Perhaps the most important issue facing Western Civilization during the past 300 years is the problem of standardization and automation.
Before the Industrial Revolution, jobs were dangerous and painful. But at least people worked at their own pace and in their own way. Life was short and brutal. But a worker’s individuality and dignity remained in fact.
Factories changed everything. Repetitive work is more efficient and profitable, but it is boring and dehumanizing.
To this day, the ugly spirit of standardization lives on.
It boggles my mind that eateries like Applebee’s and Chili’s thrive alongside restaurants run by entrepreneurial foodies.
No one thinks of the existential horror of the chefs at chain restaurants. They yearn to cook delicious, artful food but are forced to prepare the same plates of mediocre meat over and over and over by their corporate overlords.
Companies have a hideous habit of giving their customer service operators standardized scripts to read. Helping people over the phone can be a satisfying, intellectually stimulating career. Reading insipid scripts 300 times a week for decades robs a working man of his joy and dignity.
What’s the solution to this disconnect between workers and CEOs? Socialism? Revolution? According to the forward-thinking German film “Metropolis,” there’s a better way.
The film takes place in the future, where laborers have lost all their power. The 10% live in bright, mechanized cities. And the 90% work dehumanizing, repetitive jobs in giant underground factories.
Powerful industrialist Joh Fredersen doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. But he lives apart from his workers and has started to fear them more than he cares about them.
Joh’s son Freder goes underground and sees the grim situation for himself. The rich young man becomes an impassioned advocate for the workers.
Freder teams up with a mysterious, angelic prophet (Brigitte Helm), who has become the unofficial Queen of the underground workers.
So far, so bland. But then director Fritz Lang kicks up the sci-fi a few notches.
A Rick Sanchez-esque mad scientist creates a humanoid robot. And he makes the robot look exactly like the underground angelic prophet. With the influential fembot under his control, the scientist orchestrates chaos.
Fritz Lang’s imagination is impressive. But not nearly as impressive as Brigitte Helm’s incredible double performance. As the prophet, she is gentle and saintly. As the robot, the humanity is completely gone from her eyes. The robot is frenetic, bizarre, and strangely sexy.
It’s a uniquely effective performance. Same actress, same dress, no sound – and there is never a moment where you aren’t sure whether Ms. Helm is the woman or the robot.
Fritz Lang’s grand conclusion is surprisingly moderate and responsible. Freder Frederson essentially becomes the Union rep. And old man Frederson promises to respect his laborers’ feelings and improve working conditions.
That really is all it takes to make the world a happier and better place. Corporate management just needs to stop looking at quarterly numbers and think of the workers as individuals.
I will be willing to give Applebee’s a try if it allows chefs the chance to offer a few specials that they came up with along with the regular menu. And I urge you to tell the next customer service operator you call to stop reading pre-written scripts and to talk to you like a person. I love it when a customer tells me that!
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