Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prompt 1-Marcuse and Modern Times

Superimposed Needs in Modern Times and in Modern America

            In Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man he writes: “We may distinguish both true and false needs. "False" are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice.”  He then goes on: “Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs (Marcuse, Ch1).” Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times. It can be shown that the needs to relax, have fun, behave and consume in accordance with advertisements, and to love and hate what others love and hate is a dominant theme throughout the film, and serves as motivation for many of the characters, especially the two main characters. It can also be shown that those needs are still prevalent in actual modern times as they were in the film in 1936.
            We begin with one of the first false needs; that is the need to relax. This false need is illustrated in the film when the tramp is in prison after thwarting the breakout attempt.  In this situation he is “comfortable in prison” as the film so aptly states. This relaxing situation becomes a false necessity for him once he is freed from prison. This illustrates that the character when faced with the real needs of providing food for himself and maintaining his freedom, or being comfortable in prison, he would choose the false need of relaxation. It can be noted that while in prison his true need of hunger was being met however that was not the motivation to return to prison. We also see an example of the need for relaxation in the patrons at the restaurant; they are having a relaxing evening out, as opposed to preparing meals for themselves, and not perpetuating the unnecessary servitude of a restaurant. A primary example of the superimposed need of relaxation in today’s society can be seen in the multi million dollar vacation and travel industry; an industry that provides people a way to escape and relax to socially acceptable relaxation destinations.
            Next we can illustrate the false need of having fun. This can be primarily when the tramp gains employment at the department store; instead of doing his job and watching the store, he laces up a pair of roller skates and begins skating around the store.  This escapade places the tramp perilously close to the balcony edge and differentiates his need to have fun over the need of self-preservation. It can also be seen in the film where the tramp decides to go for a swim. The film makes no assumption that he is diving into the pond for a bath and we are led to believe that he is just going for a recreational swim. Lastly we see an example of characters out to have fun when a football game breaks out in the middle of the restaurant. While this is a minor example it is in direct correlation with the need to have fun in todays society. Today we see more and more consumers going to sporting events and amusement parks as a way to have a good time. Sports venues are getting larger and more advanced and amusement parks compete to provide the most fun by building bigger and more exciting attractions.
            The need to behave and consume according to advertisement is next; this need is not just to consume what commercial advertisements state, but also how society advertises a particular group or demographic should act.  First we see the factory boss attempting to conform to the commercial advertisement by the manufacturer of the feeding machine. It should be noted that this is one of the few times in the film where actual voices can be heard; it is convenient that this voice comes from a phonograph and shows technology’s role in superimposing needs in society. This can also be seen in the scene with the radio advertisement for gastritis when the tramp is being freed from prison. Next we see the need to do as advertised when, after spending a fair amount of time jobless, the factory workers go in strike. This correlates to the opening scene of the movie that parallels the working masses to a drove of sheep. The working masses especially those in a union or trying to unionize (in the labor march scene) are doing as their told, or advertised, to by labor leaders. This is also very prevalent today not only in the commercialism and advertisement of the informational age but most notably in the American political landscape. The two party system does not allow for out side opinions. It separates the country into red states and blue states that vote as they’re told to by political ads and mass media outlets which is summed up in this quote from Marcuse: “Can one really distinguish between the mass media as instruments of information and entertainment, and as agents of manipulation and indoctrination?”
            Lastly we have the need to love or hate what others love or hate, or as Marcuse says: “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment (Marcuse Ch1).” This can be seen can be see when the two characters are fantasizing about their perfect house in the suburbs; while on the street with nothing to eat their primary focus is on the false need of having the same home and possessions as suburban middle America. This is also portrayed in the gamin trying on the big fur coat and sleeping in the extravagant king size bed. Even when the gamin finally does get a job her first purchase is a nice dress and handbag; not what one would consider the necessity of someone on the street. This quote by Marcuse is probably even more prevalent today due to all of the new technology and gadgets that are being invented now. It is not enough to have a portable phone, computer, GPS, and whatever in the palm of your hand; no, we have to have the newest most colorful and most flashy one.  
            As Marcuse argues these superimposed needs are well engrained in our society. In a movie created over seventy years ago these needs are almost impossible to separate from actual needs and I don’t envision it becoming any easier to convince society to abandon these false needs any time soon.


Sarah Ayre said...

Carl, I think the first part of your essay is grey not black, not important, but just thought I should mention it if you decide to revise this. There is also a word missing at one point you might want to check too.
One thing I would suggest is making sure you explain your quotes. The first Marcuse quote you chose fits very well into your argument and is one of his (always surprising to me) straightforward sentence, but a little explanation to the reader would be helpful just to enhance your ideas. Also, as I have been told in what seems like all my classes this semester, watch out for passive language. When you say "It can be shown" this comes across not as strong as saying, perhaps: "Shown here" "here we see" or even maybe "____ shows ___" - you get the idea. I think you can be assertive without being overpowering or demanding and it would help strengthen your argument. Even just rewording your last sentence in the first paragraph to something like, "The needs for ___ are still commonly found in modern times today as they were in ___" would work.
Elaborating on the last example you have in the paragraph about relaxation could be useful too, right now that sentence feels kind of like a throwaway one.
Something interesting you can do too is to discuss the similarities between the need to relax and the need to have fun. The examples you give for one seem like they could easily apply to other, which raises questions of ambiguity about Marcuse. I'm not sure this is a route you necessarily want to take, but it could be interesting if you decide to.

Overall, my advice would be to elaborate on your quotes and examples, because if you just plop them in there they without explanation you leave the reader open to interpret them however they want. If you explain the quotes and examples you can demonstrate clearly how they reenforce the points you are making. Also I would note that the last sentence of your introductory paragraph leads me to believe that you will talk more about how these false needs can be seen today, but there is very little of that in the essay. For a revision it would be helpful for you to elaborate a bit more on that.
I think this is a great essay and you should definitely keep this in mind for a revision because there are even more things I think can be done with what you've got. For example, examining more closely why Marcuse calls these needs false and how right that claim really is. Because as you've said, these needs are still prevalent in society today and there must be a reason for that. Can people really live a happy and full life without any relaxation or happiness? And does Marcuse want that? I myself would have to reread Marcuse to really answer that question but still, something to think about.

Adam said...

I like your initial focus, although it's weird to both cite something and then repeat it almost in its entirety immediately afterward.

Your discussion of the little tramp's time in prison is provocative. I actually wonder if more focus wouldn't have served you well here - you acknowledge that there are both true and false needs being served in prison, and I think that more attention to the details, to really parse out their relative importance, would have been workable here.

Is the tramp's behavior in the store about him having fun? About mocking the powers that be? About his inability to function in an ordinary way? Again, I think you're on to something, but that if anything you're trying to pay attention to too many parts of the movie too quickly - I'd like a more detailed analysis of smaller parts, which would get around your tendency to generalize too quickly (e.g., about current sporting events).

You have some good material about advertisement, but again, you're trying to do too much. In particular, your analysis of the presence of unions/protest here is superficial. There are obvious ways in which the movie is strong pro-union. That doesn't mean that you need to have a pro-union *interpretation* of it, but this is an important enough thread of the film that it needs to be handled in detail if it's important.

I've done some complaining about the relative lack of detail here. The details you provide in the second to last paragraph are great. I *still* feel that you'd do better by focusing more narrowly on fewer topics, but here you provide a detail-based analysis of the Gamin's character very compactly. Good!

Overall: In a revision, I'd like to see more depth, and very possibly less breadth. Your grasp of Marcuse is good, and your grasp of the film is good - but I'd like to see a narrower argument in which *you* would be more directly presenting your viewpoint about how we ought to read certain aspects of the film.

Sarah gives a lot of great advice, too. While I wouldn't get too hung up on explaining every detail of Marcuse (where you already do pretty well), but I especially like her discussion of passive voice and her last paragraph.