Colloquium | William Schmenner

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 12:00pm

William Schmenner

Keaton in the Time of Standardization

At the end of the Second Industrial Revolution two new approaches to manufacturing emerged in the United States: scientific management and the mechanized assembly line. Art history and cinema studies have often conflated the two. Noël Carroll, for example, refers to the “Taylorized assembly-line.” But the time and motion studies of scientific management are not synonymous with the object-centered thinking of the assembly-line. At their most extreme, scientific management wished to perfect the motion of the human body, while the assembly-line attempted to control the movement and experience of the object(s) in production. Buster Keaton's movies understood this distinction and critiqued standardization without rejecting the new technologies outright. He accomplished this through a combination of virtuosic failure, an almost magical ability to make objects come alive, and a nuanced assessment of standardization's success, whether in the domestic sphere of One Week (1920) and The Scarecrow (1920) or, if indeed they are different from the operations of a household, in representations of large industries like the railroad and construction.

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