Friday, February 28, 2014

Lego my ego

I don't usually write negative reviews of things - the Web's overflowing with them - but allow me to recommend that you not see "The Lego Movie." (For everthing that movie should have been but wasn't, go see the sublime "Wreck-It Ralph"!) I should have known better than to go - I know I'm too close to it! - but an alumna told me that it was a brief for Christian socialism and my curiosity was piqued. And then I found myself exhausted late of a Friday afternoon and the deed was done.

The nature of the exhaustion may be pertinent. Fashion Praxis, the series of interdisciplinary conversations on fashion and politics of which I, too, was a part, turned out to be an all-day affair. It began with a prophecy that fashion did not just "exemplify" Hannah Arendt's understanding of the vita activa (The Human Condition was recommended reading for participants), but "completes" it. Specifically, it somehow complements Arendt's understanding of labor (the maintenance of our biological existence) with spectacle, work (the world of made things) with aesthetics, and action (the truly human world of persuasion and human multiplicity) with ethics.

This manifesto came not from one of the fashion theorists or designers but from an enthusiastic professor of international affairs, but it got me thinking. What I, as a relatively unsympathetic outsider, tend to see as a dystopia of waste, elitism and conformity is clearly understood by many within it as a utopia. (Witness the way that the "is fashion a religion?" question once again elicited wide-eyed talk of transcendence, etc.) I understand that Parsons is the design school most committed to bringing critical awareness of the dystopian realities of fashion (sweatshops, anorexia, cultishness) and to releasing its utopian promise (recognition of the value of craft, celebration of the ways that "everyone dresses," communities of use and reuse, etc..)

I wasn't thinking about Parsons while trying to remain interested in the action movie at the center of "The Lego Movie," but in retrospect there's a parallel. The film has been getting plaudits from pundits for successfully selling a 90-minuted infomercial whose point seems to be that big companies like Lego are not to be trusted. The film celebrates everyone's capacity to be a "master builder," to create Lego concoctions nobody has ever dreamt of before - which might, heck, save the world! And there I find myself caught. Even as I note that you can buy new Lego sets to build stuff from this film about not following instructions (hello?!), I am reminded my own utopian attachment to Lego's infinite combinatorial miracle, which - yes, still - I think has shaped (in good ways) how I understand the very stuff of the world.

Maybe I should approach the world of fashion in the same way? In the meantime, there's one moment in "The Lego Movie" which I loved. As the ragtag bunch of lovable rebels are storming the headquarters of nefarious Lord Business, who wants to destroy all creativity, they hear someone approaching. The little yellow people hide. But the improvised robot-pirate-spaceship does even better, recombining its pieces in a blinding flurry to a perfect disguise: a copy machine!

(If only it had actually been the same pieces. Sigh.)

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