Deus ex machina. Originally conceived as a writer’s plot device when he cannot think of a logical way to proceed with a narrative. He then pulls a figurative “rabbit out of a hat”. Either the Guy up in the sky (if you are a believer) or a machine (if you are secular) unexpectedly swoops in and solves the dilemma. So what, you say? I guess I’m just tired of looking at the stock market bouncing up and down from day to day. The world spends money like a teenage girl in an emotional crisis. Maybe we are living in an ex machina world waiting for that phone to ring and bring good fortune. Of course, when you answer the annoying tone, hang up if it is a machine-recorded sales pitch.
Back in the day (I ain’t saying when), people used to think of machine inventions as miraculous. They came unexpectedly even when there was much effort behind the scenes to perfect them. My grandfather in the 1960’s still used to call my father’s transportation vehicle a machine, as in “you’re taking me home in your machine?” He wasn’t referring to H. G. Well’s time interloper.
When I was in my very early twenties in the mid 1970’s I decided to volunteer act in a benefit theatrical performance for a community organization. We performed on two consecutive Saturday and Sunday evenings. We staged Leo Rosten’s “The Education of H*y*m*a*n* K*a*p*l*a*n”.
I had no foreknowledge of the play but knew that it had to be a comedy if it was penned by Rosten. The director took one look at me at the auditions and said he was giving me a great part. In fact, I had to set the mood for the entire play as I had the opening line. What he neglected to tell me was that I also had one other very short scene- the opening of the second act. And for this I had to show up for each rehearsal and sit around waiting for my two brief lines of dialogue.
I played Jimmy the anarchist. That made me a subplot to the main theme and a very non-sympathetic character. In both scenes I have a run-in with a cop, er- I mean, police officer. During rehearsals the guy playing the cop (okay, I said it) had a hard time speaking his lines let alone remembering them. But he looked so much like a policeman walking a beat. Came opening night he froze and couldn’t get off any words. They were all a quiet mumble. So, being the good Samaritan, I said both his and my lines to move the plot along.
In the opening of the second act, I spoke, “Didn’t they take Charlie McKenna off the machines and into the hospital?” Like a true-blue method actor, I figured that Jimmy’s buddy got hurt at work and he was mad at the world. I was even going to throw in a “Stella!” and rip my tee-shirt.
In reality, Jimmy was more helpless than angry. He and his buddies were led to believe that machines would make things better for them. It would increase production but it would also increase a need to manufacture more stuff. That was a good tradeoff. But it wasn’t supposed to cause physical harm.
Fifty years before the personal computer revolution, there was a line spoken in the 1933 movie “Dinner at Eight” by Jean Harlow: “I was reading a book the other day, machinery is going to take the place of every profession.”
In the 1950’s and 60’s it was UNIVAC and IBM mainframe computers that replaced the machine as the object of awe. Today it’s the mobile device. If the movie was updated, Jean Harlow’s character would probably wonder if computers would eventually replace all of us. Except that computers get viruses and/or memory goes bad. Got any new Latin slogans?