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The opening to Chaplin's Modern Times is a deliberate statement about the nature of work in the modern setting. Chaplin's opening clearly embodies conflict theory's assertion that control is consolidated in the hands who hold economic power over those who lack it. The six o'clock starting hour features hordes of people moving about, an heightened by Chaplin's use of animals. In depicting people fervently moving to job settings where so little power and economic output is evident, Chaplin is able to depict a distinct work reality. This is a condition where workers toil for minimal extrinsic rewards while intrinsic rewards are lacking. The workers depicted find little in way of emotional affirmation or identity validation. Chaplin shows workers who are alienated from their labor.
From a functional standpoint, the workers occupy a specific role. Turning on the switch, physically working with the machines, or filing into their respective stations represents the parts they play, as cogs in a larger configuration. The mid level managers are able to ensure that the assembly line runs efficiently, while disciplining those, such as the Tramp, who don't acquiesce. Interestingly enough, the Tramp shows a force of resistance in how he seeks to break the mold of the assembly line, industrialized approach. His arguing with the manager is a reflection of both this resistance and a level of satisfaction, as his voice is heard in a condition where few other dare to speak. In such a hurried and dominating setting, most of the workers are shown as lacking self- actualization. Chaplin shows these workers as objectified, almost no different than the products that are being made.
At the same time, the company's president embodies his role as benefactor of their work, being able to put together a puzzle or read the newspaper. The President's function is also reflective of an almost bullying condition as he watches over them on closed- circuit monitors, ensuring they are on task. This shows the President occupying a symbolic notion of interaction. His position is predicated upon power over his workers and thus, his control over them is symbolic of where power rests in this industrial configuration. It is for this reason that he wears a suit and tie, takes his medicine on time, and is able to control all around him. The symbolic implications of his job as boss is not only a better income, but reflective of what seems to be a better life. Chaplin is able to construct such a reality of the modern workplace in the opening minutes of the film.
In light of the film, meaningful work has to be one where individuals can find some aspect of their voice validated. Chaplin's vision in Modern Times is precisely one where there is no validation of voice and thus, work is not meaningful to those who must labor. Work has changed over the last 75 years with the emergence of technology. For example, Chaplin's reality of the factory is something that still is evident, but with globalization, a more intricate functionalism has become evident. Manufacturing, developing, and envisioning have become part of the industrial process. The emergence of technology will further transform this setting. Conflict is still evident between those who have power and those who lack it. Yet, technology has made possible a wider vision than Chaplin's presentation, while the conflict he displayed remains.
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