10/03/2014

By Professor Martin Parker, The University of Leicester School of Management

The Lego Movie may seem like a glorified 90-minute advert for plastic bricks aimed at impressionable youngsters, but watching the film may be interesting for business managers and bosses – and that there is a valuable lesson to be learned from its blocky hijinks.

Blockbuster films often portray business moguls as ‘bad guys’ through obvious and exaggerated visual clues – such as having bad hair and being able to transform at whim into a dark alter-ego – even though these films are often funded by the very people they criticise.

In The Lego Movie, President Business – voiced by actor Will Ferrell - is depicted as a villain, despite being an example of the people in suits who funded the film in the first place. This creates an unusual dynamic where the self-criticism of big companies by big companies makes more money for big companies.

Business managers and bosses could learn an important lesson by watching The Lego Movie, as it serves as yet another example, particularly to a young audience, of how many people perceive big businesses in negative ways.

If The Lego Movie tried to claim that big corporations were benevolent and kind, people wouldn’t believe the plot. It takes a sociopathic boss to make a plot believable, which shows how little people trust big corporations. Common sense is to perceive them as being untrustworthy. As a result, big corporations need to realise how little they are trusted by the majority of their audience and change accordingly.

The rise of the ‘underdog’ character in these films against big-business behemoths is an example of the capitalist system unintentionally undermining itself. In The Lego Movie, for example, protagonist Emmet Brickowski’s struggle against Lord Business is a prime example of the little people fighting against the big company, tacitly suggesting that capitalists are greedy by nature.

The way in which The Lego Movie criticises capitalism is part of a growing trend in popular films, where ‘underdog’ lead characters are often in opposition to big businesses – and they are the characters we root for. Wealthy business managers are routinely portrayed as being villainous, even though financiers in suits behind-the-scenes are usually the ones profiting from the films.

The marketed animation of The Lego Movie is a fantasy example of corporations telling the truth through fiction. It’s one of the few times that we might believe what business says about itself and about the Gordon Gekkos and Scrooges that run them. This is a meaningful glimpse into the world of big businesses, and is one of the few times that we see the negative results of capitalism on the big screen.

Professor Martin Parker is Professor of Organisation and Culture in the School of Management at the University of Leicester. His research and writing aims to widen the scope of what can be covered by business schools and offers alternative forms of governance. His latest book, The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization, was published in December 2013.

Professor Parker’s article on The Conversation can be found here.