In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the factory in which the Tramp works in the opening scenes is controlled by a boss whose image appears in certain strategic places in order to issue commands:
— and even to order back to work employees who sneak into the toilet for a quick smoke:
Hey Charlie, read any Jeremy Bentham lately?
In this film industrial capitalism and the state work hand in glove, and they work by the manipulation and display of images. The boss’s image (ubiquitous and available in any size necessary) is a primary instrument of control; images of workers, conversely, are used to control them. Paulette Goddard’s gamine gets a reputable job as a dancer, but it’s her mug-shot image that allows the police to track her down and arrest her:
Note that what she’s wanted for is, primarily, vagrancy: being “without visible means of support.” See, relatedly, this essay of mine on passports, passport photos, and the technologies by which states and their allies in the corporate world make us legible and therefore controllable. (A good deal of the movie takes place in factories and jails — remarkably similar environments, though the Tramp strongly prefers jail.)
To work, this movie suggests, is to subject oneself to panoptic surveillance and to ceaseless state and corporate control. By the movie’s end the gamine is, though better dressed and more elegantly coiffed as a result of her brief employment, close to despair over the inescapability of the system:
But if there’s one thing the Tramp knows it’s … well, how to be a tramp. How to survive, however frugally, off the grid, out of the System, beyond the panopticon’s lines of sight — illegibly.
So off they go. After twenty years of dominating the screen, Chaplin’s Tramp says goodbye to us all. And this final view of him is the only time that he clearly takes his wandering way with a companion.