Modern Times

In 1936, a comedic film called Modern Times was released by famous actor, filmmaker, and composer Charlie Chaplin, featuring his most renowned character, "The Tramp". The film explores the Tramp’s journey in industrialized America as he continually struggles to find and keep a job, often finding himself arrested during the process.

Despite its label as a comedy, Modern Times not-so-subtly exhibits the struggle of workers in a capitalist society and how the system forces citizens to engage in work that doesn’t allow for individuality or the exercise of free will. Many instances during the film, unemployed characters including the Tramp are shown stealing food since they cannot afford to buy it. One quote in particular captures workers’ desperation for survival: “We’re not thieves, we’re just hungry.”

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Though Chaplin’s abusive behavior towards women was unacceptable, the film, which he wrote, does well in some ways to satirize capitalism in America. Unfortunately, the film remains all-too-familiar to America’s society today. Modern Times certainly reflects our modern times, more than 80 years later.

The Tramp’s situation can easily be identified with by millions of people in the United States today. According to FeedingAmerica.org, in 2017, 40 million people in America faced hunger and poverty, including 12 million children. To those with the argument that these people should simply “work harder” or “stop being lazy”, the children of these households who are not yet of age to work must rely on the adult or adults who is/are working, so while adults are expected to “work hard” enough to provide for themselves, they must also work to provide for their children and families, as well. Multiple disturbing statistics on food insecurity alone can be found at DoSomething.org.

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Food is only one necessity for survival. Modern Times also touches upon the importance of having shelter and clothing, which in a capitalist society are only obtained through monetary means. One woman, who also struggles from poverty and hunger, is barefoot throughout most of the film, but once she finds a job, she’s shown with newer, better clothing. In another scene prior to finding a job, the same woman spends the night in a mattress store because she has no shelter of her own.

You may be thinking there’s a solution to these people’s problems: get a job. Though unemployment is at a record low since 2000 (at 3.9%), it is still incredibly difficult to find a job that offers a high enough pay to completely sustain oneself, especially with the expectation that applicants have higher education, which they haven’t been able to attend or cannot afford. Modern Times demonstrates in one scene that obtaining a job is often achieved through luck, in which case the Tramp fights and finds his way through an enormous crowd of men looking for work until the gates close to all the others. Even then, the Tramp is expected to have credentials or references, in which he presents a letter from the mayor explaining his high qualification for the job. Other factors such as racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination may also come into play that make it even more difficult for those who are trying to find a job. For example, according to DoSomething.org, 1 in 3 Black and Latino Americans are at risk of hunger, presumably due to the racial discrimination practiced in our capitalist system. 

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Modern Times is sadly still very relevant today. People continue to struggle to make ends meet despite working one or multiple jobs. It's been 80 years since the release of this film, and we continue to underpay workers or reject applicants based on their lack of education or other characteristics on the basis of discrimination. Even those with higher education may easily find themselves being underpaid for a job that they aren’t doing to foster their own happiness and individuality, but for the sake of their survival. Modern Times brings awareness to our modern times and the very real problem of poverty in America.

                                                                      Photo Courtesy of Pixabay