Becoming The Special, “Everything is Awesome”
When Emmet finally comes into his own as The Special, it is only with the help of others. Emmet begins his development by convincing the Master Builders to follow his plan. Among them, only he has the capacity to really understand others’ expectations in a way that will result in a successful plan to stop Lord Business’s plot. It is also only after he gets praise from the others, and because of his desire to save them, that Emmet finally musters the confidence and strength necessary to complete his development.
Wyldstyle experiences a development similar to Emmet’s. True, she starts the film far ahead of him, but she too grows and becomes more autonomous. Consider Wyldstyle’s comfort, finally, at being Lucy at the end of the film. This isn’t something she developed on her own. The other people in her life tended to prevent her from taking that extra step necessary to acquire confidence in herself and her abilities. In large part, Wyldstyle’s growth seems to be thanks to Emmet’s friendship. It isn’t because Emmet is a man that Wyldstyle is so affected. Rather,
Emmet clearly and strongly establishes alternative expectations for Lucy that allow her to be okay with herself. Emmet does what any of us should do in supporting a friend—promote his or her autonomy and its development. Friends should also hold each other accountable for errors of judgment, especially when our actions or beliefs undermine or limit the autonomy of others. Our parents weren’t wrong in insisting that who our friends are significantly impacts who we become. Someone who acts against our autonomy may seem like a friend, but they demean us by their actions and we harm ourselves through our complicity.
Others can provide us with building blocks for autonomy when they offer guidance in developing our abilities. But they can also create obstacles when they impede our development or create a context in which our capacities aren’t recognized or a context which establishes a dangerous deference to those in power. This is why it’s so great that at the end of The LEGO Movie, The Man Upstairs includes Finn’s sister in the joy of playing with LEGO bricks. The hardest part for others, and us, is probably recognizing when to shift from offering concrete building blocks of guidance toward offering supportive blocks of recognition, as The Man Upstairs had to realize in relation to Finn. We have to recognize that the goal isn’t to just become a self-sufficient individual in the mold of the Master Builders or Lord Business, seeing others only as outside their autonomy and as potential impediments to one’s individual success. Instead, being able to work with others is also a legitimate mark of autonomy. As Paulo Freire put it: “The pursuit of full humanity ... cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.”12
It is worth thinking about the song of The LEGO Movie, “Everything is Awesome.” From the standpoint of individual autonomy its lyrics could be interpreted as endorsing a chilling sort of dependency on others. When we first encounter the song, its reception within the LEGO world suggests a herd-like mentality. Its principal message appears to be how awesomeness comes only through conformity— everything’s better if one doesn’t think for oneself. “Let’s take extra care to follow the instructions or you’ll be put to sleep,” smirks Lord Business. A cutaway scene shows that Lord Business’s corporation specifically crafted this song, and they even released separate versions of it to appeal to distinctive parts of the LEGO world. His robots churn out these hits to keep people in a state of unquestioning complicity, a state of deference to him: genuinely soulless corporate pop.
Wyldstyle has a strong disdain for the song’s endorsement of conformism—the song enshrines the failure of individual autonomy within the LEGO world. However, from the standpoint of relational autonomy, the song expresses something positive. It is only through others that we can achieve robust autonomy. It’s one thing to be an individual; another to be an individual among others whose very being is acknowledged and given recognition. Everything really is better when you’re part of a team—not as a mere member, but as a peer among other autonomous persons.