“You Still Can Change Everything”: The Implications of Emmet’s Belief in Intrinsic Value
The clash between these two competing views of value does not lie at the periphery of The LEGO Movie’s plot but is embedded at the center of the conflict between Emmet and President Business. The predominance of extrinsic models of value in the film seems to reflect President Business’s own attitudes, disseminated through the media, advertisements, and through the consumerist culture of Bricksburg itself. To some extent, they are attributed to President Business’s own psychology. As he taunts Emmet and tells him that he is completely unspecial, we begin to see how President Business’s doubts about his personal value inform his attempts to assert his own value above that of others. President Business seems to be the paradigmatic bully, demonstrating his insecurities about his own worth in his treatment of others.
There is also a more sinister element in President Business’s endorsement of these extrinsic theories of value, particularly with regard to the economic theory of value. Though the ending of the movie may cause us to wonder whether President Business is truly evil or just misunderstood and misguided, the value theory he endorses and imposes upon others might constitute a great deal of his “evilness.”7 This seems to be an important component of his larger scheme of maintaining his control over the people of Bricksburg and a way to make himself appear more valuable at the expense of others. President Business plays an influential and indispensable role in society, so suggesting that value is extrinsic and socially conferred augments his own value. Even more importantly, by shaping the desires of the citizens of Bricksburg and accordingly what they value, President Business can control the entire notion of value. If President Business can lead others to value what he wants them to, those who contribute to these ends are valuable. On the other hand, anyone who does not provide what President Business considers valuable is worthless. As Emmet learns, the ability to shape value in this way grants President Business tremendous power.
In contrast to the destructive way that President Business utilizes his theory of value as propaganda, Emmet demonstrates how a change in his philosophical views can have a positive effect on his character and actions. It becomes clear at the end of the film that Emmet is not only a political rebel but also a philosophical insurgent, and his successful defeat of President Business’s plot to freeze the world is a direct result of the change in his philosophical views. One of Emmet’s major discoveries is that there are different ways that value can be understood. His statement of the contingency of President Business’s model of value lies at the heart of his ultimately persuasive argument against it. Telling President Business, “You don’t have to be the bad guy,” Emmet suggests that the very existence of different ways to understand value offers the possibility for radical change. Freed to conceive of a different world, Emmet envisions a society in which we do not become more valuable by becoming more influential or better liked by others. Instead, knowing that our value is inherent, we are ourselves empowered to truly utilize our creativity and to thereby empower others as well.
Although the ghost of Vitruvius’s exhortation to believe that he is truly special might “sound like a cat poster,” this realization transforms Emmet’s understanding of his self-worth and his capabilities. Emmet takes Vitruvius’s words to heart and realizes not only that he is special but that he can indeed save the world, sacrificing his life by jumping into the Infinite Abyss of Nothingness. Just as importantly, equipped with an egalitarian conception of value, Emmet is enabled to see the worth in everyone, even President Business. Inspired by Emmet’s example, Wyldstyle also accepts Emmet’s vision of intrinsic value and capability. Even those who seemingly have nothing to offer society actually possess an invaluable capacity for making a difference, she discovers. Wyldstyle hijacks the television station to empower all the other citizens by informing them of this fact: “All of you have the ability inside of you to be a ground breaker. And I mean literally, break the ground! Peel off the pieces, tear apart your walls! Build things only you could build, defend yourselves! We need to fight back against President Business’s plans to freeze us!” Emmet and Wyldstyle are able to turn the tide in the struggle against President Business in large part simply by altering their views on value and acting accordingly, demonstrating the importance of our beliefs regarding the source and nature of the value of individual human, or LEGO, persons.
By contrasting President Business and the Enlightened Emmet, we can see not only that they subscribe to two fundamentally different theories of value but also that they use the content of the theories to great effect on both an individual and societal level. For President Business, everything is awesome on two conditions: “when you’re part of a team,” and “when we’re living our dream.” Perhaps Emmet could rephrase President Business’s theme song without conditions to read “Everyone is awesome. Period.”