Marcuse claims that, “one reason for alienation was that the human being lent his entire individuality to the technical apparatus” (Marcuse, 24). Man has reduced to nothing more than a tangible element in production and the work process. Due to such an automated process man has become, art has diminished and become nothing more than an illustration of propaganda and too has become one-dimensional in Marcuse’ One-Dimensional Man. In Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin is reduced to this one-dimension, “whittled down by technological rationality” and living his work day in a factory production line, brain washed to his duties. The diminished concept of individuality and artistic freedom in One-Dimensional Man is similar to better understand Charlie Chaplin and the political points made in Modern Times.
Self-expression has no place in the work force, where Marcuse claims that the end products in both a communist and capitalist society, are pretty much the same, anyway. The very first scene in Modern Times is that of herding sheep, after a few brief moments of watching the sheep, the next scene is identical to that but instead of sheep, men are herding off of a subway all headed to work in the industrial facility. Point made— man is nothing more than a menial herd animal. Charlie Chaplin is one of these nameless men working at the facility. He and the others are put to work on the production line, responsive to bells, whistles and an intercom shouting orders. The men work mindlessly— Charlie Chaplin, for one, stands in his position on the production line turning knobs on a piece as it moves along the line. After the monotonous hours of that day’s work, Charlie Chaplin leaves the factory with tools still in hand and he even outside the doors of the industry, he is stuck in habit doing the same working motion. He tightens everything he can put his tools to, and even follows a woman to try to tighten the buttons on her dress. His mind is brainwashed to the dehumanizing motion of the factory-life. Charlie Chaplin has become the result of individual and artistic alienation of the working process like in One-Dimensional Man, affirms that “[Man] was the bearer of tools; technical units could not be established without incorporating man as bearer of tools into them. The nature of this occupation was such that it was both psychologically and physiologically deforming in its effect.” Gilbert 24. Man in this society has become nothing more than a sum of its tools in part of production. Like the scene of the herding sheep, man is not individualized, and can do nothing in production to be individualized, “what is at stake is the compatibility of technical progress with the very institutions in which industrialization is developed” (Marcuse, 29).
Individual artistic expression is not congruous with productivity in Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, likewise to that revealed in Modern Times. “Now this essential gap between the arts and the order of the day, kept open in the artistic alienation is progressively closed by the advancing technological society” (Marcuse, 64). As technology and productivity grows, creative and artistic expression is diminishes entirely. Marcuse reiterates the phrase “artistic alienation” over and over again in Chapter 3. He claims that technology controls people, disallowing individuals to express themselves and gain prosperity and success via art. No longer is art created by Marcuse’s definition, but rather humans are just remaking their content. Fine arts is redefined in One-Dimensional Man as well: “It is good that almost everyone can now have the fine arts at his fingertips, by just turning a knob on his set, or by just stepping into his drugstore. In this diffusion, however, they become cogs in a culture-machine which remakes their content” (Marcuse 65). Art is no longer an individual expression and now according to Marcuse it is given limits. The limits on artistic individuality and expression diminishes the voice to the people, similar to the way that Charlie Chaplin literally has no voice during the majority of the film, Modern Times. The only sounds in the film are noises from tinkering machines and the man speaking over the intercom, but Charlie Chaplin, as well as the people around him, are voiceless the majority of the film. The absence of language and voice diminishes any artistic expression and individualization of the human characters. Charlie Chaplin’s character is suppressed by the mechanical progression around him, and as a spectacle of progress and technology, his artistic functions are disallowed, especially in the workplace and in front of the well to do. But when no one is watching, Charlie Chaplin plays and funs around constantly, only then seeming happy in his individual and artistic self. Not until the end of the movie, Charlie performs a song in dance in front of everyone, and here his voice is heard for the first time. Even then, Charlie appears nervous to speak— even claiming to have forgotten his words, and shies off slightly during his performance. He performs happily, however, still, his voice seems muffled and he seems to be diminished of his genuine individuality due to the industry progressing around him.
The demise of artistic expression and individuality that Marcuse describes in One-Dimensional Man can be used to better understand the concepts in Modern Times. By comparing Modern Times to Marcuse’ novel, the viewer can make better connections and realizations in understanding why Charlie Chaplin is stuck in the brainwashing and dehumanizing life of the factory, and also a better understanding of why the film chose not to use any voices. Charlie Chaplin is so estranged from himself in a place where individuals are so lost among machines, technology and masses of people, markets and money, exactly like the artistically alienated world that Marcuse describes.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. New York: Beacon, 1991.
Modern Times. Dir. Charles Chaplin. Perf. Charles Chaplin. 1936. YouTube.