“You Know the Rules!” What’s Wrong with The Man Upstairs?

Jon Robson

It doesn’t take Batman® ’s detective skills to discern that—at least until his last-minute change of heart—The Lego® Movie’s Lord Business is the bad guy. The use of laser sharks and the phrase “now my evil power will be unlimited” are pretty clear indications that the audience isn’t supposed to be rooting for you. And as for his accomplice Bad Cop, well his name speaks for itself. Yet, when we consider the “real world” inspiration for Lord Business, The Man Upstairs, things become much less straightforward. The Man certainly isn’t a moustache-twirling villain, and he lacks Business’s most obvious indications of moral turpitude such as plans for world domination and a desire to neutralize all possible sources of opposition. Still, we are clearly meant to think that—again, prior to his own last-minute change of heart—he embodies some significant moral flaw. Yet, it is no easy matter to specify precisely what it is about The Man’s character and behavior that we are intended to regard as so objectionable. Nonetheless, the flaw in question is very real and commonly encountered in our everyday lives.

“All of This That You See Before You is All Your Father’s”

So, what is wrong with The Man Upstairs? Some initially promising suggestions concerning the flaws in The Man’s character quickly

LEGO® and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick By Brick, First Edition. Edited by Roy T. Cook and Sondra Bacharach.

© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

turn out to be inadequate. Consider, for example, the possibility that The Man’s flaw is his lack of generosity toward his offspring. The Man’s unwillingness to allow Finn to play with his toys (or should it be “highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system”?) is, after all, a major source of consternation for his son. Further, his unwillingness to let Finn’s sister interact with his LEGO world, while considerably less upsetting for Finn, might be seen to only compound this lack of generosity.

Yet, such a criticism hardly seems fair. To see why, compare this behavior with the way in which the LEGO version of Green Lantern® is treated by the other minifig superheroes in the movie. Throughout the movie, DC’s Trinity of heroes—Batman®, Superman®, and Wonder Woman®—have little interest in sharing anything, even common courtesy, with the ring-wielding hero. So much so that Superman expresses a preference for a Kryptonite-induced demise over spending time in the Lantern’s company. Of course this is all played for laughs, and we are clearly intended to regard the lack of respect that Green Lantern receives from his peers as a source of amusement rather than pity. Yet, a contrast with The Man’s relationship to Finn is still instructive. There is no indication that The Man views Finn with anything remotely equivalent to the disdain with which the other heroes view poor Hal Jordan. On the contrary, he gives every indication of being a loving father who is deeply concerned with his son’s welfare. Nor are we given any reason to believe that he isn’t extremely generous toward his children in other aspects of his life.

Given this, it seems difficult to maintain that The Man is blameworthy in terms of his lack of generosity. It is not, after all, required that parents share all aspects of their lives, or all of their hobbies and interests, with their children. Doubtless many AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) will be keen to share their love of LEGO products with their offspring, but those who choose to pursue their hobby in private, perhaps as a respite from the hustle and bustle of family life, are hardly blameworthy for doing so. Indeed, we often treat it as a sign of a happy and well-adjusted family that its members have individual, as well as shared, interests. Further, it is not even the case that Finn is totally deprived of access to LEGO bricks (a sad fate indeed): he has a whole box of them over by the Christmas decorations to do with as he pleases. The Man’s moral failing, then, is not to be found in his unwillingness to allow his children to share in his hobby. Rather, his fatal flaw lies in the way in which he himself engages in this hobby.

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