Ideological Ideological Comparison Between The Lego Movie (2014) and Wreck it Ralph (2012)

While many animated films are advertised as merely being kids adventures, recently they seem to have a rather sophisticated ideological messages lying behind them. Two films in particular, Wreck it Ralph (2012) and The Lego Movie (2014) showcase this diversity in ideologies perfectly.

Both these films, aside from being recent CGI kids films are also brand films, Wreck it Ralph deals with video games while The Lego Movie is clearly about Legos. As such, both films show how such similar films can have such divergent messages.


Wreck it Ralph: Conservatism

Although many might not have picked up on it, much the message of Wreck it Ralph is incredibly conservative. The film deals with Ralph, who is the “bad guy” of an arcade game with the same title as the film (clearly an homage to the original Donkey Kong game). As the villain he is resented by the rest of society and remedy this he goes to a support group for video game bad guys where the members repeat a slogan constantly:

“I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be, than me.”

However, he does not believe the slogan and wants to change his position in life by becoming a hero in a sci-fi shooter called Hero’s Duty. Inadvertently by going where he doesn’t belong, Ralph unleashes the villains from the game to the rest of the arcade universe and threatens to destroy society altogether. Finally, he fixes the situation and ends the film by accepting his place as the villain of his game  and coming to terms with his lower status.

At the most basic level, if conservatism is the goal of wanting to preseve something in the wake of the untested and unknown, then the film is ultimately conservative. The message of film, quite literally, is that if people go outside their place in society it will bring about chaos and destruction. Ralph did this exactly by unleashing the alien bugs to the rest of the universe and solves the problem by accepting his lower status for society to function.

The famous conservative Edmund Burke captured this when he described the real goal of the French Revolution was to:

“break all those connexions, natural and civil, that regulate and hold together the community by a chain of subordination; to raise soldiers against their officers; servants against their masters; tradesmen against their customers; artificers against their employers; tenants against their landlords; curates against their bishops; and children against their parents.”

As such, if those lower in society break the “natural” order then all society falls apart, the clear message from Wreck it Ralph.

The Lego Movie: Liberalism

The clear contrast then is The Lego Movie. In it, lego people live in a false utopia of mediocrity, and strict adherence to rules. Emmett is a construction worker who is so unoriginal and conformist that no one knows who he is and is completely dependent on the rules.  This all changes when a rogue “Master Builder” by name of Wyld Style appears and takes Emmett with others living on the fringes of society.

For a long time, the lego universe is under the control of Lord Business who wants strict control and homogeneity in society while the Master Builders are original creators who use the environment to create whatever they want. Lord Business wants to finalize his control by gluing the legos into place, literally freezing a “normal” existence into place forever.

What this struggle clearly shows is the fight between conservatism and liberalism. While the Master Builders are a creative class who want to promote liberty (in this case to creative whatever they want), Lord Business wants to “conserve” existence permanently in time. Other clear indicators of liberalism is then notion of equality. While there is originally a prophecy that Emmett will save the day, it is revealed to be false and that in reality all people are capable of being Master Builders if they try. This is similar to Enlightenment figures such as Locke who saw an equality among people in their use of reason to build society.

Just A Kid’s Film?

Is it possible that I am over-analyzing two kids’ films? Perhaps. But at the same time it is something worth paying attention to. While we might be advertized one thing, the content could be entirely different.

Measuring Ideology and a few quick words about mine.

One of the problems with ideology, other than its definition, is how do we measure it? By many definitions ideologies are subjective belief systems and, much like human behavior in general, belief systems can vary quite a lot. Likewise when people use political ideologies to translate those beliefs into governance it creates a vast array of different kinds of systems.

Typical left-right political compass from Heywood 2001.

Out of this confusion then, is there some kind of metric by which we can measure ideology? The answer political science has given us so far is the traditional left-right scale. On this scale, the left consists of economic redistribution along with liberal social attitudes while on the right is protection of private property.

Of course this scale has major problems. Theoretically, a country like the Soviet Union was arguably as “left-wing” as free communes like the Kibbutz in Israel or syndicalist workplaces in Spain. Likewise there can be dictatorships like Pinochet in Chile who are just as “right-wing” in terms of property (if not more so) as societies with democracy and human rights. This gives us a dilemma; do these extremes simply overlap on the scale?

The solution to this problem has been to add a second dimension on the scale, one of authority. Thus it is both based on economic cooperation or individualism, as well as deference to authority figures. The political compass is designed to measure ideology in four quadrants: Authoritarian Right, Authoritarian Left, Libertarian Right and Libertarian Left so as to give a better distinction as to how different people and ideologies might fall on the map.

The improved political compass.

So does this solve the problem of how to map ideology? My impression is that while it is the best metric we have so far, it still does not solve the problem for the foundations of those belief systems. We may understand ideologies in terms of those two dimensions, but we have little understanding for why people get those two dimensions (or even what kind of “coordinates” or symbols people use to cognitively get to those dimensions). Ideally, we will have an adequate measure when we know what those coordinates are and can experimentally determine that having those coordinates will lead to those dimensions.

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