Recent Comments

View of Midwest from 30,000 feet
Sam Ford

Well put, Tony, about Justified. There’s something about Nick Searcy’s performance that really seems to capture Kentucky well, and the gentleman they had playing the KSP officer for the first few seasons really struck me as very authentically “Kentucky” as well. The show is filled with great performances, but some of them are to greater or lesser degrees “Kentucky” to my ear…(although, to be honest, my authentic experience with Eastern Kentucky culture is thin…) They did work in a reference to Chaney’s Dairy Barn at one point, but I think they indicated you could get it at the grocery store in Eastern Kentucky…which I don’t believe to be the case. :)

I do wish Kentucky could think about ways to more actively bring television and film taping to the Bluegrass State, especially with some increasing interest in setting shows here from highly regarded networks (i.e. FX and AMC). Do you know whether AMC will be taping Ashland in Kentucky? Or will we get Eucalyptus trees there as well?

Alan Chu
Alan Chu

Thanks Nedda and Drew for the helpful comments! The trend that seems to be threaded throughout your responses (and appears in some form in my notes as well) is the speculation over LEGO’s motivation in encouraging a culture of participation.

As Nedda rightly points out, with LEGO Ideas, there is a clear monetary incentive to tap into the crowd for R&D but also to ensure the presence of a hardcore fanbase to support the sale of a new set.

A similar principle appears in the movie. If the most obvious message is the power of the crowd (or what Drew calls the democratic collective) over tyrannical models of leadership, how do we reconcile this message with the overall satirizing of groupthink found in the opening 1/2 of the movie? Is the crowd a sleeping giant or the unwashed masses? What is clear is that the movie does not provide a suitable resolution.

Perhaps then it is better to revisit the premise of LEGO Ideas for some clarity. If we ignore the immediate financial benefits for the moment, the model of LEGO Ideas seems to best fit the ambiguity of the film’s message. The creativity of a few, supported by the masses, is ultimately decided by a group of elites before being executed by the professionals. In this enthymetic-like setup, the productive potential of the crowd is actually much smaller than it appears yet can easily be reframed as part of a fundamentally democratic process. As I hinted but didn’t have the time to develop in my post, inclusionary terms like “democracy” and “working together” can be normative, offering perhaps the most pleasant answer at the expense of critical nuance.

Cartoon Network Legends of Chima website
Catherine Buckley

Drew, I have to agree with you on the reciprocal relationship of texts. In many situations there may be an ‘original’ text but as other texts are introduced it is hard to distinguish between the text and paratexts. Also I’ve found in my research using Jonathan Gray, that if someone is only familiar with a paratext then that because the definition of the text for them. For example if someone only saw a trailer of the LEGO movie that would be their understanding of that text. The repetition of story lines that you mentioned in your post also plays into this text/paratext confusion as the new generation is introduced to an old story line in a new form.

Cartoon Network Legends of Chima website
Catherine Buckley

Thank you for your comment Garret! You’ve added a lot to our post with your explanation of the Children’s Television Act. I completely agree with your generational comments as well. The new parent generation are definitely used to this kind of commercialization. Without as many people fighting back things may only continue down this path. I’ll have to check out that Saved by the Bell episode!

Cartoon Network Legends of Chima website
Drew Ayers

Following Jonathan Gray, another interesting aspect of your post, Matthew and Catherine, is the blurring of distinction between text and paratext. Regarding NINJAGO and CHIMA, are they the text or the paratext (with LEGO being the “original” text)? Does this distinction even matter anymore, given the media industries’ emphasis on cross-branded, cross-platform intellectual properties? As Garret points out, texts and paratexts cannibalize each other, and they form a reciprocal commodity relationship: NINJAGO sells LEGO toys which in turn sell the TV show (and the video games, books, etc.). As we’ve discovered over the course of this week, the LEGO empire is vast, and it serves as a nice template/case study for looking at broader processes of the media industries. Thanks for a great post that works to bookend some of the larger conversations of the week.

Cartoon Network Legends of Chima website
Garret Castleberry

Matthew and Catherine, thank you so much for your biting critique that enables this week-long discussion series to conclude (but not end) on such a high note. The Children’s Television Act of 1990 represents an important reaction to the uncomfortable economic schemes tethered to the toy industry throughout the 1980s. The Act would not have stirred as much attention if it were not reacting directly to an industry standard that in so many ways reflected the deregulatory stylistics of the Reagan Administration.

Fast-forward to contemporary economic climates, driven by free market urgency and media hybridity brand-chizing, and one arrives at Cartoon Network (a subsidiary of media giant Viacom). CN arguably gets away with these strategies for two broad but key reasons, one historical and the other industrial. First, the key demos CN reaches include the now-grownup “children of the 80s”—a consumer generation subliminally indoctrinated (see Saved By The Bell episode “The Zack Tapes” for more on this) with an oedipal preoccupation toward nostalgic product brands like Transformers, Ninja Turtles, LEGO, and so on—and their [millennial] offspring. Because the former are reared into similar economic climate, there is a propensity for reaction to be more accepting. Second, industrial practices have come back around to resemble those during deregulation, with Western capitalism globalizing (and thus expanding audiences-consumers) in an era where branding comes to (re-)symbolize a form of market worship.

Who doesn’t want to be reminded during a cartoon that there are further ways one can “buy” into these creative ideas? Again great post, and I am especially interested in reading the extended version that your presentation suggests, and the ties to Williams’ theorizations of “flow” in particular.

Garret Castleberry

Catherine, it’s great to read your feedback and see how our discussion gains momentum (not unlike those policed at Classic-Castle). I would directly relate to Drew Ayers’ curation from Wednesday in an effort to communicate what sustains LEGO Castle momentum on the C-C forums. There is a quantifiable combination of repetition, nostalgia (good stuff, Drew!) and what genre theorists identify as tensions between imitation and innovation. If you spend any time in their forums, most of the traffic breaks into a couple of areas: reviews of old/new Castle lines/sets (repetition + nostalgia) and original creations often inspired by familiar ideas (innovation + imitation). These combinations seem to yield the most popular results online and since the historical concept of “medieval” is always/already situated in a kind of timeless material past, the topic never worn for worse.

Garret Castleberry

Alan, you hit the nail on the head with your summarization of my critical inspection, and you steer this conversation into a vital direction bringing up suggestions [and limitations] of creative control. I note how C-C police their forum space quite consistently and correct conversations that veer off (Castle) topic. I do believe from observed experience that organizers promote a relatively “sanitary” website in coordinating with what we might situate as the ideology of LEGO. In other words, “tasteful violence” (if such a term exists) would be acceptable whereas uglier depictions that dance outside LEGO’s homogenized values are excessive and discouraged. This is definitely a fine line that I believe the moderators deploy with equal parts subjectivity and adherence to a qualitative code of conduct. Like LEGO, C-C wants an inviting space for shared culture, particularly since users span from children to adults. Most significantly, direct brand association would lead to cease-and-desist orders if not lawsuits and website termination notices if the organizers allowed space for overtly offensive materials. Thus, there is a clear risk factor at play [and a ‘burning at the stake’ pun somewhere not far behind] that forms an additional unofficial layer of hierarchical policing from The LEGO Group. Following this line of thought, I argue that riding the fine line between dark medieval representations and the sanitized world of LEGO constitutes one of the unnamed goals that motivates original content among users. And fine line toggling once again reinforces a quality that ‘always already’ exists. In fact, its the modus operandi that LEGO Castle suggests with each new series of sets. There is a space for extreme and perverse LEGO creation and manipulation, but it is not on this website. More tolerant sites like Deviant Art (if “tolerant” is the right word choice?) allot freedoms for such visual expression. But I personally find it both appropriate and welcoming that C-C abstains from this slippery slope.

Drew Ayers

As a fan of all things superhero—movies, TV shows, books, games—I’ve found that, particularly in the case of Warner Bros/DC, the games offer some of the best representations of those characters. DC’s films and comic books (less so the TV shows) are dominated by a dark and gloomy style and narrative construction. The games offer a bit of humor and fun that is almost completely missing from the films and books. Plus, the flying mechanic for Superman in LEGO BATMAN 2 is probably the best version I’ve played.

Drew Ayers
Alan Chu

Thanks for a great post, Alan, and you’ve identified some productive tensions in THE LEGO MOVIE. In trying to make sense of the film, I’ve found it difficult to reconcile the positions the film takes in regards to the production of knowledge. On the one hand, the film strongly critiques conformity and blindly following pre-written instructions. On the other hand, the film also preferences the creativity and power of the Master Builders. They are the elites with the knowledge to (quite literally) build the world. However, the film also offers a more democratic version of building: “everything is cool when you’re part of a team.” Emmet has to teach the other Master Builders to follow instructions, and this is how they learn to come together as a collective to battle Lord Business. As a further complication, as you point out, Emmet comes back, MATRIX-style, from the “real world” with the knowledge of a Master Builder and equipped to defeat Lord Business. Thus, the film displays a tension between individual and collective knowledge, and it doesn’t quite seem to know how to resolve this tension.

This tension is also neatly embodied in the earworm song, “Everything is Awesome.” While Wildstyle professes to dislike the conformity the song preaches, she ends up singing the song at a crucial part in the narrative. The song is also infectiously catchy, encouraging viewers to sing along as a part of a collective. Ultimately, the film and its theme song seem to be arguing that certain kinds of collectives are more productive than others. I don’t want to draw the political analogy too closely, but film seems to stage an encounter between fascist and democratic collectives, and, barring the invasion of the Duplo collective, the democratic collective appears to have won the day.