“Instructions to Fit In, Have Everybody Like You, and Always Be Happy”

To understand the severity of The Man’s mistake here we need only contrast his attitude with that of Emmet at the start of The LEGO Movie. As the film opens, Emmet clearly shares one aspect of The Man’s attitude toward following the rules. He, along with most other citizens of Bricksburg, has been conditioned to happily (and relentlessly) follow a specific set of pre-approved rules for achieving President Business’s vision of the good life. Yet, none of these rules seem to conform to our prototypical idea of a moral rule. Some of them (such as the instruction to “always return a compliment”) deal with matters of etiquette, others (such as the reminder to “breathe”) with straightforward self-preservation, and still others (such as the injunctions to “watch TV” and “drink overpriced coffee”) are clearly aimed at promoting the interests of Business’s Octan Corporation.

Importantly, Emmet’s devotion to these rules was, if anything, even greater than that of his fellows. Yet, Emmet was not obsessed—as The Man was—with following the rules for their own sake but, rather, with following them as a means for achieving his other goals such as social acceptance and fulfilment (to fit in, have everybody like him, and always be happy). Predictably, though, following the rules so diligently didn’t provide Emmet with any of the goods he was chasing after. Indeed, Emmet’s obsessive devotion to following the rules made him too much of a conformist even for a society of conformists. He was, as one of his erstwhile coworkers put things, an “average normal kinda guy” but “not normal like us.”

Yet, while Emmet’s attempts at achieving his goals were lamentably flawed, the goals he was pursuing were, at least for the most part, worthy. As such, Emmet is largely to be pitied rather than blamed for his inflexible rule-following behavior. By contrast, there is no indication that The Man’s rule-following behavior is in any way aimed, even unsuccessfully, at attaining some genuine good. Rather, The Man follows the rules merely because they are, well, the rules.

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