Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Modern Times?

I don't know if Charlie Chaplin was ahead of his time or have we gone back in time because his vision of the future or his documentation of the past is a lot like life for Americans today. People are being squeezed by the economy like no other time since the Great Depression. American workers are working 2 or 3 jobs to pay the bills, since a full time job is hard to find. If you are working full time you may be working 12 to 14 hours a day. If you don't have a job, good luck getting hired because you need a credit check, background check, drug test and a lot of business's won't hire someone who is unemployed, like that makes sense. What does any of this have to do with Chaplin? Watch this:
Notice the use of surveillance in the workplace which is rampant now. Also note the "speed up" on the conveyor belt getting workers to work faster, but not paying them more. He was a man ahead of his time and  he grew up in deep poverty. He is the quintessential American Dream, but not an American, an immigrant. He is also the exception. For every Chaplin, there are millions of everyday people who could never aspire to his artistry. That's why his portrayal of " The Little Tramp" and all his struggles, were so successful. He knew what it was like to be at a disadvantage and just plain disadvantaged. There are a hell of a lot of people in this place today.
I wonder if Chaplin would be surprised by our "Modern Times"? What surprises me is how backwards things are now. There are hardly any unions protecting workers, they are a thing of the past. Companies can treat workers as poorly as they want. In the movie "Modern Times", Charlie has a nervous breakdown trying to keep up with the"speed up" and gets arrested because he was mistakenly identified as a communist instigator. (How familiar is that? The President has been accused of being one.) Once freed, The Tramp tries to get re-arrested, so that he can have a place to live and food because he couldn't get a job. Reminding me of so many people who, after they are incarcerated, find no work and just get arrested again, they can't make it, because of the lack of opportunity in this "Modern" America.
The Little Tramp then, gets another factory job. (where did they go?) He gets his boss caught in the machinery and rescues him. He gets arrested again, for accidentally assaulting a policeman. When he's released, he utilizes a technique we now call "networking" and gets in touch with the girlfriend who is a dancer in a cafe. She gets him a job as a singer and a waiter. Unfortunately, the cops catch up to the girlfriend who had previously been caught stealing a loaf of bread, (Les Miserable's, still a popular theme today.) ending their employment. They are seen, in the end, striking out on their own, off on another desperate adventure. Like a lot of people all over America and the world, caught up in austerity and hard times, living on the edge has become commonplace. I see "Little Tramps" on the roads everyday, pedaling their bicycles, (if they are lucky enough to have one) trying to keep moving, so they don't get arrested for vagrancy. Today's Modern Times, seem to have retrograded to the "good old days" only they weren't so good, they never were.We have gone back in time to a period when workers had few rights. The manufacturing capacity and the unions that helped create the middle class have disappeared.
There's only one recent movie "Les Miserable's" where the impoverished and disenfranchised are represented. Usually invisible or ignored, there are no comedies about their circumstances.
 We could use someone like Chaplin today.
The Little Tramp showed us how we could take tragedy and turn it into comedy. I don't know anyone who has that kind of sense of humor about the circumstances we find ourselves in now. Maybe there's nothing very funny about our backwards slide into a time when workers could be fired on a whim, poverty is commonplace and mass unemployment is acceptable. Maybe everything old is new again? There doesn't seem to be anything "modern" about the times we are living in.
Coming to a tent city near you.
Modern Times (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  1. I see this every day in Las Vegas. Homeless people are every where, and this is one of the worst places to be homeless. It is a hard, cold, unfeeling place to live. I feel that we are living in apocalyptic times, and they will grow worse. Chaos will reign, and the rich will just get richer. The gears in the photos above remind me of Mario Savio's speech back in the early 60's. The machine marches on, right over the backs of all of us.

  2. I really hope it's not true Jim. But the way things are going, with no one doing anything about poverty and unemployment, it seems obvious that the game is rigged.

  3. Much of what you've written hits a little to close to home, and I can't comment on it without breaking down in tears and possibly short-circuiting the keyboard. So let me comment on Chaplin instead.

    The picture at the bottom of your post is from the 1915 short THE TRAMP. In it, Chaplin defends a farmer's daughter from a bunch of crooks, and ends up getting shot in the leg. The crooks vanquished, the girl's boyfriend then shows up. Charlie bows out graciously, and is seen limping, with a makestick cane, along a country road (the above picture.) Suddenly, he stops, gets a second wind, abandons the limp, and continues on his way in that jaunty, shoes-on-the-wrong-feet gait he's best known for.

    MODERN TIMES, meanwhile, ends with Chapling encouraging a distraught Paulette Goddard to smile (to the strains of the song "Smile") as they both, as you said, head off into the unknown. If nothing else has gone right for the little tramp, at least by the Great Depression, he's finally got the girl!

  4. The destruction of Unions has been a Counter-Revolutionary Goal of the Plutocracy for decades. The fight against the Rich can never be considered "won". The Rich make their money off of theft, theft of labor and theft of Governance.

    It's how they became Rich. Now, they rebrand their Theft with new names (Trickle Down, Fix-the-Debt, Sequestration, Austerity) but it's all about driving labor prices down to ZERO and re instituting Slavery.

  5. Kirk, thank you for all your information about Chaplin. It's a crying shame, what has happened to so many of us. It isn't right. It pisses me off. Gene, everything you write is true. I fear that the day will come much sooner than any of us think, that we will, indeed become slaves. I like your defiance Gene, I hope it catches on.