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Charlie Chaplin in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Reflexive

Ambiguity in Modern Times


Lawrence Howe

College Literature, Volume 40, Number 1, Winter 2013, pp. 45-65 (Article)

Published by West Chester University


DOI: 10.1353/lit.2013.0007

For additional information about this article


http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lit/summary/v040/40.1.howe.html

Access provided by University of Virginia Libraries __ACCESS_STATEMENT__ (Viva) (15 Feb 2014 00:32 GMT)

CHARLIE CHAPLIN IN THE AGE OF


MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION:
REFLEXIVE AMBIGUITY IN MODERN TIMES
LAWRENCE HOWE

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success, and it relies, albeit for the last time, on the popularity of Chaplins screen
persona, the Tramp, a loveable outcast victimized by institutional authorities,
his own frailties, and plain old dumb luck. But the backstory of Chaplins career
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as well as its meaning to American cinema in this crucial period of social and
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persona, informed by his own impoverished upbringing, represented class disad
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Chaplin was one of the wealthiest screen celebrities of his day.,QGHHGDVDOP
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he was unique in his total control over his productions, as actor, screenwriter,
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that the growing demand for talking pictures in the marketplace threatened to
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In the midst of social upheaval and professional peril, Chaplin attempted in
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a profoundly destabilizing condition of contemporary society. His turn toward
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medium of light entertainment. No less a notable public intellectual than Lewis
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he called the neotechnic phase of civilization, the next great development
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because it epitomizes the cultural role of the machine and thus symbolizes and
expresses, better than do any of the traditional arts, our modern world picture
and the essential conceptions of time and space which are already part of the
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portended in Mumfords theory of cultural history was no fait accompli)RUDOO
its wonder, the power of the Machine Age threatened to overwhelm society.
But if by harnessing the machine, Mumford argued, cinema could integrate the
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Radical critics who inclined toward Marxism similarly stressed the social sig
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gled out Chaplin for criticism. Harry Alan Potamkin complained that Chaplin
indulged in maudlin pathos, and Lorenzo Rozas attacked him as an accomplice
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goaded Chaplin into thinking about modern society and the opportunities for
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mote the release of City LightsWKHDWWHULQJDWWHQWLRQKHUHFHLYHGIURPSROLWLFDO
and intellectual dignitaries, with whom he readily shared his views on politics
and economics, burnished his standing not simply as a celebrity but as a man of
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excessive hours, which occasioned the physicist famously to remark, Youre not
a comedian, youre an economist. With Gandhi, Chaplin disagreed about the
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that infuses Modern Times.
On the same tour, Chaplin also came into contact with popular audiences, and
he readily associated the outpouring of public admiration from crowds of adoring
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imposed an emotional burden about which he wrote to Thomas Burke: When
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me sick spiritually, because I know whats behind it. Such drabness, such ugli
ness, such utter misery, that simply because someone makes em laugh and helps
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Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



not associate the misery he inferred from the crowds with industrial technology,
an early experience working as a printers devil helped to make the connection
between technology and the plight of workers that becomes central to Modern
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in Chaplins autobiography, all the more compelling to him. In his own words,
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factory experience in Modern Times.
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Times, more inclined than ever before to charge his art with a social critique
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political thesis became somewhat tangled in ambiguity, equivocating between
the terms of its own technological production and its production of a critique
of technology. Noting Chaplins ambivalence is, of course, not a new idea, but
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struggle to combine entertainment and didacticism.  However, the ambivalence
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of this tension shows how Chaplins political critique of technology confronts
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reception. The collision between his evolving interest in social themes and his
own exercise of power as the impresario of cinematic production produce a com
plexity and an unevenness that suggest both Chaplins lack of control over the
narratives multiple meanings and his inability to fully comprehend them. Ironi
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the economists, bureaucrats, and ordinary citizens who grappled with the vicis
situdes of capitalism.
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derives from the tension in Chaplins attitudes about technological change in
society and the technological basis of art, and highlights parallels between his
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technology on economics, politics, and aesthetics.
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ries of consumption signal Chaplins anxieties about his ability to continue to
satisfy the demands of his audience, but they also tap into widespread anxiety
about the collapse of industrial society and its inability to satisfy the needs of
its consumers. By acknowledging production and consumption as dynamic pro
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technological culture and a commodity produced by it.
THE TRAMP IN THE MACHINE

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opening montage that follows carries the disquieting mood forward in the open
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people as they emerge from the subway on their way to work in a large urban fac
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cally shifting to ascending modulations that increase the intensity. This opening
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Inside the factory, Chaplins set also recalls Henry Adamss awestruck descrip
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ming turbines, oversized switches, valves, and gauges convey the importance of
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Metropolis, Chaplins gleaming factory is rather quickly converted into the arena
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an agent of humor. Still, as the awkwardly vulnerable Tramp struggles to keep
up with the pace of the assembly line and exhibits the stress imposed by a repeti

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



tive and accelerating work routine, Chaplin makes clear that he has enlisted the
Tramp in order to engage with the pitched debates of the era.
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if fortunate enough to remain employed, their identities as an impersonal, cor
porate bureaucracy threatened to turn men into automata. In taking up these
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mechanized imagery and the prevalence of the American engineer as hero in
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presidential election of Herbert Hoover, himself an engineer, shows the degree to
which the culture had come to identify the profession with expert management.
But the Wall Street Crash only eight months after Hoovers inauguration and
the economic decline that he oversaw throughout his single term in the White
House shook the cultures faith in the engineers competence.
The notion that unbridled technology was the solution to modern problems
retained some currency even in the midst of the Depression, as summed up in
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theme of Manifest Destiny, he declared, God is good and God is kind. God
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ther, he warned that governments that interfered with the march of technology
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and abolition of every political government on the Continent of North America
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innovation began to increase productivity sharply, leading to a spike in techno


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industrial practices, as the anonymous writer notes, had replaced man perma
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tion was rendering workers into what the title of the article calls Obsolete Men.
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Writers and painters may have adapted engineering concepts as metaphors of
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machinery or engineering marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge as a kind of homage
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art form utilizing numerous technologies, transformed conceptions of art and
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a medium uniquely poised to address the issues in this public debate. Thomas
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to stimulate cognition, he believed, outstripped the ability of text to impart
information and provide instruction. Although his company produced many
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entertainment as a very low purpose, far short of its potential.
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edges the role of Taylor, who has been widely recognized by cultural critics and
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of simply observing the movements of workers when performing occupational
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early success of American cinema. And in Modern Times the Tramp combines
the mediums ability to entertain with its ability to challenge audiences to think.
Although we cannot be sure that Chaplin was targeting Taylorism in the iconic
factory sequence in Modern Times, the Tramps shortcomings in that work envi
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in Time and Motion Study:
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peg in the round hole. He knows what to do but does not seem able to do it with ease.
His movements are clumsy and awkward. His mind and his hands do not seem to coordinate.
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question the expert wisdom about the technological direction of society.
The three distinct segments in the factory episode displace the emphasis on
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machine technology on workers and the class hierarchy that separates capital
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his reading of newspaper comics to supervise his facility on a large screen. On
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ingly harassed by the repetitive motion of his task, the periodic acceleration of
the assembly line ordered by the boss, and the hostile criticism from his foreman
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Tramp takes an unauthorized cigarette break in the workers bathroom, where
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ing soundtrack of lush legato strings. But the comfort of his languorous solitude
is abruptly punctured when the video surveillance of the factory boss intrudes.
'HVSLWHWKHFRPLFVXUSULVHRIWKHHQODUJHGFORVHXSRIWKHZHOOGUHVVHGJORZHU
LQJWDONLQJKHDGPD[LPL]HGE\WKHVRXQGRIKLVYRLFHLQV\QFKZLWKKLVLPDJH
RUGHULQJWKH7UDPSWR4XLWVWDOOLQJJHWEDFNWRZRUNDQGWKHVWDUWOHGGHIHQ
sive reaction of the comparatively diminutive Tramp at being discovered, this
brief confrontation comments on the regimented duress of factory labor. The
bosss distrust of the worker echoes Taylors condemnation of soldiering, the
deliberate slowing down of work output, which, according to Taylor, constitutes
WKHJUHDWHVWHYLOZLWKZKLFKWKHZRUNLQJSHRSOHDUHQRZDLFWHG7D\ORU
,QGHHGWKHERVVVVXSHUYLVLRQRIDOODVSHFWVRIKLVFRPSDQ\LVQRWVRPXFKD
version of Taylorism as a modernization of Benthams panopticon, blurring the
GLHUHQFHEHWZHHQIDFWRU\DQGSULVRQDVZHOODVDQWLFLSDWLQJWKHVFUXWLQ\WKDW
distinguishes Orwells 1LQHWHHQ(LJKW\)RXU. In the Tramps unauthorized smoke
EUHDN&KDSOLQPD[LPL]HVWKHSROLWLFDODQGFLQHPDWLFHHFWV7KHIDFWRU\RZQHU
not only oversees his workers through technological surveillance but also appears
PDJQLHGDVDQRPQLSUHVHQWSRZHUWKURXJKKLVLPDJHRQWKHVFUHHQ

COLLEGE LITERATURE

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Lunch break at the factory provides the Tramp his only sanctioned oppor
WXQLW\ IRU UHOLHI HYHQ LI WKH UHVLGXDO HHFWV RI UHSHWLWLYH PDFKLQH ODERU OLQJHU
GXULQJKLVKLDWXVIURPWKHVWUHVVIXOURXWLQH7KH7UDPSVUHVSLWHLVVKRUWOLYHG
however, once he is chosen as the guinea pig on whom to test the wonders of the
Billows feeding machine, a contraption that abuses him no less than the assembly
lines unrelenting pace. The absurdity of utilizing a machine to perform one of
the most fundamental of organic functions passes without comment. The osten
VLEOHEHQHWRIWKLVLQYHQWLRQLVWKDWLWDOORZVWKHZRUNHUWREHIHGZLWKRXWLQWHU
rupting his labor. But the utter failure of the machine to perform as advertised
DQG WKH QHHG WR KDYH DW OHDVW RQH RSHUDWRU LI QRW PRUH GHQLHV DQ\ EHQHW DW
all, even if the contraption werent plagued by malfunction. The absurdity of
WKHIHHGLQJPDFKLQHLPSOLFLWO\TXHVWLRQVWKHREVHVVLRQZLWKHFLHQF\LQ7D\ORUV
V\VWHPRIVFLHQWLFPDQDJHPHQW But in light of the bosss failure to note the
absurdity of the phonographic salesman delivering the pitch when the inventor
UVWLQWURGXFHVWKHIHHGLQJPDFKLQHZHVKRXOGDOVRQRWHKRZWKHLQDELOLW\RIWKH
IHHGLQJ PDFKLQHV WXUQWDEOH WR IXQFWLRQ HFLHQWO\ VXJJHVWV D FRPPHQW RQ WKH
HDUO\WHFKQRORJ\RIVRXQGOPZKLFKZDVRIWHQSODJXHGE\V\QFKURQL]DWLRQGLI
FXOWLHVEHWZHHQWKHSKRQRJUDSKLFVRXQGDQGWKHFLQHPDWLFLPDJH7KHIDFWRU\
ERVVVUHMHFWLRQRIWKHIHHGLQJPDFKLQHDVQRWSUDFWLFDOHFKRHVWKHFRPSODLQWV
of studio executives who resisted adopting sound technology. Although Chaplin
UHVLVWHG VRXQG WHFKQRORJ\ IRU GLHUHQW UHDVRQV WKH SDUDOOHO WKDW LV VXEWO\ VXJ
JHVWHGEHWZHHQWKH(OHFWUR6WHHOSUHVLGHQWDQGWKHSUHVLGHQWRI&KDUOHV&KDSOLQ
)LOPV,QFZLOOHPHUJHPRUHGLUHFWO\LQWKHQH[WVHJPHQWRIWKHVHTXHQFH
More broadly, however, the feeding machine scene critiques the fascina
WLRQZLWKWKHPHFKDQLFDORYHUWKHKXPDQ7KLVFRQLFWRIPDQDQGPDFKLQH
HPHUJHV VWDUNO\ LQ WKH WKLUG VHJPHQW RI WKH UVW IDFWRU\ VHTXHQFH WKH OPV
most frequently referenced scene. As the boss continues to order an increase
in the factory belts speed, the Tramp continues to struggle with the accelerat
LQJSDFH)LQDOO\GULYHQE\WKHFRPSXOVLRQWRSHUIRUPKLVWDVNKHSXUVXHVKLV
piecework into the machinery. Becoming one with the assembly line itself, the
7UDPSLVGUDZQWKURXJKWKHJHDUVRIWKHJLJDQWLFPHFKDQLVPVHHJ:LWK
a cymbal crash, the soundtrack transitions abruptly from the frantic pace that
punctuated the images of the factorys intensifying speed to a rubato lullaby
with the delicate timbres of the celesta and piccolo. Once extricated from the
EHOO\RIWKHLQGXVWULDOEHDVWWKH7UDPSHPHUJHVWUDQVIRUPHGE\KLVPDFKLQH
LQGXFHGWUDXPD+LVSHVWHULQJDQWLFVWRZDUGKLVFRZRUNHUVSURYRNHWKHPWR
chase him with the hope of subduing him, but this simply prolongs his inter
ference with what was known during the period as the factorys continuous
RZSURGXFWLRQ&KDVH*DLQLQJWKHXSSHUKDQGWKH7UDPSGLVFRY
HUVWKDWKHFDQHDVLO\GLVWUDFWKLVSXUVXHUVE\UHDFWLYDWLQJWKHDVVHPEO\OLQH
which causes them to return to their stations in a Pavlovian response. Their
robotic attention to the machinery recalls the image that Stuart Chase invoked
in Waste and the Machine Age, his critique of how industrial technology was wast
LQJQRWMXVWUDZPDWHULDOVRUPRQH\EXWDOVRKXPDQSRWHQWLDO

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



)LJXUH7KHWUDPSLQWKHPDFKLQHModern Times5R\([SRUW6$6

7KHUHLVDURRPOOHGZLWKSXQFKLQJPDFKLQHV,QIURQWRIHDFKPDFKLQHVWDQGVD
worker, feeding it pieces of steel by hand. A lever is geared to the mechanism, and
WRWKLVOHYHUWKHPDQLVFKDLQHGE\DKDQGFXORFNHGWRKLVZULVW7RORRNGRZQ
WKHORQJURRPLVWRVHHPDFKLQHVOHYHUVDQGPHQLQXQLVRQIHHGSXQFKMHUNEDFN
IHHGSXQFKMHUNEDFN,KDYHKHDUGQRRWKHUVLQJOHWDVNWRGD\ZKLFKVRFORVHO\
DSSUR[LPDWHVWKHJORRP\SURSKHWVSLFWXUHRIWKHURERW&KDVH

Granted, Chase proceeds to a more sanguine view of the potential for technol
ogy to improve modern life than this excerpt might suggest. Likewise, Chaplins
VHQGXSRIWKHDXWRPDWHGIDFWRU\PLWLJDWHVWKHGLUHJORRPRIWKHPRVWUDGLFDO
critics of the Machine Age. Wreaking havoc throughout the factory in a par
RG\RIWKHVZDVKEXFNOLQJDFWLRQWKDW&KDSOLQVIULHQG'RXJODV)DLUEDQNVPDGH
famous, the Tramp unleashes a carnivalesque chaos that delivers a rich comic
SD\RXW6LPXOWDQHRXVO\LWFRQUPVKLVVWDWXVDVPLVWIRUZKLFKVRFLHW\SUH
scribes a stint in a sanitarium as the only remedy.
Chaplins humorous critique of technology is not limited to the regimenta
WLRQRIDXWRPDWHGIDFWRULHV7KHFURVVVHFWLRQYLHZRIWKH7UDPSEHLQJGUDZQ
WKURXJKWKHJHDUVDQGVSURFNHWVLQWKHIDFWRU\VLQWHUQDOPHFKDQLVPDOVRSURMHFWV
WKH 7UDPS JXUDWLYHO\ DV OP VWRFN EHLQJ GUDZQ WKURXJK WKH PHFKDQLVPV RI
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political objectRIUHSUHVHQWDWLRQLQGXVWULDOWHFKQRORJ\ZLWKWKHmeans of rep
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COLLEGE LITERATURE

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PLQVSRLQWDERXWWKHGLHUHQFHEHWZHHQWKHDWULFDODQGFLQHPDWLFSHUIRUPDQFH
7KHDUWLVWLFSHUIRUPDQFHRIWKHVWDJHDFWRULVGHQLWHO\SUHVHQWHGWRWKHSXEOLF
by the actor in person; that of the screen actor, however, is presented by a camera.
. . . Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes its position with
UHVSHFW WR WKH SHUIRUPDQFH %HQMDPLQ   7KH 7UDPSV VLQXRXV URXWH
through the bowels of the factory mechanism reminds us that he is an image
produced through the analogous machinery of cinematic technology, and reg
isters Chaplins own equivocal fascination with technology: as both a yoke that
EXUGHQVPDFKLQHDJHZRUNHUVDQGDWRRORIDUWLVWLFH[SUHVVLRQWKDWSURSHOVKLV
own professional success.
The similarities between how Chaplin recalled his attempt to renegotiate his
FRQWUDFWZLWK)LUVW1DWLRQDODQGWKLVUHSUHVHQWDWLRQRIWKH7UDPSVLVRODWLRQPXO
tiply the meaning of this famous scene. Despite having eloquently explained that
the extra costs entailed in making Shoulder ArmsZDUUDQWHG)LUVW1DWLRQDO
to revise his contract, Chaplin surmised that he might as well have been a lone
IDFWRU\ZRUNHUDVNLQJ*HQHUDO0RWRUVIRUDUDLVH&KDSOLQ7KXV
WKHVWUHVVRIKLVDUWLVWLFOLIHLVUHHFWHGLQWKH7UDPSVVWUHVVIXODOLHQDWLRQLQWKH
factory scene. Chaplins experience with the studio pointed a new direction in
his career; in the following year, he formed United Artists with Mary Pickford,
'RXJODV)DLUEDQNV+DUROG/OR\GDQG':*ULWKMRLQHGODWHU E\'DYLG2
6HO]QLFN)RUPLQJWKLVFROOHFWLYHZDVDVPXFKDSROLWLFDODQGDUWLVWLFVWDWHPHQWDV
LWZDVDEXVLQHVVVWUDWHJ\)RUDVLWVIRXQGHUVWROGUHSRUWHUV8QLWHG$UWLVWVZDV
DGHFODUDWLRQRILQGHSHQGHQFHIURPSURGXFHUVDQGH[KLELWRUVRIPDFKLQHPDGH
OPV0DODQG-XVWDVWKHVHDUWLVWUHEHOVHFKRHG$PHULFDVIRXQGLQJ
SROLWLFDO UKHWRULF LQ WKHLU UHMHFWLRQ RI WKH W\UDQQ\ RI WKH +ROO\ZRRG VWXGLRV
&KDSOLQIUDPHVWKH7UDPSVIDFWRU\H[SHULHQFHWRDUWLFXODWHKLVREMHFWLRQWRERWK
industrial oppression and Hollywoods production demands.
Nor do the multiple meanings end there. In addition to the scenes obvious
DSSHDOWRDZRUNLQJFODVVDXGLHQFHOLNHO\WRLGHQWLI\ZLWKWKH7UDPSVRUGHDOLW
raises at least one other competing interpretation that signals Chaplins ambiv
alence about the power of technology in society and within the industry that
DRUGHG KLP FRQVLGHUDEOH DXWKRULW\ 7KH QHJDWLYH LPDJHV RI FRUSRUDWH SRZHU
H[SORLWSRSXODUDQ[LHW\DERXWFDSLWDOVLQGLHUHQFHWRODERUEXWWKH\SURMHFWDV
ZHOOKLVUHVHQWPHQWDWFRUSRUDWHVWXGLRKHDGVOLNHWKRVHDW)LUVW1DWLRQDO<HWWKH
irony of these images is redoubled in light of Chaplins own total authority over
KLVZRUNDQGWKRVHZKRZRUNHGIRUKLP)URPWKLVSHUVSHFWLYHWKHIDFWRU\ERVV
is an equivocal characterization that represents both the studio bosses Chaplin
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the comparable positions of authority held by the factory boss and Chaplin him
VHOIDQGLVUHLQIRUFHGLQWKHZD\VWKDWWKH\ZLHOGWKHLUSRZHU)RUH[DPSOHWKH
bosss demands for more speed parallel Chaplins orders to his cameraman,
Rudolph Totheroh. Much of Chaplins physical humor was derived from the
7UDPSVVSHGXSMHUN\PRYHPHQWVDQHHFWDFKLHYHGE\VORZLQJWKHVSHHGRI
WKHKDQGFUDQNHGFDPHUDIURPWKHVWDQGDUGVSHHGRIVL[WHHQIUDPHVSHUVHFRQG

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



WRIRXUWHHQRUVRPHWLPHVWZHOYHIUDPHVSHUVHFRQGZKLFKVWDQGDUGSURMHFWLRQ
VSHHGZRXOGVFUHHQDVWKH7UDPSVK\SHUDQLPDWHGVW\OHRISK\VLFDOKXPRU6R
MXVWDVWKHSUHVLGHQWRI(OHFWUR6WHHO&RUSFDOOVIRUDFFHOHUDWLRQRIWKH7UDPSV
DVVHPEO\OLQH&KDSOLQUHSHDWHGO\KDUDQJXHG7RWKHURKWRVORZGRZQKLVKDQG
FUDQNLQJRIWKHFDPHUDLQWKHVHLPSRUWDQWFRPLFPRPHQWVWR\LHOGWKHVSHGXS
DFWLRQ0F&DEH
Chaplin was a notoriously demanding director, and his cameraman was not
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HHFWKHZDVDWWHPSWLQJWRDFKLHYH$V&KDUOHV&KDSOLQ-UUHFDOOHG
0XVLFLDQVHQGXUHGSXUHWRUWXUH'DGZRUHWKHPDOORXW(GZDUG3RZHOOFRQ
centrated so hard writing the music down that he almost lost his eyesight and had
to go to a specialist to save it. David Raksin, working an average of twenty hours a
GD\ORVWWZHQW\YHSRXQGVDQGVRPHWLPHVZDVVRH[KDXVWHGWKDWKHFRXOGQWQG
VWUHQJWKWRJRKRPHEXWZRXOGVOHHSRQWKHVWXGLRRRU5RELQVRQ

7KHRSSUHVVLRQGHVFULEHGKHUHWVXQFRPIRUWDEO\ZLWKWKHOPVSROLWLFDOUKHWR
ric. Chaplins demanding treatment of his musicians, as well as the other artists
DQGWHFKQLFLDQVZKRPKHGLUHFWHGUHFUHDWHVWKHRSSUHVVLRQWKDWKHKDGREMHFWHG
to in forming United Artists and that the narrative of Modern Times criticizes.
7KXV WKH OPV UHH[LYLW\ DUWLFXODWHV &KDSOLQV RZQ FRQLFWV ZLWK UHVSHFW WR
SRZHUDQGWKHWHFKQRORJ\DVVRFLDWHGZLWKSRZHUDQGWKHVHFRQLFWVFRPSOLFDWH
WKHUKHWRULFRIWKHOPVVRFLDOFULWLTXH
THE DYNAMO AND THE GAMIN

,IWKHOPVLPDJHVRIFDSLWDOLVWDQGODERUHUVXJJHVWDSRODULW\EHWZHHQ&KDSOLQV
role behind the camera and his representation on screen as the Tramp, then the
DXGLHQFHVLGHQWLFDWLRQLVVLPLODUO\PDQLSXODWHGLQRSSRVLWHGLUHFWLRQV-XVWDV
WKHOPSURPRWHVV\PSDWK\EHWZHHQWKHVSHFWDWRUDQGWKH7UDPSWKHIDFWRU\
ERVVDQGWKHVSHFWDWRUDUHDOOLHGDVREVHUYLQJVXEMHFWVZKRJD]HXSRQWKH7UDPS
DVREVHUYHGREMHFW/LNHWKHERVVWKHVSHFWDWRUZDWFKHVWKH7UDPSDQGGHPDQGV
a satisfactory performance from him. And when, for example, the Tramp is struck
LQWKHKHDGE\DIDOOLQJEHDPLQWKHVKDQW\ZKHUHKHDQGWKHJDPLQ3DXOHWWH
*RGGDUGKRSHWRQGGRPHVWLFEOLVVRUKHGLYHVKHDGUVWLQWRNQHHGHHSZDWHU
the spectators laughter helps to establish the audiences distance from him, even
as they generally sympathize with him as a victimized laborer.
Conversely, notwithstanding the delight the spectator may take in watching
WKH7UDPSVVXEYHUVLYHSOD\RQHFDQQRWHVFDSHWKHFRQWUROWKDWWKHOPH[HUWV
over this very act of watching. The slapstick tempo inhibits a viewers critical
HQJDJHPHQWZLWKWKHOPEHFDXVHWKHLPDJHVDQGWKHQDUUDWLYHWKH\FRQVWUXFW
SURFHHGLQDQRUGHUDQGDWDSDFHGHWHUPLQHGE\WKHGLUHFWRU7KHOPWURSHVLWV
control over the spectator not only in the factory bosss control over the assembly
line but also, and to a greater degree, in the image of the Billows feeding machine.
'DYLG-DPHVVXJJHVWVWKDWDOPVLPDJHVDQGVRXQGVQHYHUIDLOWRWHOOWKHVWRU\
RI KRZ DQG ZK\ WKH\ ZHUH SURGXFHGWKH VWRU\ RI WKHLU PRGH RI SURGXFWLRQ

COLLEGE LITERATURE

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LQModern Times, the same holds true of the story those images tell about
how they are to be received, the story of their mode of consumption. Thus, if
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are mechanically produced, then he deploys the feeding machine as a metaphor
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During the demonstration of the Billows feeder, when the camera shifts its
IRFXVWRWKHHDURIFRUQRQWKHURWLVVHULH[WXUHRIWKHIHHGLQJPDFKLQHVWXUQ
table, the spectators gaze is directed away from the Tramp to the mechanized
IRRGWKDWKHVHHV7KLVVXEWOHLVRODWHGIRFXVH[SOLFLWO\VLJQDOVKRZRXULGHQWLFD
tion with the Tramp in this sequence is to work. As the spectator gazes on the
same rotating ear of corn which the Tramp is about to consume, ones experience
RIZDWFKLQJWKHOPDQDORJL]HVWKDWRIWKH7UDPSEHLQJPHFKDQLFDOO\IRUFHIHG
although without the assault that he endures for our entertainment. The framing
DQGFDPHUDDQJOHVWUHVVWKLVDQDORJ\EHWZHHQWKHOPDQGWKHPRWRUL]HGIRRG
DQGWKXVDFNQRZOHGJHKRZWKHFDPHUDFRQWUROVWKHDXGLHQFHVJD]H)RUXQOLNHD
printed text, which a reader takes in at her own pace, pausing to question or to
UHUHDGLIVRLQFOLQHGWKHOPVVFDOHRILPDJHVDQGHGLWLQJSDFHQRWWRPHQWLRQ
WKH HPRWLRQDO HYRFDWLRQV RI WKH VRXQGWUDFN FRQWURO WKH VSHFWDWRUV UHVSRQVHV
by determining what she sees, how, when, and for how long she sees it. Georges
'XKDPHOH[SUHVVHGKLVGLVWUXVWRIOPIRUSUHFLVHO\WKLVUHDVRQLWVPRWLRQKH
contended, replaced the motion of ones own thought.
7KH OPV FOHDUHVW VWDWHPHQWV DERXW FRQVXPSWLRQ HPHUJH ZKHQ WKH 7UDPS
begins his relationship with the gamin. Immediately after having escaped the
long arm of the law together, they observe a suburban homemaker waving her
EUHDGZLQQHU R WR ZRUN $OWKRXJK WKH 7UDPS LQLWLDOO\ PRFNV WKLV VFHQH RI
GRPHVWLFFRQYHQWLRQDOLW\KLVMHVWJLYHVZD\WRDGD\GUHDPLQZKLFKWKHJDPLQ
DQG KH VKDUH D SHUIHFW PLGGOHFODVV EXQJDORZ +LV IDQWDV\ RI WKHLU DWWDLQLQJ D
piece of the American dream, a term whose coinage is attributed to James Trus
ORZ $GDPV RQO\ D IHZ \HDUV HDUOLHU LQ  JDOYDQL]HV WKHP ERWK VHH $GDPV
,QWKLVQDUUDWLYHGHYHORSPHQW&KDSOLQSURMHFWVWKHLGHDVRI+RUDFH
Kallen, one of the most enthusiastic theorists of the consumer cooperation move
ment in the United States of this period and whose seminal volume Decline and
Rise of the Consumer was published the same year that Modern Times was released.
In America, Kallen writes, the primacy of the consumer is a postulate of the
foundations. The American Dream is a vision of men as consumers, and the
American story is the story of an inveterate struggle to embody this dream in the
LQVWLWXWLRQVRI$PHULFDQOLIH.DOOHQ
However, the Tramps version of the American Dream includes several dis
WLQFWLYH XSGDWHV )LUVW DOO RI WKH VDPH SULQFLSOHV RI HFLHQF\ WKDW RUJDQL]HG
the modern factory are present in the home he imagines, including a cow who
appears at the kitchen door as if on a conveyor belt to provide milk automatically
RQFXHZLWKRXWWKHODERURIPLONLQJLW7KLVUHHFWVWKHLQURDGVWKDW7D\ORULVP
was making into American culture beyond the industrial sector. After World
:DU,,WKHHPSKDVLVRQKRPHHFLHQF\DQGGRPHVWLFODERUVDYLQJPDFKLQHU\

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



ZRXOGDFFHOHUDWHIXUWKHU6HFRQGWKH7UDPSVIDQWDV\UHHFWV7KRUVWHLQ9HEOHQV
concept of pecuniary emulation, the propensity to indulge in escalating con
spicuous expenditure out of a desire to conform materially, supporting a sense
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the gamins mutual embrace of it show how they have internalized the desires
VSRQVRUHGE\WKHPDVVSURGXFWLRQDQGFRQVXPSWLRQRIWKHPDFKLQHDJH)LQDOO\
the utter incongruousness of the Tramps daydream to his life here or elsewhere
in Chaplins representation of him is noteworthy. The Tramp had not heretofore
expressed anything close to this acceptance of conventionality. Indeed, a large
PHDVXUHRIKLVDSSHDOLVQRGRXEWDE\SURGXFWRIKLVLQGLHUHQFHWRWKHSUHVVXUHV
WR FRQIRUP :KDW PDNHV WKH 7UDPSV H[SHULHQFH GLHUHQW LQ Modern Times is
the motivation that the gamin inspires in him. No sooner do they bond than he
begins to imagine a life together, which prompts him to proclaim his willingness
WRZRUNWRUHGRXEOHKLVHRUWVDVDSURGXFHULQRUGHUWKDWVKHPD\HQMR\WKH
EHQHWVRIEHLQJDFRQVXPHU
The Tramps daydream conveys this quite clearly in the comfortable furnish
ings and conventional aesthetics of the fantasy bungalow, and especially in the
JDPLQVPLGGOHFODVVPDNHRYHU*RQHLVKHUZDLVK3HWHU3DQFRVWXPHWDQJOHG
hair, and soiled face; instead, the Tramp imagines her in a stylish dress and an
DSURQDIDVKLRQDEOHFRLXUHDQGPDNHXSHPERG\LQJFRQWHPSRUDU\VWDQGDUGV
RIIHPLQLQHEHDXW\,IZHFRPSDUHRXUUVWJOLPSVHRIWKHJDPLQRQWKHGRFNV
stealing bananas and distributing them to hungry children while striking a
SLUDWHVSRVHDVVKHFOHQFKHVDNQLIHEHWZHHQKHUWHHWKWRKHUVW\OLVKGRPHVWLF
image in the Tramps daydream, we can track the source of the Tramps awak
ened motivation to work. The fantasy itself registers the allure of the prevailing
tenets of material consumerism.
The consumerist ideal reaches its climax, appropriately, in the department
store sequence. This important choice of PLVHHQVFqQH WKH VSDFH WKDW GHQHG
modern American consumerism, gives visual presence to the opulence of com
mercial goods provided by mass production. The department store scenes, more
over, emphasize the role of women as consumers. Like the Tramps daydream
RI KRPH RZQHUVKLS WKLV HSLVRGH UHHFWV KLV HDJHUQHVV WR VDWLVI\ WKH JDPLQV
needs and wants. Department stores had long recognized that women exercised
considerable economic power in their role as the purchasers of domestic goods.
0DUVKDOO )LHOG WKH VXFFHVVIXO &KLFDJR UHWDLOHU KDLOHG DV D PHUFDQWLOH JHQLXV
'HQQLVKDGGUDZQWKHOHVVRQIURPKLVPHQWRU3RWWHU3DOPHUWKDW
ZRPHQFXVWRPHUVVKRXOGEHWUHDWHGZLWKXWPRVWUHVSHFW7KRXJK)LHOGUHFRJ
nized womens power to a degree considerably short of Henry Adamss rever
ence for Venus and the Virgin, he acknowledged his appreciation for women as
consumers in a motto later adopted as the title of his biography, Give the Lady
What She Wants! . Thus, the department store became an extension of the
home as womans sphere, a gendered space catering to women responsible for
PDWHULDOO\ RXWWWLQJ WKHLU KRPHV DQG IDPLOLHV LQ WKH LPDJH RI UHVSHFWDELOLW\
5HHFWLQJWKHLPSRUWDQFHRIWKLVFRPPHUFLDOLQVWLWXWLRQWKHGHSDUWPHQWVWRUH

COLLEGE LITERATURE

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in Modern Times thrills the gamin with its abundance, both creating and satisfy
LQJHYHU\FRQVXPHUGHVLUH,QWKHFDIHVKHHQMR\VWKHRQO\FRPSOHWHPHDOWKDW
shes ever shown eating, and from the gusto with which she devours it, we might
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delights in the carefree experiences of childhood denied to one of her marginal
existence. In the haute couture department, she swaddles herself in the luxury of a
IXUFRDWREVFXULQJKHUZRUQDQGOWK\UDJRIDGUHVV$QGQDOO\LQWKHIXUQLWXUH
GHSDUWPHQW VKH VOHHSV LQ DQ DFWXDO EHG IXUQLVKHG ZLWK QH OLQHQV EHQHDWK D
plush comforter that embraces her in its warmth, and surrounded by an excess
of pillows. If the shanty she had found for them disappoints the expectations of
the Tramps fantasy, the department store provides a glut of consumer goods that
RYHUVDWLVHVWKHPDWOHDVWIRURQHQLJKW
Still, for all of its appeal to domestic satisfaction and its strategies of piquing
womens desires and facilitating their power as consumers, the department store
is an institution in sync with mechanized culture. This large mercantile orga
QL]DWLRQ QRW RQO\ EXUHDXFUDWL]HV FRPPHUFH LQWR GLHUHQW UHWDLO XQLWV EXW DOVR
mechanizes the consumers exposure to its wares by using elevators and especially
escalators to shuttle the shopper from department to department. The escalator
SURYLGHV&KDSOLQZLWKDQHHFWLYHVLJKWJDJZKHQKHIDLOVWRHVFDSHWKHPLGQLJKW
EXUJODUVE\DWWHPSWLQJWRUROOHUVNDWHXSWKHGRZQHVFDODWRU%XWWKDWJDJGRHVQW
EHJLQWRPHDVXUHXSWRWKHVLJQLFDQFHRIWKHHVFDODWRUDVDFRUROODU\WRWKHIDF
tory assembly line. Where modern industrialism achieves the mass production
of goods on a mechanical assembly line, the mechanized retail operation uses
the escalator analogously to assemble consumers, constructing their desire for
FRPPHUFLDOSURGXFWVE\WKHWDVWHIXODUUDQJHPHQWRIDEXQGDQFHDQGH\HFDWFKLQJ
novelty in each department.
Of course, the Tramp and the gamin are not actual consumers in the retail
sense; they have no real purchasing power, which in the circular logic of the
Depression makes them both complicit in the cause of the economic stagnation
and victims of it. Indeed, in Successful Living in the Machine Age GHSDUWPHQW
VWRUH PDJQDWH DQG VRPHWLPH SKLORVRSKHU (GZDUG )LOHQH RHUHG DQ XQRUWKR
dox analysis of the prevailing social dilemma that the Tramp and gamins life
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WLRQDVDGULYHURIWKHHFRQRP\)LOHQHDGYDQFHGWKHQRWLRQWKDWWKHDELOLW\RIWKH
LQGXVWULDODJHWRVDWLVI\KXPDQQHHGGHSHQGHGRQNHHSLQJZDJHVVXFLHQWO\KLJK
DQGSULFHVVXFLHQWO\ORZDQGRQZRUNHUVKDYLQJDPSOHOHLVXUHZLWKRXWZKLFK
WKH\ZLOOQRWEHFRPHFRQVXPHUVRQDVXFLHQWO\ODUJHVFDOH)LOHQH
In other words, without the means to consume, workers like the Tramp cannot
provide the demand that production seeks to satisfy. Its perhaps not surprising
that a philosophical department store owner would recognize that a favorable
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KDYHXWWHUHGKHWHURGR[\LIZHFRQVLGHU&KDVHDQG6FKOLQNVLQXHQWLDODQDO\VLV
of the misplaced emphasis on production during this period. They referenced
WKH GHSDUWPHQW VWRUH WR XQGHUVFRUH KRZ D QHDUO\ XQLYHUVDO [DWLRQ RQ JURVV

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



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OLQN Chaplin, too, would have been similarly sensitive to these condi
WLRQVIRUFRQVXPSWLRQ$VDOPPDNHUKHZRXOGKDYHUHFRJQL]HGWKDWKLVRZQ
SURWGHSHQGHGXSRQSHRSOHKDYLQJOHLVXUHWLPHWROODQGVXFLHQWH[SHQGDEOH
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,Q WKLV UHJDUG WKH OPV UHH[LYLW\ ZLWK UHJDUG WR FRQVXPSWLRQ UHSUHVHQWV
&KDSOLQV RQJRLQJ FRQFHUQ DV D OPPDNHU Modern Times, like all Hollywood
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maker must be concerned with the likelihood of return on the investment in
production. But unlike other saleable merchandise, in which price is calculated
ODUJHO\IURPFRVWWKHUHWXUQRQD+ROO\ZRRGOPLVGHWHUPLQHGQRWE\DFRVW
price ratio but by volume of ticket sales.7KXVLIDOPVSURGXFWLRQFRVWVHVFD
ODWHUHWXUQRQWKDWLQYHVWPHQWGHSHQGVRQLQFUHDVHGFRQVXPSWLRQWKDWLVRQ
GHPDQG6DWLVI\LQJWKDWGHPDQGZLWKDQ\JLYHQOPLVDIXQFWLRQRIQRYHOW\
&KDSOLQDUHPDUNDEOHLQQRYDWRUUVWLQSDQWRPLPHDQGODWHULQGHYHORSLQJKLV
pantomimic talent to construct sustained narratives, had an impressive record
RI VDWLVI\LQJ DXGLHQFH GHPDQG %XW E\  KLV VFUHHQ SHUVRQD ZDV QR ORQJHU
YHU\QRYHO$QGDV%HQMDPLQQRWHVWKHVFUHHQDFWRUVUHODWLRQVKLSWRWKHFDPHUD
never enables him to forget the audience: While facing the camera he knows
that ultimately he will face the public, the consumers who constitute the mar
NHW%HQMDPLQ$OWKRXJK&KDSOLQFRQWLQXHGWRUHO\RQWKH7UDPSV
silent pantomime, the market had been transformed by Hollywoods leap into
talking pictures.
Chaplins persistence as a silent actor long after the talkie had become the
industry standard gave rise to a perception that he was resistant to innovation,
clinging to an outmoded form of cinema. But Modern TimesLVDVLOHQWOPLQRQO\
the strictest sense; Chaplin adopted sound technology in a number of inventive
ZD\V7KHHHFWVRIKLVVWUDWHJLFXVHRIVRXQGXQGHUPLQHWKHFKDUJHWKDWKHZDV
WLPLGUHJUHVVLYHRUDQWLWHFKQRORJ\LQKLVFLQHPDWLFDSSURDFK,QGHHGModern
Times includes a number of instances in which the sound of the human voice is
heard, but the speech represented on screen is almost exclusively mechanically
UHSURGXFHGE\SKRQRJUDSKUDGLRRUPRVWVWULNLQJO\LQWKHPHGLDWHGLPDJHRI
the factory bosss talking head. And this crafty use of the new cinematic tech
nology thematically matches the narrative by implicitly criticizing the imbalance
of power between a capital class that controls the technology through which it
DUWLFXODWHVLWVGHPDQGVDQGDODERULQJFODVVVLOHQWO\VXEMHFWHGWRFDSLWDO:LWK
RXWWKHDELOLW\WRWDONZRUNLQJFODVVLQGLYLGXDOVOLNHWKH7UDPSDUHUHGXFHGWR
D JXUDWLYH VWDWH RI LQIDQF\LQ WKH HW\PRORJLFDO VHQVH IURP WKH /DWLQ QIQV,
PHDQLQJQRWDEOHWRVSHDNDVWDWHWKDWKHRYHUFRPHVLQKLVVZDQVRQJFDEDUHW
SHUIRUPDQFHDOEHLWLPSHUIHFWO\)RUZKLOHWKH7UDPSQDOO\UDLVHVKLVYRLFHKH
sings nonsense lyrics in place of those he has failed to memorize. The story in
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in pantomime rather than in words. The Tramp is a hit, and his success yields

COLLEGE LITERATURE

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the elusive promise of steady work. In other words, to maximize the irony, the
7UDPS&KDSOLQVVLOHQWSHUVRQDQDOO\VXFFHHGVLQWKHRQHMREWKDWUHTXLUHV
him to use his voice. Although Chaplin may appear to have been stuck in prac
tices upon which he had relied throughout his career, he instead employed the
QHZVRXQGWHFKQRORJ\MXGLFLRXVO\WRDUULYHDWDQLQQRYDWLYHFULWLTXHRIERWKFODVV
and the dubious merits of much sound cinema.
Of course, there was no turning back to the silent mode once the Tramps
ORQJDZDLWHGYRLFHKDGEHHQKHDUGHYHQLIKHXWWHUHGRQO\JLEEHULVK%XWZLWKLQ
Modern Times, Chaplin found himself precariously balanced between criticism of
a society that had mechanized itself into an intractable economic depression, and
artistic expression that relied on analogous methods of technological production.
7KURXJKWKHPHGLXPRIOP&KDSOLQGHSOR\VUHSUHVHQWDWLRQVRIWHFKQRORJ\WKDW
RHUVHOIUHIHUHQWLDODQDORJLHVWRKLVFRQWURORYHUFLQHPDDQGWRFLQHPDVFRQ
trol over the imagination of the spectators whose attention is dominated by the
LPDJHVWKDWWKHOPSDUDGHVEHIRUHWKHP,QWKLVFRPSOH[RIWURSHVKHV\QFKV
up Modern Times with the uncertainties of its moment.
Chaplins balancing act, appropriate for a physical comedian who often teeters
on the brink of danger, enables us to see Modern Times DVDVXFFHVVIXOOPLQLWV
RZQULJKW%XWLWDOVRUHDOLJQVWKHHLWKHURUFRQWHQWLRQVZLWKLQWKHFXOWXUHLQGXV
try debate as both/and propositions. Granted, Max Horkheimer and Theodor
Adorno have reason to criticize the Culture Industry as a powerful institution
serving the capital interests of the status quo against the individual. But Chaplins
OPFKDOOHQJHVWKHLUVZHHSLQJJHQHUDOL]DWLRQWKDWWKHFXOWXUHLQGXVWU\SHUSHWX
ally cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises . . . ; the promise, which
LVDFWXDOO\DOOWKHVSHFWDFOHFRQVLVWVRILVLOOXVRU\+RUNKHLPHUDQG$GRUQR
7RWKHFRQWUDU\WKHUHH[LYLW\RISURGXFWLRQDQGFRQVXPSWLRQWKDWModern
Times employs asks the audience to recognize its critical engagement with mecha
QL]HGVRFLHW\UDWKHUWKDQVLPSO\RHULQJDFRPPHQGDWLRQRIWKHGHSUHVVLQJ
HYHU\GD\ZRUOGLWVRXJKWWRHVFDSH+DYLQJFKDOOHQJHGWKHYHUWLFDORUJDQL
zation of the studio system, Chaplin based his practices on artisans principles,
not on the industrial hegemony that characterizes Horkheimer and Adornos
view of modern culture gone awry. This is not to tip the balance in the direction
RI%HQMDPLQZKRVHDVWXWHDQDO\VLVLQ$UWLQWKH$JHRI0HFKDQLFDO5HSURGXF
WLRQ LQFOXGHV WKH RYHUO\ FRQGHQW FODLP WKDW ZLWKLQ D SRSXODU DUW IRUP OLNH
OPWKHFULWLFDODQGUHFHSWLYHDWWLWXGHVRIWKHSXEOLFFRLQFLGH%HQMDPLQ
7RWKHFRQWUDU\EHFDXVHModern Times is a technological product that taps
into popular anxiety about technology to evoke the audiences sympathy for the
7UDPSDVDWHFKQRORJLFDOYLFWLPWKHOPDOOHJRUL]HVFLQHPDVDXWKRULW\RYHULWV
audience while obscuring the actual power of its maker through his role as a
beleaguered character who wins the audiences sympathy. In other words, contra
%HQMDPLQWKHOPHHFWLYHO\VKRUWFLUFXLWVWKHPHUJHURISRSXODUDQGFULWLFDO
UHFHSWLRQ%\SURMHFWLQJWKHGLOHPPDLQKLVRZQWHFKQRORJLFDOO\LQYHVWHGFULWLTXH
of technological society, Chaplin occupies a complex position not reducible to
either of these critical poles.

Lawrence Howe

ESSAYS



2EVHUYLQJ WKLV G\QDPLF UHH[LYLW\ LQ Modern Times is not to argue that all
OPVRSHUDWHLQWKLVZD\EXWWKHSUHVHQFHRIWKLVUHFLSURFDOWHQVLRQLQ&KDSOLQV
OPRHUVDQLUUHGXFLEOHUHVLVWDQFHWRSROHPLFVZKLOHPHUJLQJKLVWZRREMHFWLYHV
entertainment and critique. As the product of a particular historical moment
of transition in cultural attitudes about technology and about cinema, Modern
Times marks an intersection of the technological production of material goods
and art. Grave doubts had arisen about the promise of industrial technology to
PHHW VRFLDO DQG HFRQRPLF QHHGV DQG VLOHQW OP KDG JLYHQ ZD\ WR VRXQG OP
In that intersection, Modern TimesUHHFWVQRWRQO\&KDSOLQVRZQSROLWLFDODQG
aesthetic concerns, but also the complex meanings that technology had acquired
in both the production of culture and the culture of production.
NOTES
I am grateful to the astute suggestions that my colleagues Mike Bryson, Regina Buccola,
.LP5XQDQG-DQHW:RQGUDSURYLGHGRQDQHDUO\GUDIWWRWKHUHVSRQVHVWRGLHUHQW
parts of my interpretation from my Roosevelt students; and to the constructive comments
RIWKHWZRDQRQ\PRXVUHDGHUVRIWKHMRXUQDO6SHFLDOWKDQNVWR *UDKDP0DF3KHHDQG
(OL]DEHWK/XNHQVDWCollege LiteratureDQGWR$UQROG/R]DQRDW5R\([SRUW6$6

I am not suggesting that the public was ignorant of his celebrity status. As Charles
0DODQGQRWHV&KDSOLQPDGHHYHU\HRUWWRDXQWKLVFHOHEULW\LQKLVVHULDOL]HGPHPRLU
RIKLVZRUOGWRXUA Comedian Sees the World$QGLQDNew York Times article,
Ten Men Who Stand as Symbols, which grouped Chaplin with the Prince of Wales,
0XVVROLQL6WDOLQWKH3RSH)RUG*DQGKL/LQGEHUJK(LQVWHLQDQG6KDZ&KDSOLQZDV
presented as being able to personify oppositions: he was the highbrow who happens
to be a hobo, the duke who was only born a dustman, the utterly genteel who is utterly
VKDEE\0DODQG+RZHYHUWKHSURSHQVLW\RIDXGLHQFHVWRLGHQWLI\V\PSD
thetically with the Tramp within the sentimental comic narratives of his invention
LQGXFHVDVXVSHQVLRQRIDZDUHQHVVRIKLVRVFUHHQLGHQWLW\

'HVSLWHKLVHQWKXVLDVPIRUOPDVPHDQVRIDFKLHYLQJWKHQHRWHFKQLFSKDVH0XPIRUG
FULWLFL]HG QHDUO\ DOO $PHULFDQ OPPDNHUV IRU VTXDQGHULQJ OPV SRWHQWLDO E\ LQGXOJ
LQJVFDUFHO\DGROHVFHQWIDQWDVLHVFUHDWHGDQGSURMHFWHGZLWKWKHDLGRIWKHPDFKLQH
WKHUHE\PDNLQJWKHPDFKLQHULWXDOWROHUDEOHWRWKHYDVWXUEDQRUXUEDQL]HGSRSXOD
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3
Indeed, the original title for Modern Times was The Masses. It was abandoned because
RILWVHFKRRIWKHWLWOHRIWKHUDGLFDOVRFLDOLVWMRXUQDO

See Maland, who describes Modern Times as a case study of ambivalence about the rela
WLRQVKLSEHWZHHQDHVWKHWLFVDQGLGHRORJ\

,QFRQVLGHULQJWKHUHFLSURFDOUHH[LYLW\LQModern Times, I am indebted to Robert Stams
UHPDUNVRQDOOHJRULHVRISURGXFWLRQDQGVSHFWDWRUVKLSFKDSWHUVDQGModern Times
appears to stand alone in combining the two. To be sure, Keaton deployed the one in
The Cameraman DQGWKHRWKHULQSherlock Jr. EXW,FDQWKLQNRIQRRWKHU
H[DPSOHFRQWHPSRUDQHRXVZLWK&KDSOLQRUODWHUWKDWGHSOR\VERWKLQRQHOP

7KHVHLQWHUGHSHQGHQWIRUPVRIUHH[LYLW\SRVLWLRQWKHOPEHWZHHQWKHWZRSROHVWKDW
David James ascribes to a much later distinction in the historical development of the
PHGLXPEHWZHHQLQGXVWULDOFLQHPDZKLFKHPSKDVL]HVOPDVFRPPRGLW\DQGDOWHUQD
tive cinema, which reimagines and restructures the relationships among those engaged

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7
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declares that:
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QHQWKDGEHWWHUPHQGRXUVLQIXOZD\V$JURWHFKQRORJ\LVRQWKHPDUFKZLWKLWV)DUD
GD\)OXLG)HHGLQJ3URFHVVRUWDQNIDUPV'URXJKWVZLOOIRUFHWKHIXUWKHUHFRQRPLF
liquidation of farmers in the United States and Canada.
This forcing is seen as a providential blessing for it simultaneously compels the
LQWURGXFWLRQRQDFRPPHUFLDOVFDOHRIDJURWHFKQRORJ\E\ZKLFKPDQIRUWKHUVW
time in his history will no longer be dependent upon the fertility of soil and the
vagaries of the weather. Technocracy wishes to express its thanks to this providential
DLG6FRWW
Although the title of his article quotes Roosevelts famous phrase, his antagonism
toward New Deal policies could not have been more pointed. He singled out only these
IHZZRUGVIURPWKHSUHVLGHQWLDOVSHHFKDVVLJQLFDQWDQGGLVPLVVHGWKHUHVWDVLUUHO
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9
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machines and machine design in the work of a wide array of visual artists. Indeed,
&KDSOLQKLPVHOIVHUYHGDVDUHDGLO\LGHQWLDEOHJXUHIRUDUWLVWVZKRWDSSHGLQWRWKH
ethos of the machine age, as can be seen in Hart Cranes explicitly attributed poem
&KDSOLQHVTXHDQGLQ)HUGLQDQG/pJHUVSDLQWLQJ&KDUORW&XELVWH7KH
ODWWHU LQVSLUHG /pJHU WR FROODERUDWH ZLWK *HRUJH $QWKHLO RQ DQDQLPDWHG OP Ballet
Mcanique LQZKLFKWKH7UDPSLQWHUDFWVZLWKDYDULHW\RIWUDGLWLRQDODUWREMHFWV
such as the Mona Lisa. Sherwood Andersons Perhaps Women, a meditation on the
machine age as an assault on masculinity, includes an account of his visiting a factory
DWQLJKWZKHUHKHZLWQHVVHVWKHJKRVWO\LPDJHRIWKHODWHVKLIWZRUNHUV)ULJKWHQHGE\
WKHLPSRVLQJSUHVHQFHRIDURDGEXLOGLQJPDFKLQHKHLGHQWLHVZLWK&KDSOLQWRH[SUHVV
his sense of vulnerable impotence:
I became a Charlie Chaplin that night by the mill gate. I was, to myself at least and
IRUWKHWLPHWKHUHLQWKHKDOIGDUNQHVVMXVWWKHJURWHVTXHOLWWOHJXUH&KDSOLQEULQJV
upon our screen.
+H&KDSOLQWKHOLWWOHJXUHZLWKWKHFDQHSXWWLQJWKHKDWEDFNFRUUHFWO\
on his head, pulling at the lapels of his worn coat, walking grotesquely, standing
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PDNLQJPDFKLQHWKLQNLQJLWDPDQKLVTXLFNUDWKHUIUDJLOHPLQGDQGIHHOLQJXSVHW
KLVH\HVGLVWRUWLQJWKLQJVDV,VRRIWHQGR$QGHUVRQ

6HH)RXFDXOWIRUDQDQDO\VLVRIWKHSDQRSWLFRQVRSSUHVVLYHVFUXWLQ\+H
also stresses the importance of disciplinary power . . . exercised through invisibility; at
WKHVDPHWLPHLWLPSRVHVRQWKRVHZKRPLWVXEMHFWVDSULQFLSOHRIFRPSXOVRU\YLVLELOLW\
7KHFRUUHVSRQGHQFHRIWKLVSRZHURIYLVLRQLVFHQWUDOWROP,Q&KDSOLQVQDUUD
tive, the prison is ironically the one place the Tramp comes to prefer.

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WRULFDOLQXHQFHVVXFKDVWKHHFLHQF\REVHVVLRQLQLQGXVWULDO$PHULFDLQWKLVSHULRG

Lawrence Howe



ESSAYS



Dan Kamin also observes this allusion in a caption under a photograph of this image, but
he sees this as merely reinforcing Chaplins confrontation with sound movies in this
OP-XOLDQ6PLWKPRUHSRLQWHGO\UHDGVWKLVVFHQHDVDSOD\IXOFRPPHQWDU\
on the internal and external pressures upon Chaplin to keep up his level of productivity,
WRNHHSWKHOPVPRYLQJRQKLVRZQDVVHPEO\OLQH6PLWK+RZHYHUDOWKRXJK
Chaplin did announce rather ambitious plans for his output, he had settled into a much
more deliberate pace which slowed his output considerably in this period of his career.
So he seems not to have responded to those particular pressures. In fact, it seems hard
to imagine that Chaplin would have considered his own process under United Artists
WREHDQDVVHPEO\OLQH7RWKHFRQWUDU\WKHFRPSDQ\ZDVIRUPHGE\OPDUWLVWVZKR
resented being treated as interchangeable parts in the Hollywood machinery, for the
express purpose of reclaiming control of their art.
:HPLJKWDOVRQRWHWKDWWKLVJOLPSVHLQWRWKHLQQHUZRUNLQJVRIWKHIDFWRU\EHOW
PDFKLQHUHSOLFDWHVWKHHPSKDVLVRIWKHHDUO\DGYHUWLVHPHQWVIRU(GLVRQV.LQHWRVFRSH
DQG9LWDVFRSHLQWKH8QLWHG6WDWHVDQGIRU/XPLqUHV&LQHPDWRJUDSKHLQ)UDQFHWKXV
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GLVSOD\RILWVPDJLF-DPHV

The Billows feeding machine sequence is complemented by the later factory scene
LQZKLFKWKH7UDPSDVVLVWVDVXSHUYLVLQJPHFKDQLF&KHVWHU&RQNOLQLQSUHSDULQJD
decommissioned plant to resume production. Reversing the terms and conditions of
the visual rhetoric, the Tramps incompetence in the later episode leads to the mechanic
being devoured into the machine, not the Tramp. The reversal is extended when the
lunch whistle blows, for it is not the Tramp who is fed, as in the demonstration of the
Billows machine, but rather he who feeds the supervisor trapped in the machine. The
Tramps role reversal from eater to feeder corresponds to the split between Chaplins
positions as both character in and creator of the narrative.
:DOWHU%HQMDPLQUHIHUHQFHV'XKDPHOVGLVWUXVWRIOPDVPDQLSXODWLQJWKHVSHFWD
WRUVWKRXJKWSURFHVVDOWKRXJKLWLVDQRWLRQWKDW%HQMDPLQUHMHFWV+HDUJXHVLQVWHDG
that the interruption to the spectators typical process of association . . . constitutes
WKHVKRFNHHFWRIWKHOPZKLFKOLNHDOOVKRFNVVKRXOGEHFXVKLRQHGE\KHLJKWHQHG
SUHVHQFHRIPLQG%HQMDPLQ

Veblen makes a comparable point, noting that vicarious consumption and vicarious
OHLVXUHDUHIXQFWLRQVSHUIRUPHGFKLH\E\WKHZLIHLQERXUJHRLVIDPLOLHV9HEOHQ


Of course, the stimulation of desire begins even before a shopper enters the store with
advertisements and the spectacle of window displays. The analogy of windows to movie
screens is particularly apt with department store displays. See Lancaster who attributes
WKHVKRZPDQVKLSRIUHWDLOGLVSOD\VWR/)UDQN%DXPZKRDGDSWHGKLVHDUO\ZRUNPDQ
DJLQJKLVIDPLO\VWKHDWHUVWRKLVLQYROYHPHQWLQ&KLFDJRUHWDLO/DQFDVWHU

,QDGGLWLRQWRPDNLQJWKLVSODLQLQKLVLQWURGXFWRU\FKDSWHU)LOHQHIRFXVHVLQFKDSWHU
on the importance of buying power to a sound economic system.

5HMHFWLQJWKLVWKHRU\&KDVHDQG6FKOLQNEOXQWO\DVVHUWHGWKDW0DQGRHVQRWOLYHWR
keep money in circulation; money circulates to help him live. If it does not, the whole
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DQG6FKOLQN

(SVWHLQVUHFHQWDQDO\VLVRI+ROO\ZRRGQDQFHVUHYHDOVDPXFKPRUHFRPSOH[DUUDQJH
ment of licensing agreements in the contemporary era.

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 7KH GHPDQG IRU QRYHOW\ LV QRW H[FOXVLYH WR OP 9HEOHQV DQDO\VLV RI WDVWH DQG IDVK
ion emphasizes the transitory qualities of novelty that generate shifts under a canon
of reputability under which anything will be accepted as becoming until its novelty
ZHDUVR9HEOHQ

In the opening scene of City Lights&KDSOLQPRFNVWKHLPSRUWDQFHRIVSHHFKE\
distorting the orations of civic dignitaries at the dedication of a statue into a cacophony
of squawks, subtly ridiculing the enthusiasm for the cinematic innovation of talking
pictures. However, this opening satire of talkies in City Lights is undercut by the end of
WKHVWRU\7KLVOPH[SOLFLWO\HPSKDVL]HVWKHUHOHYDQFHRIYLVLRQE\HQDEOLQJWKH7UDPS
WREHPLVWDNHQE\DEOLQGZRPDQ9LUJLQLD&KHUULOODVDPDQRIFRQVLGHUDEO\KLJKHU
means. Structured around the disparity between what she imagines and what the audi
ence can see, City Lights FRQYH\V WKH SDWKRV RI WKH 7UDPSV VDFULFH LQ IXOOOLQJ KLV
beloveds dreams by giving her the money to restore her sight, and thus the means both
to see and to elevate her status from street vendor to the proprietress of a legitimate
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VLJKWHGZRPDQWRUHFRJQL]HWKH7UDPSVYRLFHDYRLFHWKDWZHFDQQRWKHDUFRPLQJ
from the disheveled Tramp she now sees before her. In this epiphany, she realizes the
true class identity of the man who rescued her. Thus, while the power of the spectators
YLVLRQDVRSSRVHGWRWKHEHORYHGVYLVXDOGHFLWJHQHUDWHVWKHFRQLFWWKHVWRU\VUHOL
ance on her ability to hear what we cannot exposes the approaching limit of Chaplins
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WORKS CITED
$GDPV +HQU\  The Education of Henry Adams (GLWHG E\ (UQHVW 6DPXHOV %RVWRQ
+RXJKWRQ0LLQ
$GDPV-DPHV7UXVORZThe Epic of America. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
$QGHUVRQ6KHUZRRGPerhaps Women. Mamaroneck, NY: Paul P. Appel.
%HQMDPLQ:DOWHU$UWLQWKH$JHRI0HFKDQLFDO5HSURGXFWLRQ,QIlluminations:
(VVD\VDQG5HHFWLRQV, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn. New York:
Schocken Books.
%L[ $P\ 6XH  Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs?: Americas Debate Over Technological
8QHPSOR\PHQW. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
&KDSOLQ&KDUOHVMy Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster.
&KDVH6WXDUWWaste in the Machine Age. New York: League for Industrial Democracy.
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ticulation in Chaplins Modern Times. Spectator6SULQJ

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(QWHUWDLQPHQW
Metropolis'LUHFWHGE\)ULW]/DQJ'9'+ROO\ZRRG3DUDPRXQW
Modern Times. 'LUHFWHGE\&KDUOHV&KDSOLQ'9'&KDWVZRUWK,PDJH(QWHUWDLQ
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