Julian E. Zelizer: Anxieties of 'Modern Times' Still with Us

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" published by Times Books and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration published by Princeton University Press.]

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- A new restored version of "Modern Times," one of the greatest films in the Hollywood canon, has recently been released.

The film, which came out in 1936, vividly captured the anxieties that gripped industrial workers at the height of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the comedy works as well today as it did over seventy years ago, another sign that all is not well with our economy....

"Modern Times" seems all too familiar for many Americans who are living through an economic nightmare in 2010. Although working conditions for many Americans have vastly improved since the 1930s and citizens can count on certain basic provisions upon their retirement, current economic conditions have created the same kind of despair captured by Chaplin in this film.

Other than the upper-income Americans who are enjoying the fruits of a rebounding stock market, most are struggling to survive with an unemployment rate hovering at 9.5 percent (and an underemployment rate, which includes the unemployed and those working part-time seeking full-time work, that is over 19 percent).

They are fearful about keeping their jobs if they have one, obtaining jobs if they don't, being able to pay for their family's needs, saving for retirement, and facing local and state governments cutbacks in essential services such as school programs.

Yet politicians are not dealing with this crisis and the private sector has not offered solutions....

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