Some liberal writer at the Huffington Post was excited to find out that I've been talking to Wisconsinites about how enthusiastically the entertainment media spread a "business is bad" message. He seems to get hung up on the way I mentioned "The Lego Movie," a children's movie "in which the bad guy is a heartless businessman intent on destroying the world for profit. 'That's done for a reason,' Johnson said. 'They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious.'"
Perhaps no sitting senator is more vulnerable in 2016 than Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who'll have to overcome some important hurdles, including his far-right record, to win a second terms.
It's tempting to think, then, that Johnson would be on his best behavior, desperate to put his best foot forward, eager to show Wisconsin voters how much he excels in his job.
Or, alternatively, he can complain bitterly about "The Lego Movie."
The story has followed a curious trajectory. Johnson recently told a local audience that the popular animated film is, in his mind, "insidious" propaganda. When the Huffington Post found this amusing, Johnson apparently took great offense, complaining on Twitter, and publishing a 500-word piece to his official Senate website about how right he is.
Johnson encourages readers to watch the video of him complaining about the movie "because I think I'm making a pretty good point" (if he does say so himself).
The GOP lawmaker, recently elevated to chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, repeats his belief that the movie is "anti-business" and added some links to movie reviews that raise similar assertions.
There are two broad areas of concern here, one artistic, the other political. Johnson appears to have failed on both.
On the movie, which I quite liked, the themes are obviously open to some interpretation, and like all art, different people are likely to come away with different messages. That said, the name of the movie is "The Lego Movie." It stars a series of Lego-based characters, shown in Lego settings. We are, in other words, talking about Hollywood making an enormous amount of money with a film built almost entirely around product placement, with extremely lucrative tie-ins.
To see any of this as "anti-business" is, if nothing else, ironic.
But for the far-right senator, these nuances aren't as important as the fact that the villain of the movie is "Lord Business," whose goal is to stifle creativity and self-expression. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone, but the point wasn't to condemn Corporate America and capitalism, but rather to highlight the tensions between a young son and his father. Just go read the last few paragraphs of this Todd VanDerWerff piece to see what I'm talking about. (Spoilers abound.)
More important than Johnson's odd attempt at film analysis, though, is the zeal with which he's pursuing the issue in the first place. The Wisconsin Republican can focus his energies on any number of issues, but what truly seems to (ahem) animate him is the degree to which one lucrative business, the entertainment industry, is deferential towards all other lucrative businesses.
Johnson sees himself as a great champion, not of working people, but of corporations whose feelings may have been hurt by talking Lego characters. Our culture apparently doesn't celebrate those poor corporations with nearly enough zeal, and gosh darn it, Ron Johnson feels the need to stand up and speak out on their behalf.
If that means the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee is going to spend the day complaining about "The Lego Movie," so be it.
Is it really that surprising that this guy is losing?