Indoctrinating children is difficult to pull off. Children respond best to loud noises, flashy colors, and simple morals, a fact that filmmakers often use to satisfy their own agendas. Bee Movie is a perfect example of children’s entertainment’s ability to “dumb down” anything that seems remotely complex in order to reinforce the prevailing wisdom of modern capitalism against the economic, political, and social arguments that characterize Marxist political philosophy, serving as yet another example of cultural interpellation in modern “kids’ movies”.
The transparent reflections of real social hierarchy in Bee Movie serve as the backdrop for the film’s dismissal of Marxism and socialism. The bees begin the film as the classic “subordinate class” and the humans act as the “dominant class”. The dominant humans reap the benefits (honey) from the labor of the worker bees (literally), and Barry B. Benson/Karl Marx is the only bee in the entire hive who threatens to upend the system. It should be noted in the movie that Barry is the only character who initially questions the system of exploitation in which the bees participate.
Like the historical Marx, Barry is initially treated as a pariah. His family, friends, coworkers, and society do not believe anything that he says. Even Barry’s father, the old “Boxer-esque” worker who has been working in the system for so long his body has worn out, refuses to believe in Barry’s interpretation of the dominant class’ exploitation. For any child watching this, the message is clear, anyone who does question this hierarchy is wrong and should be socially ostracized.
If the children manage to overcome this massive barrier to embracing an alternative way of ordering society, the results of Barry’s decision to ignore his entire species and truly overturn the economic world system in the film are disastrous enough to dissuade anyone from ever challenging his or her place in the world. Barry finally does convince the bees to revolt (by staging an elaborate lawsuit) and overthrow the dominant class that has had cultural and economic hegemony over the working class for so long.
Cultural hegemony and the false consciousness of subordination have been forced onto the workers, a phenomenon best seen after Barry liberates the bees. The bees complain that hard, manual labor for little profit validated their lives. The bees are crushed by boredom and their lives drift into the conspicuous consumption (illustrated by an admittedly well-animated scene of Barry diving into a pool of golden honey, and other scenes of bees relaxing and indulging in their newfound freedom) they have been conditioned to believe is the only way to enjoy oneself by the dominant class. But the bees suddenly realize that this is “not their place”, and that enjoying the wealth and benefits that they deserve from their labors is not satisfying. Even Barry, the consummate rebel, comes to realize that the humans are essentially right.
In the end, the bees return to working for the humans, given some mild concessions and bribed into supporting the economic system rather than attaining true freedom from imperialists.
This point is reinforced by the ecological disaster that the bee shortage brings upon the world, which shows that disobedience and the displacement of social class leads to the collapse of society! Do you really want everyone to suffer because of your selfish ideas of equity? No, Barry is forced to bring the world back to normal by saving the world’s plant life and reestablishing the bees in their rightful place as the workers that they should be. The bees are treated with slightly better working conditions and give legal consent to the fruits of their labor, so everyone lives happily ever after.
This entire film is an example of interpellation, or at least a reinforcement of the interpellation that has already occurred between the dominant class and the subordinate class. One gets the sense that the film’s agenda is to:
- Reinforce the false consciousness of the working class by proving that “you won’t actually be happy if you never perform backbreaking labor ever again.”
- Show that rebelling against the social hierarchy will get you ostracized from society as a weirdo, and doom the world to chaos and destruction.*
- Show that the true place of the workers is to not enjoy the freedom and pleasures of a materialistic lifestyle, but to continue to provide this lifestyle to those who really deserve it.
*Compare this to the classic Pixar film A Bug’s Life, a film that encourages innovation, creativity, and independence in the face of social pressure with a similar insect metaphor.