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Running head: MODERNITY 0
Modernity was an age that differed from earlier social orders during the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century due to its dynamism and its deep weakening of traditional habits as well as customs. It can be referred as a remarkable development of socio-politico-economic which gradually started during the end of Middle Ages and after enlightenment standards and potential of growth through science, technology, and machine development started to grow. The machine and technological development during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries introduced an unprecedented degree of change which caused both positive and negative impacts. It should be remembered that these changes were influenced by economic imperatives of the growing systems of capitalism, whose settings of possibility were partly constituted by industrialization. This essay argues that the machine and technology development should not be celebrated as these innovations had more negative impacts on day-to-day life which included dehumanization of the workers, unemployment problem, overcrowding and other social problems, such as prostitution and destruction of the family structures. These negative impacts were caused by transforming production especially through the mechanization, contemporary science, money-based economies and capitalism. These the negative impacts of machine and technology development will be demonstrated in relation to the work of two modernist filmmakers; Walter Ruttmann’s “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” (1927) and Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936), to show why the machine and technology were not to be celebrated in those times.
Modernization is usually presented as a positive concept. These positive aspects include foregrounding growth in scientific knowledge, social, economic effectiveness through process of streamlining, the elimination of oppressive misconceptions preferring empirical knowledge, and provision of the promise of future ideals where material needs could be satisfied with the help of technology development. But limited explanation has been provided regarding to the negative impacts of the machine and technological improvement (Albrow,1996, n.p). In real sense, the tussle between positive and negative effects of the machine and technology development is the complexity of the conflicting ideals contemporary ascribed to modernity, with the reality which refers to peoples need, their choices, demands and comfort zone.
According to McFarland (2014), the film medium in the nineteenth century provided the audience with new experiences through the imitation of parallel realism in varying temporalities. However according to Osborne(2005, 365-367), film was not only fascinating the people in the twentieth-century audience through the enlargement of their world perception by showing them different occurrences; but instead it was a medium which modernists used as an experimentation tool. One of those modernists was German filmmaker Walter Ruttmann. Negative effects of machine and technological developments would be identified from a few of films made during those times, one of them being “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” by Walter Ruttmann. Before describing some of the reasons why machine and technology developments were not supposed to be celebrated, it should be noted that “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” by Walter Ruttmann’s was a significant part of non-narrative real-time cinema. Produced in the year 1927, the film became a manual for documentary filmmaking method which was later adopted by various filmmakers. Throughout the city symphony, key characters are the city’s residents; the drops are buildings, streets, walkways, and any other natural and industrial aspects of the city. It should be noted that a film is a form of realism on its purest as outlined through formalist approaches. Additionally, the movie includes a documentary with “filmic” influence to produce a mixture of a city’s life from morning to evening on each day.
Since the machine and technological developments lead to money oriented and a capitalist society (Dirlik, 2007), Ruttmann manipulates the degree of its negative impacts on women and immorality. For instance, a woman is contemporary dressed and strolling around the streets though she appears more appealing compared to others. In other words, Ruttmann presents immorality inform of prostitution and men who are financially stable probably due to the proceeds from working in the mechanized industries. Similarly, the women who are represented as prostitutes project the level of social classes in the city (Wilson, 2001, 139). This is because the theme of economic and social unrest is largely outlined in the film (Shiel & Fitzmaurice, 2003). It should, however, be noted that there is no clear conflict outlined in the film, though this conflict is noted in the images showing the life of two varying social classes.
The machine and technological developments during modernity age posed a threat to the old way of living in those societies. The political and senior officials in the governments are highly regarded as evidenced carrying banners and flags soldiers’ car while escorting these individuals. Additionally, the man with a cap is seen in a moving image standing from podium fiercely raising his hands against people surrounding him. In other words, the proletariats and their leaders have each promoted a niche and self-worth through demonstration (Nichols, 2001, 580-610). From the film, several shots were comprised of automobiles, trolleys and alternative means of transport were seen. On the other hand, a fallen horse is captured in the streets, indicating that the old things were being destroyed with the arrival of new things in the society. Additionally, the presence of women posing as prostitutes suggested that the differences in class and levels of income affected the morals of that society.
Ruttmann additionally represents Berlin city as an urban environment which is characterized by industries, automobiles, means of transportation, the presence of photo studio, the women seen walking around the streets among other things. Apparently, the extension and expansion of the city and urban surrounding, there developed an alarming human consequence of overcrowding, unsanitary environments, noise from the automobiles and other means of transportation and immorality. Similarly, though urbanization and mechanization benefited the capitalists, they concurrently undermined capitalism by escalating the revolutionary needs, especially from mass movements, with the intention of resisting modernity. In this case, the increased demand for industrialized products created the need for increased production which in turn necessitated the need for machinery resources (Mennel, 2008, 32). Normally, a mechanized industry does not only play an important role in capitalism and increased production, but also it is designed to perform according to economic laws of the machinery. In other words, the machine cannot think like a human being, get fatigued, or become bored by performing the same task. As a result, the supervisor from Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) film is seen demanding for increased speed on the machine and since Chaplin cannot keep up with the speed of the gears, he becomes nervous and he later lost his job (Kotkin, 2001, 111).
For instance, in “Modern Times” (1936), a film by Charlie Chaplin, included the use of a wit to communicate in his film. Working as an anonymous employee and laboring in an assembly line struggles to tighten a bolt repeatedly. In this scenario, Charlie Chaplin argues that the machinery should be there to benefit humankind through reducing costs and improving his life and not alienating him from humanity. It should be noted that in Chaplin’s movie, “Modern Times” (1936), the factory is very dynamically streamlined such that it becomes completely static in its repetition, in other words, the modernization ordering an effectiveness of motion (Stephens, 2011, n.p). Playing the role of a Tramp, he is driven mad by dehumanizing responsibility, and his madness, he becomes a creator, a magician of stasis, a transformer transmitting the energy to provide life where there was none before (Segerlin, 2013, n.p). However, after the assembly line breakdown, Chaplin is seen in the firms’ generator room, happily pulling the secretive and irresistible levers while the muscle-bound mechanic unsuccessfully tries to match Chaplin’s energy and correct the damage which was caused by his rebellious ballet (Robinson, 1985; Jimmy, 2009, n.p). From the film, the failure of the machine during working hours would cause a number of damages in the factory or on the workers. Therefore, the use of the machine and technological tools during the modern age was not supposed to be celebrated.
Even though modernity or industrialization had significant improvements in those societies in terms of communication and industrial productivity, the concept of human was affected by the very forces of a machine and technological developments such as automation and rationalization in terms of regulation and standardization, which made modernity possible. It should be noted that though there was industrial transformation, societies during the modernity age were facing a number of problems (Buzan & Lawson, 2013, 621). Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) film provides a satirical perspective on the dehumanizing effect of technology and development on employees at the factory. According to Saparito (2015, n.p), due to the impact of capitalism, workers in the factories had lost control over their lives since they had lost control over their work. In other words, Chaplin was separated from his efforts since the product passed by him and disappeared, which later became the property of his employer.
Individuals who existed during the machine and technological developments experienced more than technological changes. For them, machine and technological developments appeared to erase the primitive limits for human experience and to introduce a kind of New Age, where human beings had ultimately broken their chains. However, these changes were not easily accepted by those people since they affected them in several ways, some of them including reduced pay. Additionally, due to the division of work, as human beings were working as part of the processes in those industries, it was not possible to work from different positions but instead, he/she was supposed to work from one location. As a result, one was not able to acquire skills from other working stations, leading to reduced productivity.
Other than changing the phase of the working environments during the modernity age, machine and technological largely affected the integrity and structure of the family. It should be remembered that the developments were only experienced in urban areas, and therefore laborers were migrating from the rural areas into cities to work from there. As a result, individuals who were drawn from their homes to work in factories threatened their personal autonomy since they were no longer responsible for the works of their own hands. Basically, these laborers were only acted as components of a big machine operating a prescribed set of tasks, and instead not accountable for the whole production process (Giddens, 2004).
For instance, in Ruttmann’s film, “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” (1927), there was a lot of immorality going on in the city. The women stalking around displayed the degree of irresponsibleness of the city men and women during these times. Since the images were caption during day and night, Ruttmann outlined that urbanization was a threat to spouses who were left behind in the rural areas. Such as, the man who was smoking his cigar when the contemporary dressed woman picked him, it is likely that he had left behind his wife and children in the rural area. Therefore, mechanization of industries and the improvement of the transportation systems affected the family structure especially shown in the “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” (1927) film. Similarly, in “Modern Times” (1936) film after losing his job in the factory Charlie Chaplin can only fantasize on how to start a family with orphaned gamine, since he cannot actually start one(Kotkin, 2001, 112).
When talking about the concept of modernity, a number of individuals would likely think that such concepts are associated with their contemporary age, featured by advanced technology. By discussing Walter Ruttmann and Charlie Chaplin’s films in the pages above, it would be concluded that the machine and technological developments during the modernity age were not supposed to be celebrated due to the negative impacts they had on the regular life of those times. It was identified that how these developments of industrialization, contemporary science, money-based economies, and capitalism caused a number of negative impacts to the people of these ages including dehumanization, unemployment, overcrowding, and other social problems such as prostitution and destruction of the family structures. However, from the discussion above, it has also been established that modernity is not a period characterized by advanced technology, art, or by fashion, but instead, it is a period that saw the changes in the human thinking as well as relations.
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