Karl Marx and Charlie Chaplin

Let me begin by saying that this post is not philosophical at all nor will I start philosophizing in this post. I do not think I am quite good at that because my grade in my Philosophy course last semester would not equal the merits of a philosopher. I don’t really know if philosophers became philosophers due to the fact that they had A grades in their studies. Now I suddenly wonder if there was at least one great philosopher who did not do too well in school but became famous because of his views on life and his ability to philosophize on that. Do I make sense?

Nonetheless, I only wish to say that what I am about to say hereafter is not philosophical at all.


Our Philosophy professor, before fully discussing Karl Marx’s Estranged Labor, made us watch a 76-year old movie: Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. It was black and white, rarely had dialogue, and had more background music. I enjoyed the movie not because it was funny because it was in fact, a little annoying at times, especially because Charlie Chaplin was just stupid at times that he kept on causing trouble when he could have avoided it. I do also realize that it was all for the sake of entertainment but at certain points, I pity him so much but then he still acts so foolishly that I cannot help but feel little frustrated. “Why Charlie? Why?!”

The reason for my liking was because it was so closely tied to what Marx was saying in his article that I could not help but wonder if Charlie Chaplin made the movie considering what it said. Or did he make the movie because of it? Had he read what Marx said and then chose to create a film inspired by it? Finding some information about the movie, I found out that he made it parallel to the people’s experience during the Great Depression. Perhaps he wrote what was relevant during that period so that his audience will be able to see what industrialization and modernization does to humans. He (with much of my admiration) chose to present it in a funny form much like a parody of the events during that time, almost satirical.

The movie itself was like an embodiment of Marx’s article, at least as how I see it. In the film, Charlie Chaplin was so used to his work of turning and cranking some nuts and bolts to the point that he had a mental breakdown and became crazy. He was like a robot under the control of someone more powerful than him but was nonetheless also human. Everyone in the factory followed the orders of their boss without question, doing the same thing over and over and over again. Seeing these scenes depicted what Marx was trying to say – people become estranged to the object of their labor, the process of producing that object, and even to their own selves as species-being, the human aspect. Finally, man also becomes estranged to man, the other.

Another interesting thing was the fact that instead of living to earn money, Charlie was earning money to live. It is true, people put such a high value on money when in fact, it’s just paper. And when the time comes when we choose to disregard paper and put all our money in digital accounts, then what is money then? It’s just our own belief on its value.

It’s really sad however, that no matter how aware we are of this structure, we are still stuck in it and become a part of it simply because it is how the world works. It is the established system and even if society tries to break it, then a new system will be just be established and there lies the uncertainty on whether this new system (which is still up in the clouds and has not yet materialized) will be of benefit to the people or cause even more havoc that may lead to humankind’s destruction (and I say this bearing in mind of the “new system” in its most extreme form.) The antithesis as Marx would say.

I too will be in the workforce in a year or so and then I will be a part of those who labor for another man. Here we can see, that my knowledge of the system does not make me stop from being a part of it. We talk about it and feel sad and have reflections but in the end, we become realistic and practical. As we live, we must work in order to continue living.

And then there’s the thought of being the man in the high position, the one who is in control of so many men beneath his rank. I think that even with his knowledge of Marx, he would not be willing to give up his place in order to be considered as a man with concern for his employees. The best he can do and does actually, would be to ensure that he at least pays them well and makes sure that they don’t feel unhappy with their work. However, how many big bosses actually do that nowadays?

I guess what I mentioned above is also another reason why some people just let things be as they are. Though there are those who are unhappy about their jobs but only choose to stay in it because they have no choice, there are also those who are happy with what they’re doing despite not being their own boss. As long as they enjoy, then for these people, it’s okay to have the system as it is.

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