after the inverse truth of Platonic metaphysics has become inescapable,[19] the fact that the world (both the social world and increasingly, thanks to technological mastery, the natural world) converges not on the Absolute but on ‘Man’.[20]

The drive to grow, to surpass, transform, transcend, and excel persists, but it does not find room to be acted out.The desire to grow and develop that finds itself stymied by the already-existing, by the dead weight of the past translates into a lust for destruction, a violent reaction against the economic crisis, but equally against the cultural crisis which is experienced as an ontological one. To quote one intellectual who was very concerned about Being – here is Martin Heidegger around 1943:

The will-to-grow, enhancement is part of the essence of life. All preservation of life serves its growth/enhancement. Any life that is confined to its preservation is already in decline.[21]

When Adorno points out that Heidegger’s insights into „authentic“ Dasein  only disclose the being of capitalism this is confirmed here. The economic necessity to do away with the old in order to create space for new commodities is echoed by the call for a purifying thunderstorm of steel – Ernst Jünger’s infamous Stahlgewitter. War against the producedness of the world. War and imperialist growth, as Lenin saw it, as recurrent solution to the crises of overproduction. The two necrophilous aspects of industrial capitalism – the domination of the living (labour) by the dead (capital)[22] in total administration and technologisation and the desire for decay and dissolution into an amorphous mass of decomposing corpses.[23]

The Myth of the Consumer/Prosumer

This changes with the shift from a producerist towards a consumerist orientation which has been ongoing and accelerating over the last sixty or seventy years. There is an alternative to the absurdity of cyclical violent destruction and rebuilding: the enhancement of life through experience rather than production. With reference to Colin Campbell’s study on the Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism,[24] Schrage characterises this as enhancement/growth through the anticipation and part realisation of qualitatively new experiences.[25]The emphasis here is on the imagination, on fictitious content.

Of course, active imagination always was part of the spirit of capitalism. This can be seen in the case of Max Weber’s crown witness, Benjamin Franklin, who was not just a tireless worker and hardnosed accountant, but also an avid reader of novels, sparkling inventor and visionary politician. It is just that this side of the capitalist mentality – celebrated by Marx[26] – was stifled and muted in the iron cage which capitalism had become by the time Weber wrote his articles on the Protestant Ethic. And as Jens Becker shows, even in our age of a much more flexible and fast-moving capitalist process, economic sociology has yet to grasp the central significance of the imagination for entrepreneurial activity[27]– a significance that has come to prominence after the consumerist shift.

That shift enables businesses to address needs and evoke desires which by far exceed the limits of the corporeal, the sensual. The imperialist expansion into new geographical regions and military destruction of products and infrastructure was gradually replaced by an expansion into the inner worlds of the mind and innovation of immaterial content. In 1916, under the impression of the destruction of humans and machines that was the so-called ‘Great War’, Lenin had mocked the social-liberal anti-imperialist John A. Hobson for suggesting that an increase in the capacity to consume might be an alternative to the reliance on extending markets by imperial conquest and exploitation.[28] In 1972 the Leninist economist Ernest Mandel[29] noted that ‘increasing the consuming capacity’ of ordinary people under capitalism had indeed become the main strategy of what in Leninist terminology he still called ‘monopoly capitalism’. At the time various neo-Marxists began developing theories about how exactly this is pulled off – from Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle to Wolfgang Fritz Haug’s Critique of Commodity Aesthetics.[30]

This does not mean that products consisting mainly of immaterial components are free from objectification and reification. After all, Simmel wrote his Tragedy of Culture with artistic and literary expression in mind – and the very notions of alienation, objectification and reification have been developed by idealist philosophers. But, as Ernst Cassirer fielded against Simmel’s theses, what makes such products distinct is that their existence to a significant degree depends on them being received, imagined, and reproduced by their consumers.[31] With the growing importance of such products the active imagination as a Romantic skill, ‘autonomous-imaginative hedonism’ as Colin Campbell has called it,[32] becomes part of the general intellect. When enjoying the fruits of their labour as consumers, the producers train their creative potential.[33]

But however innovatively business organisations start off – there is a tendency towards ossification. Creative potentials are lost in capitalist establishments which of course are oriented towards quantitative growth. The impetus towards radical innovation degenerates into mere optimisation leading into the polished mediocrity of sub-incremental innovation which habitually is declared to be a pursuit of ‘excellence’.

Activating the consumers as prosumers, their involvement in processes of product innovation and design has been discovered as a plausible escape from this dilemma. This may be done, for example, through reliance on co-produced open source products or simply by tapping into the general intellect by creating links between enterprises and customer communities[34] – an engagement through which not only consumer creativity can be absorbed, but the consumerist aunonomous-imaginary hedonism of the corporations’ own designers and developers can be reactivated.

One prominent example of such an exploitation of the general intellect is Lego. Not only do Lego enthusiasts, free of charge, advertise the product by, for example, posting stop-motion animated Lego clips on Youtube – Lego invites design proposals via the Lego Ideas website,  some of which do indeed go into production and end up in the shops.[35] The gain is of course not just the relatively cheap outsourced design process with an already built-in market research (the subscribers to the website vote on each other’s designs), but also a device for trend-spotting, customer-community relations and, I suspect, some outside pressure to keep the corporation in inventive mode.

The Myth of the Lego

Lego is a good example also because it combines consumerist and producerist ethos. The fact that Lego is often endorsed as educational can be linked to the way that it links into both these mentalities. In its classic form into the 1970s Lego was a simple construction toy: perfectly connectable, quadratic and rectangular bricks in red, yellow, green and blue, from which children could construct a surprising variety of structures, buildings, vehicles. Quite rightfully it has been hailed as a perfect medium to develop children’s curiosity, creativity and imagination. But even in this simple form the Lego bricks did not only include the ‘affordance’ (to use Gibson’s[36] slightly worn-out concept) for free creative-innovative recombination (i.e. Schumpeter’s entrepreneurial function),[37] but also for the technological pursuit of orderly perfection and perfect order. The coincidence of these two aspects links the toy to the modern cultural hero, the engineer.[38]

Lego bricks are the ideal raw material for the bricoleur who weaves harmonies of shape and colour, and meaning and stories, into the productive chaos of the available material, thereby also affirming the productive role of disorder. In this respect it is much akin to what Navajo weavers do when they bring harmony into a threateningly bleak and hostile world.[39]It is not surprising that Lego found its way into Navajo art – as in the works of Dave Shaddix (who oversaw the recreation of Marlowe Katone’s Angry Birds Tree of Life wool rug in Lego) and Steve Yazzie (who, with his son, used Lego to create a statue of the mythological trickster-fixer[40] Coyote)[41]. And it may also not be surprising that the mythology framing this bricolage[42] is, at first sight, diametrically opposed to Plato’s creation-by-engineering story. Unlike the Greek the Navajo perceive the movement of the celestial bodies as being out of kilter; and it was Coyote who kicked them out of balance after First Man and First Woman had planned them in perfect order.[43] Coyote maintains life through the introduction of irregularity, surprise, laughter – which keep humans on their feet renewing and rearranging, recombining. Just as you do when you take a bagful of Lego bricks and start creating and recreating imagined worlds. This corresponds very much to the consumerist side of capitalist enhancement – it consists of sideways moves. To wit – when Eros fails it is because he keeps hitting the ceiling; while side-ways moving Coyote hits the wall.[44]

But the other affordance: rational order, pursuit of perfection and stability, is also already there in the quadratic and rectangular bricks – testifying to Claude Lévi-Strauss assertion that the bricoleur and the ingénieur are not so categorically different figures after all,[45] and as creating and aspiring in-betweeners[46] Coyote and Eros have some things in common – if Coyote were more consistent and organised he would become Eros.[47]  The artist Zbigniew Libera brings this to the point when explaining his concept artwork – a Lego death camp:

“The rationality of the Lego system is shocking. You cannot build an irregular construction from these blocks, or something shapeless, there will always have to be a right angle somewhere. You can only do what the rational system allows you to do. What is more, theoretically everyone can build whatever he or she wants, but in practice you build what is shown on the box”[48]

Indeed, playing with Lego has become more and more akin to the planful construction of Plato’s Demiurge. Hardly anyone still buys Lego bricks – the essential element of the Lego world has been marginalised by construction sets. These often double as merchandise for cinema productions like Star Wars and come with themed figurines and exact instructions as to how to assemble the pieces into little worlds. These too, like Plato’s κόσμος, are not meant to be completely motionless, but to be played out to come as close as possible to the παράδειγμα. But the possible moves are predetermined by the cinematic ideal.

However, children are naturally born tricksters, and with a measure of inevitability the perfect models thus assembled are bound to disintegrate. Often enough this is not a case of mere entropy, but one of creative destruction, recombination without much consideration for the initial instructions. The suffocatingly boring stasis of the perfectly engineered model is brought to life when the players revert from being the manual labourers subjected to the Lego ingénieurs and revert into being bricoleurs.

The Lego Movie documents, celebrates and – crucially – appropriates this process of reclamation of the initial, if you like, “spirit” of the bricks. Mimicking the aesthetics of amateur stop-motion videos (albeit, in fact, it made using CGI), links in with consumer creativities. The Lego Movie is a Warner Brothers production, licensed and co-marketed by the Lego Corporation (i.e. this time for once the relation between cinema movie and merchandise-in-bricks is reversed). Commercially as well as ideologically the film was a resounding success: It grossed 450 million dollars at the box offices worldwide, got nearly unanimously positive reviews, and was deemed to be anti-capitalist propaganda by Fox News. And of course the main characters, vehicles and settings are available as construction sets in a toy shop near you (setting the movie-merchandise relation right again).

The protagonist, Emmet Brickowsky, inhabits a world modelled on the Lego City range. He is a construction worker in the service of the monopoly-capitalist Octan Corporation. He is a disciplined and deskilled worker/ape as described by Harry Braverman[49] as outcome of Taylorist-Fordist production regimes and a passive de-cultured consumer/sheep right out of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.[50] He is perfectly content with a single and highly repetitive sitcom (Where Are My Pants?) and a single pop song (Everything Is Awesome). By a chain of unlikely events he is identified as ‘the Special One’, the last hope of a group of conspirators who have set out to break the power of the villain, CEO and dictator/president Lord Business. This underground movement was initiated by the first “master builder” Vitruvius (referencing the architect of Roman emperor Augustus) and consists of the remain free-spirited creative master builders of the various Lego worlds – among them Batman (representing the period of movie franchises), Benny the manic astronaut and spaceship builder (a version of the very first Lego figurine dating from 1978), and a female trickster figure, Wyldstyle.[51]

As the rebels are to find out, Lord Business does not only want to perpetuate his domination (which he has already stabilised by putting up walls between the Lego universes – boundaries which the trickster-fixer-like rebels habitually transgress). He wants to fixate the status quo quite literally – using superglue. But he is not driven by lust for power – he is driven by a lust for perfection. It pains him that his subjects keep messing with his elaborate and seemless creations. So rather than leave it to his workers to maintain his structures, reproducing a living cosmos at the price of ever so mute alterations, he prefers to a perfect but frozen world. Bygone, dead labour, i.e. capital, is to achieve its final victory over living labour. Sclerocapitalism in its very last stage – necrocapitalism.

The twist of the film is that it turns out that the supernatural being whom the Lego figurines think of as their ultimate Creator/God, and whom they refer to as ‘the man upstairs’, really is just that: a man living upstairs – a middle manager whose hobby it is to build intricate Lego scenarios in his basement. And because his young son secretly plays with the model worlds he started fixating them, brick by brick, with superglue. All Lord Business does is to carry out the plans of the man upstairs while the master builders under Emmet’s leadership try to salvage the childlike playful spirit of Lego. But once he sees the creations of his son the father begins to understand the need for free play (and by implication so does the Lego Corporation). On the plane of the Lego worlds this leads to reconciliation between the rebels and Lord Business who is reminded by Emmett that he, too, once was a master builder, a player, a child – a consumer. In a final twist the father reveals to his son that now that he’s allowed to play with the Lego so will his little sister. In the Lego world itself this is reflected by an invasion of the monsters from Planet Duplo. Panic ensues and the film ends.

Lord Business represents a sclerocapitalism in which the entrepreneur committed to innovation regresses into an antique tyrant. He has missed the cognitive turn of modernity, the convergence of the world unto Man.[52] That is, he has not realised that the world of Ideas/Forms in fact is an abstraction from the human pursuit of perfection and not (as in Plato) the other way round. But of course – one comic aspect of the film is that here the Platonic creation myth applies as God/Father himself as hobby demiurge has put together the Lego cosmos according to the παραδείγματα that are the assembly instruction which have come with the construction sets.

The father as well as Lord Business are a bad Platonist in that of course the unmoving image is less of a likeness to the paradigm than the moving – but they follow a Platonist/producerist intuitive insight that, as Karl Popper put it, ‘if the starting point of all change is perfect and good, then change can only be a movement that leads away from the perfect and good; it must be directed towards the imperfect and the evil, towards corruption.’[53] As Jens Beckert points out, an open future is both a risk and an opportunity for the entrepreneur in competitive capitalism.[54] But for the monopoly capitalism it nothing but a threat as it offers no further chances for development – it only holds the muted horror of crumbling decline. Which has to be arrested. As a consequence innovation and accumulation die a simultaneous death.

The empire of Lord Business very much corresponds to what Frederick Pollock has, in 1941, anticipated as the final stage of victorious state capitalism. Once not even war is an option to trigger creative destruction (as all possible wars are won) ‘state capitalism turns from concentrating upon armaments to a genuine peace economy its only alternative, if it wants to avoid unemployment, is to spend a very substantial part of the national income for the construction of modern “pyramids,” or to raise considerably the standard of living.’[55]The correspondence is startlingly close: The economy is kept going with pointless megaprojects (as the building site where Emmet works)’ the absence of competition makes for a ridiculous inflation (Emmet happily pays his $37 for a coffee), and discontent is controlled by a panem et circenses approach (merged into one in the final betrayal of Taco Tuesday).

‘Political domination is achieved by organized terror and overwhelming propaganda on the one side, on the other by full employment and an adequate standard of living for all key groups, the promise of security and a more abundant life for every subject who submits voluntarily and completely.‘[56]

The end of capitalist dynmaics also marks the end of the (always postponed) promise of capitalism which used to legitimise the inequality it came with: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Especially Life.

So the rigidly ossified Lego worlds need to be broken up and rearranged to stay alive. A desire emerges – the desire for a purifying thunderstorm of plastic, a Plastikgewitter.[57]The conspirators instigate a general rebellion mobilising the mass intellectuality of the brickolarians – i.e. those workers and consumers who, by habitually executing preconceived construction plans, have acquired the ability to plan for themselves: A classic case of a ‘dialectic of control’.[58] This makes for the appeal of the movie: It is an anti-Fordist, anti-bureaucratic liberation myth in which the joys, frustrations and rebellions of the Lego playing children coincide with those of the grown-up employees and consumers. Lego establishes itself as metaphor for all the bad and all the good in contemporary capitalism.

The way the Lord Business’ stagnating state capitalism is cracked up is revealing. It is not the hardened underground activists, the master builders from Benny to Batman, who shake the system to its core. It is the mass-cultural dupe and Fordist ape Emmet whose creative potentials are released and who inspires the general outbreak of imaginative innovation.[59] His contribution is, as stated, the ingrained skill to execute construction plans – combined with an inner emptiness which results from the complete absence of intellectual challenge that comes with the position of a subordinate in a Taylorist system. Emmet is completely without individual character traits. He is a little man without qualities. He is the regular guy to such a degree that, when queried by the police, his workmates can only describe him through this lack of character – there is nothing special about him at all. And when Vitrivius, Wyldstyle and Emmet himself, in an attempt to identify his creative potential, enter Emmet’s mind, they find it emptier than a Zen garden. Not even the wise Vitruvius can understand how the crazy constructions facilitated by the eradication of all real context are to contribute anything to the coming revolution (Emmet’s only invention so far is a double decker sofa). But it is precisely this (as Robert Musils man-without-qualities Ulrich ponders) ‚passive imagination of unoccupied spaces‘[60] which allows the man-without-qualities to do just everything ‘except this one thing: to take seriously what is supposed to fully occupy him’.[61] This results in, Musil continues, ‘an empty, invisible space, in which reality sits like a little building-block town abandoned by all imagination.’[62]

Once this fallow potential of the passive consumer is activated in the prosumer there is no holding back. The little toy brick town is rebuild according to the rules of Guy Debord’s psychogeography.[63] The ability to assemble according to plan is translated into bricolage and the hypertechnological robot armies of Lord Business are forced to capitulate in the face of the unexpected reconstructions of the brickolariat. The productivist-materialist mentality is replaced by a prosumerist-idealistic one.

But the rebellion does not result in revolution; it ends in reconciliation and reform.[64]What remains is the decalcification of the channels of innovation. The revolutionary vanguard is co-opted and Emmet reminds Lord Business that he himself, too, once was a master builder, a bricoleur/prosumer.[65]But – as warns the Platonic myth and its translation into a political sociology in the Republic – any such sideways deviation from the effort to preserve resemblance to the ideal comes with the threat of descent into chaotic amorphousness, the dissolution of all form and order. While a prosumer revolution is an attractive proposition in terms of entrepreneurial rejuvenation, it has also be noted that it comes with a control problem as

‘capitalists have more difficulty controlling prosumers than producers or consumers and there is a greater likelihood of resistance on the part of prosumers; the exploitation of prosumers is less clear-cut; a distinct economic system may be emerging there where services are free and prosumers are not paid for their work; and there is abundance rather than scarcity, a focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency in prosumer capitalism.’.[66]

On an ideological level the Lego Movie woes the discontented brickolariat by overlaying the techno-erotic myth of the perfectionistic construction set with the bricolo-coyotic myth of destructive-creative playfulness. And as Lévi-Strauss pointed out regarding the ‘slated’ nature of myths, as long as the underlying real contradiction is not resolved the myth that deals with that contradiction will be spun further, slate by slate adding new layers repeating the same story with slight variations.[67]

In the case of the Lego Movie we find the threat of slipping back into the mires of χώραrepresented by the intrusion of yet untamed feminity: the little sister and her Monsters from Planet Duplo (whose rug-ged design is remarkable in its allusion to creative weaving). The warning is akin to that of the story told by the Baruya men with which they justify to themselves the theft of holy flutes originally given to the women and their conscious falsification of the connected myth to prevent the women from re-appropriating them: They fear being overpowered by destructive potential of the female.[68]

But even before the threat a pattern is set as to how to deal with it. The film includes a veritable taming of the shrew – the domestication of Wyldstyle. In a leather jacket and on a motorcycle she is (according to the official website) a woman with a ‘strong, independent streak’ who is of ‘free spirit’ and ‘loves pushing boundaries and being creative.’[69] She simultaneously represents women’s lib and the transgressing coyote figure – like liminal coyote she is ‘the hesitant avatar of the region of thresholds and boundaries, this “realm of pure possibility”’[70] (in the film it is she who first takes Emmet across the dividing lines between the Lego worlds). But from the start her powers are held in check by male attachment: to Emmet’s disappointment she turns out to be Batman’s girlfriend and devoted admirer. Subsequently, in a Dickensian shift[71] towards domesticity she drifts and finally commits to Emmet – who is inferior to her in everything except his nominal masculinity. The successful domestication is sealed symbolically in her giving up her nom de guerre Wyldstyle and return to her given name, plain Lucy.[72] She is thus set on a trajectory straight into the world of Lego Friends with its beauty parlours, salad bars and boutiques. She has undergone the taming that Little Sister has yet to experience.

By way of conclusion

The Lego Movie achieves what is every advertiser’s secret dream: It produces a myth that manages to negotiate real contradictions through a commodity.[73] It skilfully slates in with pre-existing myths appropriated from two very different traditions to force into harmony what normally would be seen as irreconcilably opposed logics. As Roland Barthes has shown, capitalist myths masterly expropriate pre-existing ones,[74] using them as signs to signify further signified/concepts. The Lego Movie is a good example of how original meanings are bent and recast in a way so that consumers can use them to deal with the cognitive dissonances resulting from the  inevitable contradictions between capitalism’s egalitarian implications and its persistent inequalities and injustices[75] (such as corporate power, such as gender stereotype).[76]

It is tempting to think the mythical traditions rehashed in the movie along the lines of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s opposition of the arborescent (Eros) and rhizomatic (Coyote) or the imperial state form (Athens/Sparta) and the nomadic war machine (Native Americans). Do they not associate the nomadic/rhizomatic with bricolage and even cite Plato’s Timaios as a document written in opposition to it?[77] Above all – do they not suggest that contemporary capitalism, just like the Octan corporation of Lord Business after its restructuring, is an uneasy compound of rhizomatic/nomadic and arborescent/bureaucratic forces?

‘Has not America acted as an intermediary here as well? For it proceeds both by internal exterminations and liquidations (not only the Indians but also the farmers, etc.), and by successive waves of immigration from the outside. The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quantification of power with immediate “quanta,” where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way (hence the reality-myth of the poor man who strikes it rich and then falls into poverty again): in America everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations, it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both – all for the worst.’[78]

Given the success not only of the specifically American model of capitalism, but also, around the globe, a whole range of capitalisms that operate on a variety of admixtures and recombinations of the arborescent and the rhizomatic… one wonders how incompatible those principles really are. The cherished American counter-culture which Deleuze and Guattari reference (naming Kerouac and the Beatniks) has long become consumer culture[79] and Orientalising practices have been spread by the works of all so many management gurus and greedily lapped up by the children of the 1960s culture revolution who made it to the board rooms where they happily preside over organisations which, following sequential fads and fashions, oscillate between the two: The rhizome and the tree grow well together in contemporary capitalism – and the question remains how? Deleuze and Guattari – with their proclaimed tiredness of trees and all hopes invested in the nomadic war machine – cannot say. It is with mild disgust that they observe that the rhizomatic structure that is the human brain grows trees.

The organisation form of the pack or the gang in nomadic warfare may have held its fascination during the cold war (at least if you were sitting comfortably far away from the many of its hot spots in Your Safe European Home), but currently nomadic warfare does not look like a very attractive proposition at all. Both the cult of the tree and the cult of the rhizome have amply proven their necrophilous potential – and the very worst that modernity has produced in terms of forms of domination typically goes to extremes on both ends. Highlighting the in-between-ness of the rhizomatic they neglect that in-between-ness not a characteristic of the rhizome, but the creative space between the rhizome and the tree.

The revolutionary task is not to liberate the rhizomatic from the arborescent and defend the nomadic against the intrusions of the State. It is to secure a place in between the two. To wit, it is all about combining the Erotic line of flight from chaos into rationality and the Coyotic sideways drift in a way that creates and maintains autonomy, that allows for the formation of identities that neither ossify into mere character masks nor dissolve into characterless nonentities. The fact that corporate propaganda goes to such lengths to claim that Coyoto-Erotic position for its paymasters indicates that it may be worth occupying.



[1] According to Marshall Berman the ‚Faustian model will present a new model of authority, authority that derives from the leaders capacity to satisfy modern people’s persistent need for adventurous, open-ended, ever-renewed development.’ (All That Is Solids Melts into Air, London: Verso 1983, p.74)

[2]  ‘Was ihm an moderner Literatur aus Frankreich zukam, erkannte er als eine “Literatur der Verzweiflung”, welche dem Leser das Entgegengesetzte von all dem aufdränge, was man dem Menschen zu einigem Heil vortragen sollte. […] Die moderne Menschheit überbiete und überbilde sich, um in der Mittelmäßigkeit zu verharren, sie werde extremer und gemeiner.‘ (Karl Löwith, Von Hegel zu Nietzsche, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1950, p.43). Until today nostalgic communitarian and ecological critiques of an overheated capitalism in which the strive for so-called ‘excellence’ leads to mounting demands on workplace performance and at the same time, given how ridiculous the cult of excellence has become, a loss of meaning of work. An invocation of the Aristotelian mean or middling that favours happiness or human flourishing over success and profit, and meaningfully active leisure over meaninglessly busy work seems quite understandable. For a recent attempt see Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s Aristotelian-Keynesian How Much Is Enough (New York 2012)

[3] In a world which, according to Heraclitus is not just on fire, but is consists of fire (Karl Popper, The World of Parmenides. Essays in Presocratic Enlightenment, London 1998, 15sqq.) just moving about carefully in a measured way is not enough to preserve what is. Whatever order and form there is needs to be reproduced in an ongoing effort. Plato has tried to achieve this by orienting the precarious and ephemeral infinite Becoming towards the absolute Being which Parmenides postulated as eternal and unchanging (Popper, ibid., p.27) – by which link he gave a measure of validity to the perceptible and changing world which Parmenides dismissed as pure non-being (Parmenides, Über das Sein. Fragmente des Lehrgedichts, translated by Jaap Mansfeld, Stuttgart 1981, pp.9sq, DK 28 B8).

[4] This will be contested by classicists and philosophers, but was apparent to Liberal, Social-Democrat and Marxist theorists such as Karl Popper, Karl Polanyi and Alfred Sohn-Rethel.

[5] As did, much later, Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Plato understood humans as driven by eroticism. While the imagined mechanism is different, both try to explain the same sexually stereotyped observation: Why does the young boy, who is held back in the mires of amorphous infantility through his mother identification, aspire to order and rationality? With Plato, who did not have to deal with  Während die Mechanik eine andere ist, wird versucht ein und denselben Umstand zu erklären: Warum strebt der von der Mutteridentifikation im Morast kindlicher Amorphität versinkende Mensch (Junge) nach Ordnung, Rationalität. Plato did not have to deal with the complex inner lives of big city neurotics, so his story is simpler than that of Dr Freud.

[6] Poros himself is a descendant of Metis (Μῆτις), Titan of wisdom.

[7] Karl Polanyi: „Aristotle Discovers the Economy“, in: C. M. Arensberg, H. W. Pearson, K. Polanyi (eds.): Trade and Market in Early Empires, New York 1957, pp.64-94

[8] The small-e erotic distraction is of course Gretchen, the hypo-chthonic one is in his sliding aspirations in which the orientation towards actual nature rather than the higher being means that he cannot even hold on to the Earth Spirit he has conjured up – he compares his own powers to that of a mere earthworm – he compares himself to a worm: ‘Den Göttern gleich ich nicht! Zu tief ist es gefühlt; / Dem Wurme gleich ich, der den Staub durchwühlt.‘ (Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust (Urfaust, Faust I und II, Pralipomena, Goethe über “Faust”), Berlin: Aufbau Verlag 1986, p.88) He is restored from that subterrannean trajectory into death (he considered suicide) by the uplifting choir of the Angels on Easter morning – significantly, in Platonic/erotic manner, the restoration is only to an earthly, middle position: ‘O tönet fort, ihr süßen Himmelslieder! / Die Träne quillt, die Erde hat mich wieder!‘ (ibid. p.91) The symbolism of Resurrection is thus scaled down to a resurrection into an active bourgeois existence in the world. Faust is not really sarcastic when he relishes in the colourful scene of the revelling townsfolk – and talking of it as a form of resurrection from their everyday routine existences: ‘Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn, / Denn sie sind selber auferstanden, / Aus niedriger Häuser dumpfen Gemächern, / Aus Handwerks- und Gewerbesbanden, / Aus dem Druck von Giebeln und Dächern, / Aus der Straßen quetschender Enge, / Aus der Kirchen ehrwurdiger Nacht / Sind sie alle ans Licht gebracht.‘ (ibid. p.95sq.)

[9] Eric Voegelin highlights the connection between Platonic anthropology and cosmogony. (‘Ewiges Sein in der Zeit’, in: idem: Anamnesis. Zur Theorie der Geschichte und Politik, München 1966, p.265)

[10] Luc Brisson demonstrates that Platos Demiourgos applies nearly every technology of the age (La même et l’autre dans le Timée de Platon, Paris 1974, pp.35sqq.).

[11] The worker ‘benutzt die mechanischen, physikalischen, chemischen Eigenschaften der Dinge, um sie als Machtmittel auf andre Dinge, seinem Zweck gemäß, wirken zu lassen.’ In a footnote to this Marx cites Hegels cunning of reason. (Das Kapital I, MEW 23, Berlin 1962, p.194). Also see Alfred Schmidt, The Concept of Nature in Marx, London 1971, especially pp.65sqq.

[12] Karin Alt translates πλανωμένη αίτία as ‘Ursache ohne Ziel‘, i.e. as ‘aimless‘ or ‘erratic cause‘. (‚Die Überredung der Ananke. Zur Erklärung der sichtbaren Welt in Platons Timaios, Hermes, Vol.106 (1978), pp.426-66, p.446)

[13] Even the fixed stars in their perfect immobility culmination of the construction do move – only they move in the same place..

[14] Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Zweiter Teil: Das mythische Denken, Darmstadt 1964, p.158

[15] Dominik Schrage, „Optimierung durch Überbietung: ‚Leben‘ in produktivistischer und konsumistischer Perspektive“, in: U. Bröckling, A. T. Paul und S. Kaufmann (eds.): Vernunft – Entwicklung – Leben, München 2004, pp.291-303, p.292

[16] Christoph Deutschmann, ‘Marx, Schumpeter and the Myths of Economic Rationality’, in: Thesis Eleven, no.53 (1998), pp.45-64, p.49sqq.

[17] Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1934, p.14.

[18] Georg Simmel, Philosophische Kultur, Berlin 1986, pp.195-219

[19] Hans Barth credits Nietzsche with this insight (Wahrheit und Ideologie, Frankfurt am Main 1971, p.246). While seeing himself as true philosopher, Nietzsche unmasks Plato as an artist who does not understand the false world appearances in relation to the real world of Ideas – but actively denies the reality of the real world and claims the truth of his own ideas in order to force the real world to become an image of his own imagination. Karl Popper is therefore quite right in linking Plato’s being a closet artist to the brutality of his political project that starts with the violent act of creating a tabula rasa. renewal (Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume One: The Spell of Plato, London 2003, 175sq.).

‚Ein Künstler hält keine Wirklichkeit aus, er blickt weg, zurück, seine ernsthafte Meinung ist, daß was ein Ding werth ist, jener schattengleiche Rest ist, den man aus Farben, Gestalt, Klang, Gedanken gewinnt, er glaubt daran, daß, je mehr subtilisirt verdünnt verflüchtigt ein Ding, ein Mensch wird, um so mehr sein Werth zunimmt: je weniger real, um so mehr Werth. Dies ist Platonismus: der aber noch eine Kühnheit mehr besaß, im Umdrehen: — er maß den Grad Realität nach dem Werthgrade ab und sagte: je mehr „Idee“, desto mehr Sein. Er drehte den Begriff „Wirklichkeit“ herum und sagte: „was ihr für wirklich haltet, ist ein Irrthum, und wir kommen, je näher wir der ‘Idee’ kommen, <um so näher> der ‘Wahrheit’ “. — Versteht man es? Das war die größte Umtaufung: und weil sie vom Christenthum aufgenommen ist, so sehen wir die erstaunliche Sache nicht. Plato hat im Grunde den Schein, als Artist, der er war, dem Sein vorgezogen: also die Lüge und Erdichtung der Wahrheit, das Unwirkliche dem Vorhandenen, — er war aber so sehr vom Werthe des Scheins überzeugt, daß er ihm die Attribute „Sein“ „Ursächlichkeit“ und „Gutheit“, Wahrheit, kurz Alles Übrige beilegte, dem man Werth beilegt.‘ (Nietzsche 2009,) (Friedrich Nietzsche ‚Nachgelassene Fragmente Ende 1886-Frühjahr 1887‘, in Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe: Werke und Briefe based on the critical text by G. Colli and M. Montinari, Berlin: de Gruyter 1967sqq., edited by Paolo D’Iorio,, 7 [2].)

[20] see Günter Dux, Die Logik der Weltbilder, Frankfurt am Main 1990, pp.295sqq.

[21] “Zum Wesen des Lebens gehört das Wachsenwollen, die Steigerung. Jede Erhaltung des Lebens steht im Dienste der Lebenssteigerung. Jedes Leben, das nur auf Erhaltung beschränkt ist, ist schon Niedergang.” He goes on to us this reasoning to underpin an expansionist notion of Lebensraum: „Die Sicherung des Lebensraumes z.B. ist für das Lebendige niemals das Ziel, sondern nur ein Mittel zur Lebenssteigerung. Umgekehrt erhöht wiederum das gesteigerte Leben das frühere Bedürfnis nach Raumerweiterung.“ Martin Heidegger, „Nietzsches Wort ‚Gott ist tot‘“ In Gesamtausgabe 1.Abt, 5.Bd, Frankfurt am Main 1977 pp.209-67, p.229

[22] ‘For the necrophilous character only the past is experienced as quite real, not the present or the future. What has been, i.e., what is dead, rules his life: institutions, laws, property, traditions and possessions. Briefly, things rule man; having rules being; the dead rule the living. In the necrophile’s thinking – personal, philosophical, and political – the past is sacred, nothing new is valuable, drastic change is a crime against the “natural” order. [footnote: For Marx, capital and labor were not merely two economic categories. Capital for him was the manifestation of the past, of labor transformed and amassed into things; labor was the manifestation of life, of human energy applied to nature in the process of transforming it. The choice between capitalism and socialism (as he understood it) amounted to this: Who (what) was to rule over what (whom)? What is dead over what is alive, or what is alive over what is dead?]’ Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destruciveness, London: Jonathan Cape 1974, p.339

[23] The desire for death in war complements the search for a machine-like existence in invulnerable bodies of steel as Klaus Theweleit diagnosed it for the fascist mentality. Ernst Jünger and Gottfried Benn are two sides of the same coin. And if Erich Fromm is right to suggest that a milder form of necrophilia exists in the ‘technotronic’ social character of US capitalism (ironically thematised in movies such as Iron Man) then this is also matched by a complementary longing for decomposition and decay as expressed in the popularity of zombie movies.

Klaus Theweleit, Männerphantasien, Band 1, Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld Roter Stern 1987

[24] Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford 1987.

[25] Dominik Schrage, „Optimierung durch Überbietung: ‚Leben‘ in produktivistischer und konsumistischer Perspektive“, in: U. Bröckling, A. T. Paul und S. Kaufmann (eds.): Vernunft – Entwicklung – Leben, München 2004, pp.291-303, p.299sq.

[26] Shown vividly by Marshall Berman All That Is Solids Melts into Air, London: Verso 1983, p.94sq.

[27] Jens Beckert, “Capitalism as a System of Expectations”, in: Politics and Society, Vol.41, no.3, pp.323-50

[28] ‘as long, as all this criticism shrank from recognising the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore, between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism, while it shrank from joining the forces engendered by large-scale capitalism and its development-it remained a “pious wish”.

This is also the main attitude taken by Hobson in his critique of imperialism. Hobson anticipated Kautsky in protesting against the “inevitability of imperialism” argument, and in urging the necessity of “increasing the consuming capacity” of the people (under capitalism!).’ Vladimir I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, chapter 9

[29] Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, London: NLB 1975, pp.390sqq.

[30] Guy Debord, Société de Spectacle, Paris 1967, Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Kritik der Warenästhetik, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1971,  also, and already displaying considerable cultural despair, Jean Baudrillard, La société de consommation. Ses mythes, ses structures, Paris 1970.

[31] Ernst Cassirer, Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften. Fünf Studien, Göteborg 1942, p.121

[32] Colin Campbell,: The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford: Blackwell 1987

[33] The distinction between productionist and consumerist dynamics can only be an analytical one. Deutschmann shows that the function of creative destruction in the innovation of products, production process and organisation is part of the transformation of living labour into capital. Were the creative potential of labour power only to be used for efficiency gains by fully exploiting possible gains within existing parameters the first capitalist crisis of overproduction would also be the last – with the ensuing imperialist war ending in a frozen global monopoly capitalism – world state capitalism. No purely quantitative intensification of labour can maintain the precarious middle position through productionist enhancement and the descent into a crumbling Brezhnevism of creeping slack would set in soon. But from the beginning capitalist growth was always also driven by radical innovation for which the autonomous imagination was always key. The cultural hero that is the engineer was a man with a vision for whom the optimisation of speed and reach were never the only concerns. In turn, many of the poetic heroes of the Romantic age whom Campbell glorifies as the inventors of our contemporary autonomous imaginative consumer hedonism were also relentless producers – William Blake would be the prime example here.  (Eric Wilson, My Business Is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, Iowa City 2011)

[34] E.g. Bernard Cova, Daniele Dalli “Working Consumers: The Next Step in Marketing Theory?”, in: Marketing Theory, Vol.9 (2011), no.3, pp.315-3

[35] Detlev Zwick, Samuel K. Bonsu, and Aron Darmody ‘Putting Consumers to Work: `Co-creation` and new marketing govern-mentality’ Journal of Consumer Culture July 2008 8: 163-196. One example is the lay designed Lego Ghostbusters Ecto-1

[36] J.J. Gibson: “The Theory of Affordances”, in R. Shaw, J. Bransford (eds): Perceiving, Acting, Knowing, Hillsdale NJ 1977, pp.67-82.

[37] Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1934, p.14.

[38] Lego serves as staple metaphor for recombining innovation. Eric Abrahamson, ‘Managing Change in a World of Excessive Change: Counterbalancing Creative Destruction and Creative Recombination’, in: Ivey Business Journal, January/February 2004, pp.1-9

[39] (Richard Howells, ‚The Aesthetics of Utopia: Creation, Creativity and a Critical Theory of Design‘, in: Thesis Eleven, Vol.123, no.1, pp.41-61) So unlike Faust who cannot maintain his grip on earthly reality without being pulled up by aspiration to the heavenly spirit, the Navajo work with the Earth Spirit who in Goethe describes its life force as one that weaves: ‘In Lebensfluten, im Tatensturm / Wall ich auf und ab, / Webe hin und her! / Geburt und Grab, / Ein ewiges Meer, / Ein wechselnd Weben, / Ein glühen Leben, / So schaff ich am sausenden Webstuhl der Zeit / Und wirke der Gottheit lebendiges Kleid.‘ (Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust (Urfaust, Faust I und II, Pralipomena, Goethe über “Faust”), Berlin: Aufbau Verlag 1986, p.83)

[40] Mac Linscott Ricketts identified him as a ‘“trickster-transformer-culture hero” (or “trickster-fixer” for short)’ to acknowledge the ambiguously destructive/creative position that Coyote occupies. (‘The North American Trickster’, History of Religions, Vol.5 (1966), no.2, pp..327-50)

[41] Both displayed at the Build! Exhibition at the Heard Museum for American Indian Art in Phoenix Arizona, see  for images. (both links last accessed 2nd November 2014).

[42] Coyote has been understood along the lines of Lévi-Strauss’s notion of bricolage. See Jarold Ramsey, Reading the Fire: Essays in the Traditional Indian Literatures of the Far West, Lincoln Na.: University of Nebraska Press, p.327

[43] Coyote is angry that he has not been involved in planning the skies and wants to destroy it all, but after the first humans pass a test he contends himself with introducing some irregularities:  ‘I will put in some extra days so that the months will not be even. Sometimes frost will come early, and sometimes it will remain late. First plants will sometimes freeze, and so also will animals. Sometimes the full moon will come before the end of the month; and at the end of the year you will find that you have 13 moon periods instead of 12.’  (Aileen O’Bryan: The Dîné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians, Bulletin 163 of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institut, 1956, p.20)

[44] Coyote hitting the wall has of course made a famous cultural reappearance in American popular culture in the form of the cartoon character Wile E Coyote. This has not been inspired directly by the trickster-fixer figure but by a description of the animal by Mark Twain:

‘The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! – so scrawny, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.’ (Roughing It, Vol.1, New York: Harper & Brothers 1904 [1899], p.48)

But there is an indirect connection since, as William Bright argues, especially the aspects of greed, unruliness, and cleverness in the mythical figure are clearly derived from observable traits of the actual animal (A Coyote Reader, Berkley Ca.: University of California Press 1993)

[45] Claude Lévi-Strauss, La pensée sauvage, Paris : Plons 1962, pp.29sq.

[46] Lévi-Strauss sees the position in between agriculture and hunting of the scavenging carrion-eaters Raven and Coyote the structural core of the North American trickster myths (

[47] ‘There can be little doubt that Trickster is capable of creation. The evidence is widespread. What is remarkable is the manner in which he creates, for the act of bringing into existence is somehow less worthy of acceptance if done by accident or as the result of foolish behaviour.’ (Larry Ellis, ‘Trickster, Shaman of the Liminal’, in: Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Vol.5 (1993), no.4, pp.55-68, p.57)


[49] Labor and Monopoly Capital, New York: Monthly Review Press 1974

[50] Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno ‚Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente‘, in: Max Horkheimer: Gesammelte Schriften, Band 5, Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer. 1987

[51] I cannot but suspect that she was named in allusion to Lévi-Strauss‘ Pensée sauvage which introduced the notion of bricolage into the vocabulary of the university graduate.

[52] see Günter Dux, Die Logik der Weltbilder, Frankfurt am Main 1990, pp.295sqq.

[53] The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume One: The Spell of Plato, London: Routledge 2003 [1945], p.35

[54] E.g. Jens Beckert, “Capitalism as a System of Expectations”, in: Politics and Society, Vol.41, no.3, pp.323-50, p.339

[55] Frederick Pollock, ‘State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations‘, Studies in Philosophy and Social Science ( Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung in exile), Vol.IX (1941), no.2, pp.200-225,, p.216).

[56] Ibd. p.223

[57] Since the sclerocapitalism to be rejuvenated has filled the world up with its products and since even the imaginative toy that is Lego is a material product (it consists mainly of mineral oil) a material battle cannot be avoided – a battle which creates the tabula rasa that from Plato over Tkachev to Stalin was deemed a precondition for the creation of an aesthtic-political social renewal (Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume One: The Spell of Plato, London 2003, 175sq.). The link of Lego to the world of raw materials has recently been object of a Greenpeace campaignEverything is not awesome

[58] Anthony Giddens, ‘Power, the Dialectic of Control and Class Structuration’, in: A. Giddens and G.Mackenzie (eds): Social Class and the Division of Labour. Essays in Honour of Ilya Neustadt, Cambridge, London,: Cambridge Univ. Press 1982, pp.29-45.

[59] The story follows the consumer-romantic pattern that,  by way of ‚realistic daydream‘ takes off from the everyday life of an ordinary person who discovers their extraordinary potential as they slid into an adventure.

[60] My translation of „passive Phantasie unausgefüllter Räume“ (Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften I, Kap.8)

[61] My translation of „nur nicht das eine: das ernst zu nehmen, […] was ihn ausfüllen sollte.“ (ibid.)

[62] „… ein leerer, unsichtbarer Raum, in dem die Wirklichkeit darinsteht wie eine von der Phantasie verlassene kleine Steinbaukastenstadt.“ (ibid.)

[63] „Die Psychogeographie würde sich die Erforschung der genauen Gesetze und exakten Wirkungen der gegebenen oder bewußt eingerichteten, direkt auf das Gefühlsverhalten des Individuums einwirkenden geographischen Umwelt zur Aufgabe machen“ und Die Forschungen , zu denen man hierdurch gebracht wird, sehen die Disposition der Bestanteile des urbanistischen Rahmens in enger Verbindung mit den von ihnen hervorgerufenen Empfindungen uns setzen unvermeidlich voraus, die ständig im Lichte der Erfahrung durch Kritik uns Selbstkritik zu korrigieren sind.“ (Guy Debord, Rapport zur Konstruktion von Situationen, München 1980, pp.60&67).

[64] Instead of the brickolarian soviet republic realising  the balance between producer and consumer interest Karl Korsch hat postulated, the creative energy from the underbelly of the system is harnessed for and built into the corporate machine. The revolutionary brickolariat becomes a source of inspiration for designers and marketeers. By ‘expropriation of the brickolariat’ I therefore do not mean mainly the processes of ongoing original accumulation in which lay creativity is utilised for little or no pay (as in Lego Ideas), but rather the appropriation of the consumerist general intellect of employees, its transfer into the already bought labour power and utilisation for the extraction of surplus value. Paolo Virno remarks that in the post-Fordist economy even the ability to communicate, to converse, has been recognised as a resource to be exploited. (A Grammar of the Multitude. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) 2004, p.106sq). Just as in the exploitation of what Ursula Huws has termed the ‘cybertariat’ the now taken-for-granted ability to interact with computers is utilised, so is the creative imagination of the romantic consumer in an ever wider range of employments.

[65] Critics challenging how the role of the prosumer has been overrated tend to overlook the indirect role of prosumerism in reactivating the consumerist perspective within businesses. (Comor 2010a and 2010b come close).

[66]  George Ritzer und Nathan Jurgenson, ‘Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital “Prosumer”’, in: Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol.10 (2010), no.1, pp.13-36, p.31

[67] Claude Lèvi-Strauss, ‘The Structural Study of Myth’, in: Journal of American Folklore, Vol.68 (1955), no.270, pp.428-44. Christoph Deutschmann identifies a similar process in the recurring revolutions in management ideologies (‘Die Mythenspirale. Eine wissenssoziologische Interpretations industrieller Rationalisierung’, in: Soziale Welt, vol.48 (1997), no.1, pp.55-70.) Deutschmann speculates about the possibility of the spiral of myths tiring out. In capitalism the myth is not just a justification story that glosses over underlying contradiction. It can afford to be relatively open about these contradictions as it is a commodity in itself – people pay good money for the exposure to the spiralling myth. Guy Debord has pointed out the uncanny potential of spectacular capitalism to turn even disappointment into commodities (La Société de Spectacle, Paris: Gallimard 1992, p.55)

[68] « […] c’est là le secret le plus secret des Baruya:  dans l’objet sacré qui manifeste le pouvoir des hommes se trouvent les pouvoirs des femmes que les hommes ont réussi à s’approprier quand ils leur ont volé les flûtes. »  « La thèse est claire. Les femmes sont certes dotes d’une créativité première qui dépasse celle des homes, mais celle-ci est source de désordres, de démesure. Elle constitue une menace permanente pour la vie en commun, non seulement des humains entre eux mais des humains avec les êtres qui coexistent avec eux dans le même univers, animaux, plantes, etc. Les hommes se reconnaissent donc comme inférieures aux femmes sur un certain plan, mais comme supérieurs à elles lorsqu’il s’agit de mettre de l’ordre, d’introduire de la mesure dans la société et l’univers. » Maurice Godelier, L’énigme du don, Paris 1996, p.179)

[69] (last accessed 19th October 2014)

[70] Larry Ellis, ‘Trickster, Shaman of the Liminal’, in: Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Vol.5 (1993), no.4, pp.55-68, p.56

[71] To Emmet’s and Lucy’s relief Batman gives his blessings to the alliance – which in effect makes her the object of an unbalanced gift exchange, a happy hand-out by the Big Man.

[72] And who knows – maybe that’s an allusion to the biological Eve, the oldest female ancestor discovered. Given that they referenced Augustus’ architect, I wouldn’t put it past the makers of the film to take archaeological inspiration to signal that Wyldstyle/Lucy is Woman as such.

[73] Andrew Wernick, Andrew, ‘Advertising and Ideology: An Interpretative Framework’, in: Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.2, No.1, pp.16-33, p.28

[74] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Paris: Éditions du Seuil 1957, pp.193sqq.

[75] Matthias Z. Varul, ‘Reciprocity, Recognition and Labor Value: Marx’s Incidental Moral Anthropology of Capitalist Market Exchange’, in: Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 41 (2010), no. 1,  pp.50-72

[76] Melvin J. Lerner, The Belief in a Just World. A Fundamental Delusion, New York: Plenum 1980

[77] ‘The model in question is one of becoming and heterogeneity, as opposed to the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant. It is a “paradox” to make becoming itself a model, and no longer a secondary characteristic, a copy; in the Timaeus, Plato raises this possibility, but only in order to exclude it and conjure it away in the name of royal science. By contrast, in atomism, just such a model of heterogeneity, and of passage or becoming in the heterogeneous, is furnished by the famed declination of the atom.’ (Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Continuum 2004)

[78] Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Continuum 2004

[79] Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell, Chichester: Capstone 2005

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