A Clockwork Orange & Modern Social Imaginaries: A Small/Large Comparison
A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, shows us how society attempts to 'reform' those that are different from the 'norm'. Alex DeLarge is seen as a criminal, a delinquent, and an overall bad apple, but society uses him as a laboratory mouse, in a sense, in order to change his ways. DeLarge is taken from the streets and put into a program that utilizes drugs and psychotherapy in order to change him from an outcast anti-social to a more compassionate human. Modern Social Imaginaries by Charles Taylor highlights the shift within society as a whole through the centuries and talks about how society has shifted from a more selfish society to a more compassionate and selfless one. Taylor writes at length about this shift and the factors that allowed this shift to occur. Much in the way that DeLarge is changed from 'savage' to 'human', Taylor writes about how society has shifted from a society where few have a lot of power to a society where the overall good is a driving factor. There are similarities in the way that Taylor describes the shift from a ‘savage’ society to one that is more ‘human’ and the same shift within DeLarge in the film.
In Modern Social Imaginaries, Taylor writes about the use of religion as a tool for change in society; religion was used in order to separate the moral good from the morally corrupt. A Clockwork Orange also touches on the notion of religion as a means to self-righteousness. “With such men a safe, well-ordered society can be built. But of course, not everyone will be like them. The godly were to rule; the unregenerate were to be kept in check. The magistrate must force all men 'to learn the word of God and to walk orderly and quietly...till they are brought to a voluntary, personal profession of Christianity." (Taylor, 2004), states Taylor. In much the same way, Christianity is used in A Clockwork Orange as the definite moral order by which DeLarge must adhere to in order to become “cured”. The Prison Chaplain argues that DeLarge might be cured with drugs and therapy, but that he chooses to do so in order to serve his own purpose and that while he may be cured, he also stops being able to distinguish between right and wrong, “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice,” (A Clockwork Orange, 1971) says the Prison Chaplain and the Minister argues that, “We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the heart at the thought of killing a fly. Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works,” (A Clockwork Orange, 1971). This speaks to a lot of the points that Taylor makes when talking about the shift in society; for example, Taylor talks about how Christianity was used to distinguish between right and wrong, and so, people were told that they were to be the perfect Christians to lead a fruitful life. In A Clockwork Orange, the doctors and psychologists seek to change DeLarge from an immoral citizen to a perfect Christian that is disgusted by the thought of committing crimes.
A Clockwork Orange serves as the perfect example of Taylor’s assertion that a morally correct society was sought and transformed throughout history, but one a smaller scale (i.e. one person, DeLarge). Much like in the course of history, as Taylor points out, (the shift from pre- to post-French revolution periods) DeLarge is used as an example of the corrupt member of society that must be transformed to a morally commendable one in order for society to function. As Taylor points out, peasants and beggars were brought up into a middle class and were put to work so that they could become contributing and productive members of society, “These men are industrious, disciplined, do useful work, and above all can be relied on. They are not tempted to mischief because idleness is the principle breeding ground of all sorts of evils,” he states (Taylor, 2004). DeLarge is treated so that he becomes a functioning member of society instead of a street hoodlum that causes mischief wherever he goes and, toward the end of the film, DeLarge finds that his former friends and criminals have become working men and are police officers; this theme of rehabilitation runs rampant in both A Clockwork Orange and Modern Social Imaginaries.
Taylor dwells deep into the shift of society from an hierarchically structured one to one that is for the “greater good of man” and A Clockwork Orange (through an individual example, DeLarge) touches on that theme that society (or an individual) can be changed for the good of society as a whole. "There is a complex causal story behind the fact that the ideal of civility develops an active, transformatory agenda. As time goes on, it is undoubtedly powered by the escalating demand for military, and hence fiscal, power, and hence economic performance by industrious, educated, disciplined populations." (Taylor, 2004), Taylor acknowledges the need that society has to strive for higher moral order and for ‘industrious, educated, disciplined’ individuals and populations. A Clockwork Orange serves as the perfect example of what Taylor describes on a much larger scale in Modern Social Imaginaries and puts it in a context that made more sense of the reasons why doctors, psychologists, prison officials, and police offers sought to change DeLarge, for the greater good of society.
Stanley Kubrick’s films, especially A Clockwork Orange have always been based on psychosexuality and ultra-violence, as DeLarge states throughout the film. An article that goes into the depth of Kubrick’s use of these themes states that, “A Clockwork Orange is chock full of erotic pictures, phallic objects and actual sex acts, but they are the scenery that surrounds its primary focus on social and psychic malaise, symptoms contributing to a diagnosis,” (Mister Strangelove, Sights & Sound, 2009). The use of such themes in A Clockwork Orange serves as one of the many social ills that tarnish the ideal or utopian future imagined in a time before the movie is set. As Modern Social Imaginaries explains, society went through several shifts before it arrived at a society in which goodwill and equality amongst men was possible. The greatest shift, which Taylor goes into great detail in Modern Social Imaginaries, is the French Revolution – a turning point from a society with a system based on a hierarchy where kings were at the top and serfs and slaves were at the bottom to a more democratically representative society. During this, and many other shifts in society, religion and the idea of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ pervaded society and dictated the way that people lived their lives. The immoral, including those with sexual perversion troubles, were shunned from society and were told that they were subhuman and that they needed to change their ways in order to adhere to a religious and/or moral standard of educated men. A Clockwork Orange does a wonderful job at examining the social malaise and symptoms that contribute to a society filled with crime, hatred, violence and rape. As Modern Social Imaginaries mentions, there were several instances throughout history in both Europe and in the United States where society learned from the past and changed its stance on what was considered beneficial and detrimental to society. For example, there was a time in U.S. history where alcohol was banned because it was thought to be a social ill that contributed to crime, violence, rape, etc. Even though alcohol was banned, there were still people that got a hold of liquor through speakeasies in basements of building, in secrecy. Eventually, alcohol became legalized again and there was a shift that turned alcohol from villain to a hero (for various economical & political reasons). To bring this example to a present time, there is an ongoing debate over medical marijuana use in California and Los Angeles. Marijuana was once shunned and considered a drug that ruined lives by many (some still would consider it that), but now it has become commonplace and there was dispensaries throughout the states. Since marijuana could prove to be a small solution to our states’ financial woes, it has become more accepted and even embraced by some. These two examples are just a few that have occurred throughout history that show shifts in societal norms and what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In A Clockwork Orange, DeLarge is told, repeatedly, that his actions are ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’, but there is seldom any mention of his upbringing and societal influence on his behavior. Since the film is based in the 1960s, there is a feeling that the violence and ultra-violence that DeLarge and his group of drooges commit throughout the film is more commonplace than it is rare. DeLarge and his buddies seem to commit crime wherever they go without caring about the consequences, and plenty of times, without facing any consequences. It is not until DeLarge is arrested and convicted for the murder of a woman that we see the consequences of his actions. The fact that DeLarge had already gone to prison before and was released as Mr. Deltoid (the social worker) states shows that society was a bit more lenient at the time. These same crimes that were committed by DeLarge and his friends would have been considered much more serious at a different time in history and perhaps punishable by death. This shows a shift in society that is comparable to the ones highlighted by Taylor in Modern Social Imaginaries, where crime was weighted much more heavily than it is in A Clockwork Orange which features a dystopian world filled with violence, political corruption, crime, etc. In the film, the world seems like a gloomy place filled with little hope and corruption in all levels of society (police, politics, law, hospitals, etc.) which is a sharp contrast to the futuristic society that seemed to be all about life being easier and filled with unity and hope for all.
An American studies professor at Bradeis University and author that has analyzed Kubrick’s work and life, Thomas Doherty, said that Kubrick moved from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the gritty and tougher areas of England and that this inspired his shift in films that were inspired by violence, paranoia, and social commentary. Of A Clockwork Orange, he writes that it is “a darker vision of a future just around the corner, providing a picture of a teenage wasteland besotted with the lilt of language and the kinetic rush of more than ‘a bit of the old ultraviolence’”. This description of the film is ideal to this analysis because it provides a clear picture of what the film is based on; it’s a film that is set in the gritty streets where violence is omnipresent and affects the lives of many people. The fact that it provides a ‘darker visions of a future just around the corner’ is indicative of a dystopian look that counteracts the utopian future that people tend to have in mind where there are flying cars and commercial flights to the moon. Just as A Clockwork Orange can be compared to the points brought up in Modern Social Imaginaries about societal shifts that affect the way that society deals with issues such as violence, mental disabilities, race issues, etc., it can also be seen as a stark difference as well. In Modern Social Imaginaries, Taylor dwells on the fact that the new modern society is based on a mutual understanding and goodwill that will benefit everyone. In A Clockwork Orange, however, there is a great departure from this that shows the complete opposite of what Taylor explains in his book. This is to say that in A Clockwork Orange, society seems to be fixated on selfish gains instead of the goodwill for all man and equality. For example, DeLarge and the drooges are selfish in their pursuit to harm others as it pleases them in a sadistic fashion. In the same way, the prison acts in a selfish manner when it pawns DeLarge off to the hospital with hesitation about the procedure, they want DeLarge to suffer in prison instead. The hospital also acts out of a desire to become a revolutionary institution that is capable of ‘reforming’ criminals and make them become weak when faced with violent situations. The politician that talks to DeLarge in his hospital bed also seeks to use DeLarge for political gain and for a photo-op for his campaign to gain votes and popularity. All of these instances counteract the theory that Taylor asserts in Modern Social Imaginaries that society acts in a way that is beneficial to others, not only to the individual. A Clockwork Orange showcases a counterargument to Modern Social Imaginaries by showing that society is corrupt and that there hasn’t necessarily been a solid shift in society that ensures that people are treated equal and have equal access to resources. The homeless man that is assaulted by DeLarge and his friends at the begin of the film is the perfect example that there isn’t equality amongst men as Taylor claims. The homeless man is seen dirty and in rags, begging the gang for spare change or some liquor, but they refuse and instead beat him up. The homeless man could be compared to the serfs or slaves (or even below them) as he has nowhere to call home and nothing to his name. As Taylor states, there has been a shift from a system of serfdom and slavery to one where everyone is given an equal opportunity to succeed and prosper, but as we have discussed in class, there are several factors that can contribute to a person’s personal failure in society. Like people stated in class, some people are born into poverty and are unable to excel because they can’t afford to get a proper education, let alone a higher education. There are also those people that are born or acquired learning disabilities that halt their progress up the societal ladder. Although Taylor brings up some very interesting points and is correct that, as a whole, society has let go of the king/serf relation, there is still a different system in place that keeps those with money and power at the top and the less fortunate at the bottom. A Clockwork Orange, is the perfect example of this, it shows a society that closely parallels our modern society in the here and now. There are institutions in place that still attempt to reform people that are ‘different’ like DeLarge in the film, for example; there are institutions that are seeking to alter genes so that they can get rid of disabilities in future generations, there are also churches that seek to reform ‘homosexuals’ and turn them ‘straight’ by means of brainwashing, there are also institutions that seek to change criminals into functioning members of society, just like in A Clockwork Orange. The film is a filled with excellent social commentary that offers an alternative view to utopian literature and to dissertations such as the one by Taylor. I believe that A Clockwork Orange more closely resembles modern society than Taylors book because there is still a lot of corruption and violence in the country and throughout the world. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recent examples that showcase our innate tendency to think our ourselves before others. The unnecessary wars, destruction of the rainforests, the tobacco industry, sweatshops, child labor, fraud and much more are just a few example of people with power exercising selfish means to produce a gain. These examples sharply contrast Taylor’s argument that society has evolved into one that is filled with more compassion and understanding for fellow man from one that promoted selfishness and exploitation.
In Modern Social Imaginaries, Taylor speaks about the French Revolution at great length and about how it was instrumental in shaping our modern society today. Interestingly enough, however, as A Clockwork Orange shows, society has only replaced the terms that we placed on those who lead and those who are led. There are still plenty of inadequacies throughout the world that can defunct Taylor’s argument, but he makes some intelligent observations about the historical change that has occurred several times throughout history. The two works that I have analyzed here can both be used on a larger scale to look at society as a whole throughout history. For example, A Clockwork Orange is based in Europe, but the same principles and happenings can occur in New York City, Los Angeles, or Sydney, Australia. In much the same fashion, Modern Social Imaginaries can be applied to different societies and even to small populations of people that have changed their customs and traditions to fit more of the general populous.
In conclusion, the examples provided above show great contrast and comparison between two works that are heralded as great writings/films of our time. One the one hand we have A Clockwork Orange which features a need to change a criminal into a more well-behaved member of society that becomes fearful of violence through psychological testing and experimentation. This is comparable to the shift in a broader society that Taylor talks about in Modern Social Imaginaries in which society is cleansed and changed through ideals that distinguish between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in much the same way that DeLarge is changed in the film. On the flipside of this comparison there is the contradiction that A Clockwork Orange provides to Modern Social Imaginaries which shows that society hasn’t really changed all that much like Taylor wants us to believe in his book. Although A Clockwork Orange came out before Modern Social Imaginaries, it still rings true even to the day Taylor’s work was published and today. The film shows the dark and insidious side of society and how there is still plenty of corruption, violence and selfishness left in the world. Even though Taylor provides vivid example of the shift in society throughout history, there is still a feeling of emptiness there that doesn’t address the current societal problems that confront us today. A Clockwork Orange does a great job at highlighting those inadequacies within society, concentrated on an urban area in Europe. Although Taylor’s arguments might ring true in certain areas and societies, there is still, as A Clockwork Orange shows, a lot of problems that pervade urban populations throughout the world. Overall, both works provide an insight into the psychology of human societies throughout history. Modern Social Imaginaries serves the purpose of providing a historical look at societal shift while A Clockwork Orange serves the purpose to show what society has become, a stark departure from the utopia that people throughout history might have looked forward to at one point or another.
• Taylor, Charles (2004). Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
• Kubrick, S. (Director). 1971. A Clockwork Orange [Film]. UK: Warner Bros. Pictures.
· Mister Strangelove, Sights & Sound (2009)
· Doherty, Thomas (2007) Chronicle of Higher Education; 8/3/2007, Vol. 53 Issue 48, p46-46, 1p Link: http://libproxy.csun.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.csun.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=26055423&site=ehost-live