Human error is inevitable, and it carries with it a substantial cost. This sample essay from Ultius custom writing services argues that a key part of humanity’s individuality is the way in which mankind is susceptible to error and natural variation in decision making. It analyzes human error in a number of films in popular culture and the ways in which individuality is expressed.
Human error and imperfection portrayed in cinema
Man can conceive a perfection, build it, and put it in place; but in all of Man’s conceived perfections, there is no concession for Humanity. Humanity is always delineated as a negative equation within these conceptions—“human error.” As will be seen in the examples explored herein, the individuality of modern man is short-changed in favor of systems that can be applied to the whole; and in this, humanity has lost all empathy for itself.
Thank You for Not Smoking: A satirical take on human nature
Thank You for Smoking can be a difficult piece to be considered in a critical lightness because it is an enjoyable comedy that is modern in a comfortable sense, as opposed to the more antiseptic and alien films dealing with modernity, such as 2001. Although details are skewed or overemphasized for satiric effect, the film Thank You for Smoking pretty much believably represents a part of society in which the average first-world person of today currently inhabits.
The film seems to be a “fun jaunt” into how depressingly wrong-headed things are, and how depressingly intentional that wrong-headedness is. Take the example where Nick Naylor, spokesman for a big tobacco company, is speaking at his son’s “bring your parent to work” day. Nick explains that he speaks on behalf of cigarettes. When confronted by a young girl who says that her mom told her that cigarettes kill, Nick goes on the assault.
He asks the girl if her mom is a doctor or expert of some kind, and when the girl says no, he dismissively suggests that the girl’s mother doesn’t really sound like a credible witness. The girl, of course, wilts back down into her chair because she’s just been deflated with advanced techniques of argument that most people don’t get into until law school.
The juxtaposition between the assertion of the wrongness against the obviousness that cigarettes kill and breaking the smoker’s cycle of addiction is difficult. Also, it shows how people really shouldn’t intimidate little girls makes this movie funny. It is a satire that points these silly things out, and the audience laughs. But these things are real problems, and it can seem as if this type of satiric art does nothing to solve the problem and instead just sits back and smarmily congratulates itself on being so societally insightful.
Modern Times: Human error and its impact on changing societal norms
In Charlie Chaplain’s Modern Times, a similar satirical view is taken against industrialized society. The very first scene is a large group of cattle being herded shoulder to shoulder, presumably toward some unpleasant situation. The very next scene is of a similarly crowded group of people pouring out of the subway tunnels on their way to work. The comparison is unmistakable. People are cattle, and both people and cattle are herded against their will by the unseen hand of a greater force than themselves in order to experience unpleasant situations that benefit an unseen higher class.
What is interesting about the film Modern Times is that the machinery and confusion that confounds Charlie Chaplin’s poor character of The Tramp was invented and put in place to make life easier and more comfortable for Man. So when The Tramp gets caught up in the machinery and is literally eaten alive by it, the inversion of Man existing for machinery as opposed to machinery existing for Man is complete.
It is also funny as the audience knows that it is not supposed to happen in this way and so the rejection of this fallacy is expressed through laughter. It should be a paradox, but unfortunately, these occurrences are not uncommon. The only difference between The Tramp’s experiences and those of the audience members is simply the hyperbolized nature that Chaplin tends to use in order to make his point.
Eventually, The Tramp makes it out of all this confusion to run away with a young girl who takes him to a run-down shack. She explains that it “isn’t Buckingham Palace” but it will serve their needs. The Tramp has fled the terrors of modern convenience as it is actually far more convenient for him to live in inconvenience. The problem of the “set it and forget it” mentality is that a whole bunch of upkeep is necessary to maintain those things that one can supposedly set and forget.
The Trial: Improvements to society not aways better
In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the protagonist Josef K. enjoys a cushy position at a local bank. His life seems to be fine—no major problems exist, he is simply going along and surviving. But one day two agents from an unknown organization arrive at his place of work and arrest him. He is not allowed to know the reason for which he has been arrested. This is an example of the same type of message present in Chaplin’s Modern Times.
Man created social structures, civil and criminal justice systems, and government policies for the convenience of man, but here the bureaucracy that has built up and become inherent in the systems now outweighs the usefulness nature that these systems were invented to create. So Man has now invented an impediment for himself through the “improvement” of systems to such a point that they literally end up killing him. Here the man is again being eaten alive by the machine, but in this case, it is a figurative machine of ideas (the courts).
Because Josef K. has always tried to be a good citizen, he cooperates with the arrest and the later court summons. But it becomes a difficult drudgery because he is not allowed to know what the charges are and so he must work with a lawyer to defend his entire life—every action he ever made must be justified.
“He would offer a brief overview of his life, and for each event of any particular importance, explain why he had acted as he did, whether in his present judgment this course of action deserved approval or censure, and what reasons he could advance for the one or the other” (7.2).
Josef K. must write every action and analyze his whole life in an attempt to figure out what he did that would cause such a trial. It is his only hope for survival.
Later, Josef K. realizes the folly that being a docile and obedient citizen has brought him: “If I’d behaved sensibly, nothing more would have happened, everything else would have been nipped in the bud” (Kafka 2.5).
Josef realizes that if he had simply just ignored the summons, he probably would have never heard from these strange trial people ever again. But instead, he cooperates in a fog of mystery until he is killed, quite significantly, by a “double-edged butcher knife.” The fact that the knife is double edged is very telling. It is a sort of warning that there are always plusses and minuses in any idea and that they should be noted, lest something bad (such as Josef K.’s predicament) happen. Also, the knife used is specifically a butcher knife. Josef K. becomes one more piece of meat as he is killed “like a dog!”
A lot can be said for the usefulness of modernity, but where does the individual fit? In modernity, there is a grand design where every piece has its place, but Man is not just some piece of something. He is a living being with free will and passion. The three examples analyzed herein are all very different, but ultimately they are the same—a depiction of the death of a Man through the unstoppable juggernaut nature of the systems he invented to make things easier. Whether he has died emotionally (as in Thank You for Smoking), died literally (as in The Trial), or died through the force of exiling oneself from society (as in Modern Times), it seems there is no place for Man within the systems that he invents for himself.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Knopf, 1957. Print.
Chaplin, Charlie, dir. Modern Times. Charles Chaplin Productions, 1936. Film.
Reitman, Jason, dir. Thank You for Smoking. Room 9 Entertainment, TYFS Productions
LLC, ContentFilm, 2005. Film.