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Charlie Chaplin, bolts and conveyor belt

Updated on April 18, 2015

The other day, I sat down and watched the workman dismantle my iron door and carefully replace it with a wooden door. As I watched the fittings, the varnishing, hinges and the placement of the door handle, enjoyable time slowly ticked by.

Just from watching them, I could tell they were not just workmen, but more like craftsmen, also being immersed in what they were doing and possibly enjoying it. There was no fidgeting.

Watching them took me away from my ordinary job, which is sitting on the computer, and gave me a new refreshing sense of living.

All this harked back my horizons to when I was taking Sociology classes in college when we learned about industrial alienation, and how modern industrial practices has robbed workers of their sense of commitment and fulfillment to their jobs and made them cogs in a machine where their lives became their work.

One of the best depiction of that was Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, him daily stuck to the conveyor belt tightening nuts and bolts all day to the extent his hands and arms keep rotating the work action in a twitching rhythm long after he leaves the conveyor belt.

He becomes a slave to production where his one contribution in the productive cycle is to tighten the screws as part of a long-winded industrial process dictated by the moving conveyor belt.

Modern Times has become a brilliant critique of industrialism where workers are stripped of the work processes and assigned a routine, monotonous action totally void of their capability.

Sociologists give such an example to day to explain the alienation and frustration of industrial workers and seek to give explanations to the reasons for industrial disputes, strikes, go-slows, friction on the shop floor and so on.

They suggest part of the reason why workers go on strike is not totally because of demanding more money though this is a strong factor, but it has to do with their alienation and frustration of the work place, the idea of being tied down to the conveyor belt, and their removal from the overall product.

I know today there are robots for these things but they only exist in highly industrialized factories like car manufacturing and so on.

As opposed to industrial workers Sociologists suggest that some of the more satisfied sections of the working classes is those who work in the printing industry and fishermen who have been studied at length, and no doubt today there are other occupations because of the changing world of work.

Because they are working "creatively" with their minds and hands, there is less of the repetitive process and more job satisfaction in the kind of things they do.

And I dare say writers, engineers, teachers, journalists are more satisfied with what they do because of the greater elements of variety involved.

And on that, there is as well a completely different note. A friend of mine told me of a story one night going home and finding his wife cleaning the front of his porch. He rolled up his sleeves and began cleaning and wiping.

"It was a tremendously reinvigorating activity, completely different from what I have been doing all day and so interesting," he said. I don't know whether he would like to switch to such activity full time.


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    • zanaworld profile image

      SA Shameel 

      6 years ago from Bangalore

      I am a die hard fan of Charlie Chaplin. I have seen most of his films while I was in saudi Arabia.

      It was such nice to read about him. I have seen the movie "Modern Times" and moved by it.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting article. Sometimes physcial work feels so good because you can do it without having to think. I said when I retired from teaching I was going to get a part-time "no brainer" job just to enjoy working and not have to think. I did that, and I do enjoy just working retail - when I'm done I can just go home and don't have to think about grading papers or writing lesson plans. But, I agree with your premise and argument. Over the years, industrialization has made the assembly line robotic work. That's why robots today can substitute for man in those positions. Sad, isn't it? The craftsman does have the advantage of honing and loving his work, but craftsmen are becoming few and far between in society today. Believe me, when teachers strike, I want you to know they are frustrated and unhappy about the work environment and it usually is more than money. The Chicago teacher's strike is more than about money. The classroom environment, class sizes, tieing teacher performance to test scores - these are issues more important than money sometimes. So the beat goes on. Please don't always blame the teachers in a strike situation. Anyway, I liked this article and especially the comparison to Chaplin's movie. So true!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for publishing this outstanding article. All of your work I have seen on HubPages has bordered on brilliant.

      You write, "Modern Times has become a brilliant critique of industrialism where workers are stripped of the work processes and assigned a routine, monotonous action totally void of their capability."

      I am from Michigan, home of the auto industry, and well acquainted with factories and factory workers. The majority of them simply couldn't do much else. Most of them came to Michigan from the southern states where their job was to pick cotton. They had no skills or education. And to them, to work inside out of the hot sun was considered a great blessing. The work was no more monotonous than picking fruit and less strenuous.

      You write: "Sociologists give such an example to day to explain the alienation and frustration of industrial workers and seek to give explanations to the reasons for industrial disputes, strikes, go-slows, friction on the shop floor and so on."

      From my experience, the real reason for this is labor union agitators who persuaded men they were being treated unfairly when they weren't and in Michigan these agitators, usually with Marxist leanings, eventually cost millions of men their jobs forever. A factory job is far better than no job.

      You write: "I know today there are robots for these things but they only exist in highly industrialized factories like car manufacturing and so on."

      Yes, and the robotics, along with all innovation that was labor saving, were fought against tooth-and-nail by these same labor unions, thus prohibiting modernization and efficiency. That is how the Japanese were able to penetrate the American market. And that drove half the manufacturing out of America, which is widely lamented—now that it is gone.

      I have not said any of this to take any lustre off your excellent work here. I just felt like saying these things to engage your mind a bit. Thanks again! :D

    • icciev profile image


      7 years ago from Kuwait

      Very intreseting article, voted up

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Alienation in the US has gone beyond industrial alienation to widespread political alienation as a result of high unemployment and increasing income and wealth inequality. The middle class is being hollowed out as high paying manufacturing jobs disappear, and computers are encroaching on what were formerly good paying white collar jobs such as document searches in legal discovery operations.

    • marwan asmar profile imageAUTHOR

      Marwan Asmar 

      7 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      Thanks drbj, I wish you would tell me your proper name. Now, just like industrial society it sounds much more alien.Cheers

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Bravo, marwan, this was a fascinating exploration of industrial alienation illustrated by the classic film, 'Modern Times.'

      It made me think of the famous Hawthorne Experiment which predicated that factory workers became more productive when they knew superiors and others were paying attention to them.

    • marwan asmar profile imageAUTHOR

      Marwan Asmar 

      7 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      Very good points you make, and so worthwhile skilled jobs which people need to get into. Thanks Bill

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      7 years ago from Cape Cod

      You have kindled the embers of one of my favorite rants. I have been preaching for decades to young people of the benefits of getting a practical education instead of an academic one. By this I mean, the young person who forsakes traditional college and who instead learns a trade, will often make more money that his college pals, will get a better pension, and have much less work related stress. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, Iron workers, welders, landscapers and such, can earn a handsome living as well as gain the benefits of an active lifestyle. Who do you think is in better shape? - the potbellied executives or the men who climb your phone poles to put the electric back on after a storm? Students, get thee to a trade/technical school! Forget Harvard and the academia field. Work in a real field. And use your hands.

    • Attikos profile image


      7 years ago from East Cackalacky

      Mass production and distribution are indeed depersonalizing. Nothing is without its pros and cons, though, and industrialism makes goods so efficiently it has brought mankind huge material benefits. People in industrialized societies live longer and more richly than in undeveloped ones, the myth of the Garden is indeed a myth, and virtually no one given a choice prefers the atavistic life of subsistence farming, hunting and gathering. Some of us play at that, but we still depend on industrial and postindustrial economic arrangements for our livings, and we can't pick and choose the elements of it we want. Eras in economic development come as packages, not as buffets.


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