Tag Archives: humour

MODERN TIMES  : Then and now

Chaplin’s legacy to the future

If there is one danger to being a comedian , it isn’t failing to make people laugh but rather  failing to make people listen. Charlie Chaplin is rightly considered a comic genius. Whilst others use his template for laughs, he frequently used it to make us better humans. Beret wearer’s love Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and good for them. Metropolis is a very disturbing film, Modern Times is disturbing and funny a feat not easy to do. Long after the icing sugar of it’s pratfall’s wear out there is a sense of cognitive dissonance that isn’t as easy to shake off. Humour is a hard balancing act, too pious and you become schmaltz, too many guffaws  and you make a lot of money. I understand why others go that route. Not Chaplin, not modern times.

Modern  Times  challenges  the  audience  to  reassess  their  position  in life. A world of machines within machines.  Those that do not fit the stereotype like the Gamin are left at the fringe of society to etch out an existence. Perhaps they are already beaten, but in this isolation they still assert an enviable sense of freedom when compared to those  shepherded  into the mainstream. The  Gamin  is her  own woman,  in  possession  of  a  creative  mind  that  helps her  to  provide  food  to  the  rest  of  her family.  After  her  father  dies  the  Gamin  experiences  modern  city  life. In  this  world identity  is  lost  within  the  mechanics  of  bureaucracy. Modernity can provide an infrastructure for a way of living but  in the end it is only one way.

Technology  is  the  model for  the  way  life  should  be. Unlike the ramshackled homes of the Tramp and Gamin it is an ordered existence.  The  factory demonstrates  how  technology  provides  stability  and  security  for  its  workers. The implication is that by working within these structures humans will be alright. But as the Tramp shows, there is an inherent nature within everyone to “buck the system” no matter how hard we wish to be integrated into it. Sometimes the results of rebellion against the machine are benign, others are dire. The  Tramp  falls  into  the  mechanics of the factory  and  is  carried  back  out  again unharmed.  The  Gamin  falls  into  the  mechanics  of  the  modern  city  and  is  lucky  to  escape.  This is not happenstance as the factory itself is merely just a tool and not implicitly the villain. It’s the attitude of the world in which technology resides that  is the true evil. The production  line  deals  with  metal  components,  modern  life  is  manipulating  flesh  and  blood.

The  construction  of  Modern Times  echoes  the  film’s  themes.   But  unlike  the  world  of  Modern  Times ,  Chaplin  is not  attempting  to  satisfy  the  audiences fantasies.  Chaplin  does  not  want  to  be  consumed  like  the  Tramp  in  the  early  part  of  the  movie,  he  wants  his  audience  to  take  a  step back  and  observe  the  inner workings  of  the  film, he  wants the  audience  to  engage  with  the  subject .   By  jumping  from  soundtrack  to  silence, the  audience  becomes aware  of  the  technology  of  the  cinema. Alarm  sounds  draw  your  attention and instrumental  passages highlight  the  action  sequences.  The  highly  anticipated  scene  of Chaplin speaking  for  the  first  time  is  controlled  totally   by  Chaplin.   Rather  than  being  coerced  into  a  momentous  speech  about  the   perils  of  modernity ,  this  visual  comic  brings  the importance  back  to  his physical  abilities.  By  singing  a  non sense  tune  Chaplin  has  rendered the technological  importance of this new sound system  obsolete.  The audience must   search  like  the  characters  for  what  is  important in  the  life  of  the  film, rather than  merely  follow  along  like sheep. In  Modern  Times    Chaplin  stands  in  the  midst  of  technology  and  places  human  individuality  throughout it.

In much the same way as the Gamin and  Tramp  are  the  symbolic  children  of their time so are we evocative of the early 21st century. Like a true visionary Chaplin’s tale is the same seen through the eyes of  Henry Ford mass production or Face Book style social media. We are  still human beings  and our needs remain unchanged. But a universal dream of a comfortable life will always come at a cost, and that comes at the price of who we are. The  Tramp  leaves  the  security  of the  production  line  and begins  to  fashion  his  own  identity  in  modernity,  he  loses  the  overalls  of  the  factory  worker  and  adopts  the  bowler  hat  and  cane  of  the  tramp.  In a world fashioned and filtered more and more frequently by what a computer thinks we will like there is an increasing sense of generic opinion. It’s harder to have rough edges as these cut down who your audience might be. There is rarely a sense of ambiguity or “Trampism”. Chaplin’s Tramp is unfazed by his prison stays. It is frequently easier to by confined by a world gone globally acceptable, than to live aside from it.

The  Gamin  and  the  Tramp  meet  at  a  cross roads  of  their  lives,  both  are  developing  in  the modern city.  They  dream  of  a  life  like  everyone  else,  a  good  house  and  a  cow  at  their  door.  The  concept  of  an  easy  life  is  fantasy to  them. The Tramp  finds  the  idea  amusing  but  takes  it  more  seriously  when  he  realises  what  the  dream  means  to  the  Gamin. The world has never stopped being hard to live in, however in the 21st century we’ve made it that much easier to edit out the bad bits. Whilst  the  Tramp  has  begun  to  forge  his  own  identity,  the  former  free  spirit  of  the  Gamin  dims. She  experiences  soft  beds,  nice  clothes  and  fresh foods.  The  Gamin  believes  that  by gaining employment in a nightclub   she has found a way  to live in modernity. Work  will  provide  her  with  an  opportunity  to  be  like  everyone  else. The Tramp realises otherwise.

By the end of Modern Times Chaplin  has his couple  ’spat’ from  modern  life .  It is the petulant side of Modernity that is never publicised. It’s the update you don’t take up,  or the contact detail you leave blank. Had the film been released today both the Tramp and the Gamin would have probably been rundown by a steamroller.  A suitably nihilistic ending contrived via an online focus group of like’s and dislikes. We demand control over our world and believe we have it via technology. Keep that thought in mind next time you get caught in a thunderstorm. Chaplin’s ending  is no less happy go lucky.   The pair walk off into the distance, “Smile” is played and we are left to our own conclusions. For all intents and purposes their relationship probably breaks down with the Gamin heading back to the city to work as an escort. We don’t know, but Chaplin’s reiteration that humanity is flawed and far from certain is a win anyway.





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No school like old school

Timeless technology

What’s the same now as it was in 2010? DVD rental is history, My former employer no longer exists and the woman I once loved is now married to another man. Yet I am typing this draft on the original iPad, a device  released in 2010 but relegated to obsolescence  a few years later.  Despite this, it is a device I have belatedly grown to love.

It wasn’t always the case.Like many I jumped on the bandwagon with the beloved iPad 2 in 2012. Even just 2 years after it’s initial release the original iPad seemed old and clunky compared to its more svelte bandmate. Apple must have thought so too and a plethora of new iPad’s would evolve almost yearly, sometime twice yearly from their studious Chinese work shops. Big ones, little ones , faster ones , ones with retina screens and they all had camera’s. The problem with every one of these new pretenders was that they only improved incrementally on the quantum leap of the original. Back in 2010 I owned the iPad’s key competitor , it was a net book. Largely forgotten now net books were smaller versions of laptops, diminished in every way except for the weight of their battery. In those days we convinced ourselves that net books were good, they weren’t . They made personal computing small enough to give you a hernia. They were slow and inconvenient to use, everything in comparison the original iPad wasn’t.

So several years down the track did the original iPad decided to become slower and less functional? In the words of Obi Wan Kenobi “No, but we were made to think they did”. Most naysayers point to schematic diagrams and flow charts on speed. They  might even do a side by side comparison, but that means nothing to me. The iPad I am typing this on can process documents, play music and allow me to watch video’s in a tap. It doesn’t give me the slow wearisome grind of my much younger Windows 8 laptop. For my world back in 2010,Steve Jobs got it all pretty much  right. He created a portable device that  does everything I need, and that’s without a camera!  Whilst newer iPad’s  have loads of features, they inevitably cover up the fact that they still do exactly the same thing. Which is fine, but whilst they have gotten bigger and faster I haven’t. I have no calling for a device that can encrypt itself so deeply that I need to consult an Enigma machine to help me open it. Better screen definition, quadruple multitasking or a keyboard that speaks to me in a sultry feminine voice are great. But they mean little to a man with dodgy hearing, dim eye sight and slow reflexes. True, newer iPad’s offer a stunning aesthetic, but all that glistens is not gold. Many is the tale of woe that befalls an older iPad user upgrading their barely compatible device for the appearance of an new iOS that drains all their performance away. Whilst this is up for conjecture, the original iPad frozen in iOS 5 may be less modern in appearance, but is entirely usable.

The iPad series also marked an evolution in design and job opportunities for third party repairers. Whilst Apple can rightly boast the feather like weight of it’s new devices, this has come at a cost. Let me introduce the law of workplace physics, portable devices hit the ground at varying speeds all the time. Bags are stood on, tempers flare, generally anywhere outside a science lab a tech device will get into trouble. The original iPad was masterpiece of Apple over engineering, housed within a spacious aluminium case.  It is heavy like a book not a brick and I will happily challenge any iPad pro user to a duel with our units. The iPad I am writing this on was bought on eBay and looks as though it was dropped from a moving car that may have been  on fire. Put a cover on and it could have come straight out of the box.Take a tumble on the bus or at a train station and see how it works out for your device.

The only negatives to owning an original iPad is it’s lack of processing memory and that you do have to be mildly savvy about what apps are available for your device. In my case I have a good archive of apps from my iPhone 4 days that work well. For the time being Apple also still has it’s core productivity apps available as legacy downloads. Funny how a version of Pages from 2012 does word processing which is ironically the same thing newer versions do.The on board iTunes still works great for organising music and video content. Web browsing is not too good due to memory constraints but for most other issues you can usually find an easy work around.  Not bad when considering you can usually pick up a 32gb cellular model for a sixth of the price of a contemporary incarnation. I am not trying to dissuade you from buying a new iPad, just suggest that there is room in the market place for the original, or a new version of the classic!  If you want technology that doesn’t talk back the original iPad is for you too. It chugs along, just touch it and go.


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Stop laughing, this is serious

Humour and the art of the taboo

 I think we need a reality check from the mind police. From Ned Kelly’s famous “such is life” one liner to the drunken skunk at the bar making blonde jokes because he can’t get laid, humour will always vary from the pointed to the pathetic. To guard against what should or should not be laughed at doesn’t make society a more moral or just place, it denies what we find difficult to accept. Regardless of whether you laugh or cringe it is the community that imbues the joke with its meaning.

Is there anything we can’t laugh at? Sure. Please excuse me as I burn my Charlie Chaplin collection. Chaplin may be quaint and inoffensive in all his jittery black and white glory to me, but if you look at his work through the market segmented lense of the 21st century b/s he could also be considered racist, sexist, heightist and inconsiderate to men with erectile dysfunction. There will always be those who can find something distressing in humour if not for themselves then at least on the educated behalf of someone who hasn’t had the chance to form their own opinion. Let me get my flame thrower out and the pyre building commence.

British humorist and game changer Spike Milligan lamented that in the 1990’s they were making comedy with no jokes at all. Milligan was never afraid to highlight in his work that “this is a joke”, fully aware of the intellect patrol. Humour is the double edged sword. It is meant to offend, but in balance not purely for the sake of offence. In an era of political correctness we tend to forget that comedy is a lot more than a procedure to induce laughter. It allows us to explore our position on a range of issues that we would otherwise consider taboo. I am not saying we should always laugh at sensitive issues, but I’d also like to be able to make the choice. Some will see this as the gateway to more sinister leanings. Making a joke immediately demeans the seriousness of real issues leading directly towards racism, sexism and the downfall of moderate society. This is a valid point and would be true if you were a mindless idiot. For those of us in possession of opposable thumbs a good joke makes us question ourselves and a bad joke the other person.

There used to be an intellectual skill in dissecting comedy. Study one of Shakespeare’s plays and you will usually devote half a university semester to how the jokes were constructed. True this does tend to ruin the comedic effect of Macbeth and makes it a bad date night event. The sharp wit of Peter Cook in any of his guises would be lost on many today. We no longer have the courage to unpack serious comedy and instead rely on a plethora of unambiguous fart jokes because they offend fewer people. Bill Hicks must be relieved at times to be dead, the comic that once questioned a waffle waitress’s negative opinion of reading probably wouldn’t be too surprised that since his death even fewer people want to look at the world as complex and problematic.

The 21st Century is preoccupied with being flawless.  Apparently everyone is special in their own way and we live in a boundless utopia of folk songs, hand holding, and vegan cookbooks. There is no longer the notion of the next door neighbour, but rather our Facebook friends. Sorry dreamers, real life exists outside your door not on a streaming internet channel. Check out the early Billy Connolly during his 1970’s “Glasgow Messiah” phase. Far removed from his fetish with prostate exams Billy candidly joked about the brutality of growing up in 50’s Glasgow. Back then he was met with roars of laughter from audiences that shared a similarly harsh background. It is arguable if Connolly could do the same set list today without offending a wealth of academic’s using it for their post graduate thesis. Today we can pick and choose our pet peeves and irritants. We don’t like humour that appears to be from a foreign world, disturbing and offensive. Probably because it reminds us of reality too much, and that’s our problem.

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