“The Lego Movie” was a hit with critics and audiences in 2014, but not with Sen. Ron Johnson.
The Wisconsin Republican called the film “an especially grievous slam on business” because its main villain is Lord Business, an authoritarian industrialist who wants to control all the little Lego people by gluing them into fixed positions.
At the time, Johnson’s complaint seemed odd. Corporations themselves have long promoted the idea that business can be oppressive, with the key caveat that this or that product will liberate consumers. (Think of Apple’s iconic “1984” TV ad for its Macintosh personal computer.) Johnson was upset that “The Lego Movie” ― in the course of marketing Legos and other products directly to kids for 100 minutes ― had also regurgitated decades of banal consumer culture.
But now here we are, with Republicans like Johnson insisting, on Lord Business’ behalf, that people should worry less about a virus that’s killing nearly 2,000 Americans per day, and worry more about going to work and purchasing goods and services. So what if a bunch of people die?
“Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life,” Johnson wrote in USA Today in March.
The senator probably hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about this, but what’s happening right now in the real world is similar to something that happens in “The Lego Movie.”
Governors in several states, with encouragement from President Donald Trump, are lifting stay-at-home orders so that businesses like restaurants and barbershops can reopen ― even though states have not met the benchmarks that epidemiologists say we should to control the contagion. Trump has also egged on far-right protesters brandishing guns at state capitols, demanding they be allowed to eat at restaurants and get haircuts.
Some workers now have to choose whether to risk exposure to the virus in order to earn a living or to risk destitution if they follow the guidance of public health experts.
In “The Lego Movie,” Lord Business sets his evil plan in motion by making an announcement through a giant black Lego brick floating out over all the little Lego people in Bricksburg.
“Attention, everyone, this is President Business,” he says. “Don’t worry about this big black monolith thing that’s blocking out the sun. What you need to worry about is this question that I’m about to ask you: Who wants a taco?”
Everyone cheers for the tacos. Then Lord Business dispatches evil flying robots to spray them with Krazy Glue so they’ll be permanently stuck.
“The Lego Movie,” it turns out, accurately portrayed a ruling class that treats people like economic units that must remain in their prescribed positions at all times. Johnson was right to be offended.
The real-life twist is that despite Trump’s best efforts to turn reopening the economy into just another polarized partisan issue ― and even despite his Tuesday taco tweet ― the vast majority of Americans actually aren’t interested in dying for tacos.
Death is an unavoidable part of life.
Sen. Ron Johnson
Johnson told a local TV station this week that Wisconsin businesses should reopen sooner than the state’s Democratic governor has suggested.
“I think we can do that certainly from a standpoint of social distancing, personal hygiene,” he said. “People are taking this very seriously.”
But when Johnson arrived at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, he was one of only a few senators who refused to wear a mask, something public health experts have recommended to slow transmission of the coronavirus that has nevertheless become controversial. Johnson told a reporter that he wears one when he goes to a store, but didn’t think he needed a mask in the Capitol.
“They’re not pleasant to wear, are they?” he said.
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