Thursday, August 10, 2006

Landmark VI: Charlie the Tramp

Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character in Modern Times questions productionist modes of being in ways that would make even Heidegger proud. His job is unfulfilling and monotonous, and he is driven to not only insanity but probably the first reported case of repetitive motion disorder. His only other option, however, is unemployment. He accidentally becomes a leader of a unionist march when a red flag falls off the back of a flatbed truck and the unemployed masses appear from around the corner as he attempts to return the flag, waving it to catch the eye of the driver. His boss is a capitalist ogre, taking time out from working on a jigsaw puzzle to order the workers to speed up production. Ever in the pursuit of trying to "increase productivity" and to further technologize the workplace, he commands Charlie to try out the lunchbreak machine that feeds employees while they continue working on the line. It is the feeding machine that throws the pie in his face. Just as nature imposes itself into the factory (in the form of the bee and the bathroom break), technology breaks down and causes more problems, especially when Charlie literally becomes part of the "daily grind" - he is swallowed by the great machine and winds up moving throughout its gearwork. Charlie has become a mere human turd being pushed through the bowels of the industrial machine.

Unemployment and workers' rights. Starvation. Surveillance. Police brutality and unchecked authority. Religious pretensions. Drug abuse. Charlie's world is not unlike our own modern world. The only safe and comfortable place is in his jail cell, but he is evicted back into the real world as a "reward" for foiling a prison break while buzzed out of his mind on cocaine. From Marx to Heidegger, Charlie is the bridge from contemporary philosophy to the laughter that did and still does unite the workers against their faceless and nameless existence as mere workers.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the old proverb "The more things change, the more they stay the same."