Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marcuse and Chaplin Societal Independence

            In Marcuse’s mind-bending novel he discusses a wide array of beliefs, ideas, and moral mindsets. Among many topics, One Dimensional Man assesses the idea of art in modern society and its progression and development. Marcuse states that art used to be as an expressive rebellion against social reality. Art was a political stand out where an artist could portray their opposing feelings and thoughts to societal norms. At the time of Marcuse’s writing, he says that art has lost its deep meaning and that it is doing nothing but repeating becoming part of the “material world” (Marcuse 58). These direct thoughts by Marcuse can relate straightforwardly to Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 success, Modern Times. In Chaplin’s first overtly political film, he makes a point to really critique the industrialization and loss of individuality.
            Chaplin’s scene in which he was working in the factory was not only incredibly famous and later much repeated, but incredibly symbolic. Chaplin’s character the Little Tramp begins to work in a factory line and essentially becomes a machine losing all independent thought or reaction. Using comedy, Chaplin shows his outward dislike of what the world is becoming. This scene perfectly portrays everything Marcuse believed; art should be used to show the problems that are becoming societal norms. Chaplin continues on with his rebellious ideas throughout the entire movie. In Modern Times Chaplin portrays his comical stretch of what can be interpreted as the American Dream. His love interest in the film is a young gamine girl, whom you can interpret is some form of prostitute, as she has to work to support her family. Unlike an ideal situation, Chaplin shows the corruption he has to face just to find happiness with the gamine girl. Getting arrested multiple times, Chaplin shows the trials and tribulations that the world is handing people. Once again, this outward protest and defiance paints a perfect picture to embody everything Marcuse discusses. This exact element of rebellion is what Marcuse believes needs to be reintroduced into the field art.  
            Chaplin continues his outward defiance to social norms with refusing to make his film an entire speaking film, or a ‘talkie’. At the time of the filming, talkies were what were being made; silent films were of the past. Chaplin, having written, directed, and produced the film, was well aware that he had the ability and money to make the film like the rest of the films out at the time. In his opinion, making an entire talking film would ruin the character and story that he had developed. This wasn’t Chaplin’s last revolt against the societal norms; his following film was the The Great Dictator in which Chaplin shows his strong stance on being anti-Nazi. Marcuse’s main critique was that art was losing “the greater part of the truth”, this truth that Chaplin was never short on (Marcuse 58).  The entire idea to conserve artistic individuality and social independence through art is what Marcuse refers to as ‘artistic alienation’ (Marcuse 60). Marcuse uses this phrase to identify those who are on the path of preserving revolt against the societal norms.

            Marcuse feared that more conforming to the societal ideas would ruin the cultural ideas, forever polluting the realm of art. Chaplin was making films in the era that Marcuse referred to have produced the great surrealist art (Marcuse 60). In many ways, Marcuse’s argument for the need to keep art oppositional is valid and understood, but his ruthless critique and harsh words about the art being produced is mildly bewildering. As far as films are concerned, many filmmakers and critics of the 1960’s make multiple claims that films of the later ‘60’s showed a strong resemblance to that of the films of the 1930’s. It is possible that after Marcuse’s 1964 novel was published, there was a large shift in counterculture that he was calling upon during this chapter.


Kyle McManigle said...

I thought the essay was good as a complete entity. The ideas that you have have a lot of potential. Opening up with a strong line from Marcuse's writing about what he says art is sets up the essay with a strong direction. I also liked how you talked about Chaplin becoming removed from the tasks before moving on to talking about his rebellion. I think that resembles the transition of art Marcuse talks about, and saying specifically that the rebellion itself is the important part is smart. I think if you were to revise this, I would put more detail into how the film of Modern Times itself is a great artistic expression, maybe noting what the sound that Chaplin chose to include meant. Also, it might benefit from adding a few more sentences relating the rebellion of Chaplin to the art alienation, possibly with something else Marcuse says. Does his singing performance later in the film have anything to do with being that artist? It might not fit into your essay, but could be worth noting as a possibility for more art evidence in case you were to revise. Overall, you have a good core that could just benefit from a few details, but I like how you ended the essay with the connection between Marcuse's publication and the similarity of movies between the times.

Adam said...

Your introduction doesn't really explain what the connection between Marcuse and Charlie Chaplin is - you should be able to get that far in an introduction.

For much of the essay, you are briefly discussing how Marcuse is concerned with opposing societal norms (but which ones, and how?) and with how Chaplin is engaged in vigorous social criticism. One problem here is that Marcuse's theory about art does not quite boil down to "we should criticize what's wrong with the world," although that's certainly a part of it - part of his thesis, remember, is that the one dimensional society is very capable of neutralizing criticism, including all "free" speech.

You start to move into that territory a little in the last paragraph, where I think that you're acknowledging that you don't get why Marcuse sees simple social criticism as being insufficient. Certainly in a revision, one thing you'd need to do is really take that problem seriously - engage with Marcuse's argument that criticism isn't sufficient; what we need is negation (my formulation, not Marcuse's).

None of which is to say that Charlie Chaplin doesn't play with serious alienation - it's just that you step back a little both from Marcuse's complexities and from Chaplin's.