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.