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Posted on April 5th, 2012, by

Mankind has always been striving to progress, discovering new horizons to make life easier and more comfortable.

But in this eternal rush people were always enslaving earth and wasting its resources, killing each other and loosing personal freedom at the expense of social standards. American capitalistic machine has also become the Moloch whom the common citizens began to worship and who goes on to eat them alive. This is a thesis uniting two works of art written with a distance of 70 years exactly, but being so close in theme and sense. One of them is the poem The Unknown Citizen composed by W. H. Auden in 1939 and published the same year in The New Yorker. The other one is the song Shuttin’ Detroit Down written by John Rich together with John Anderson in 2009. The poem tells us of a nameless man who turns out to be an exemplary factory worker who “never got fired”¯. To support the idea, the author goes on listing facts proving his doubtless virtues, one and all gathered from different official documents: statistics, reports of the Trade Union and his supervisors, notes of social workers, the press, policies, Public Opinion researches and comments of teachers. The poem is over with the claim that this unknown man was definitely happy as there is no official fact proving the contrary.

At the same time, the song is devoted to the outrageous discharge of workers within the well-known world financial crisis. It presents an example of an old man with “caloused hands”¯ who has worked at one of the Detroit plans nearly his entire life and who has been fired for that and left with such a small pension that he even “can’t afford to die.”¯

The author is blaming government and financial lords for they make profit from common defenseless people and when there is a trouble they just escape with money leaving the workers with no coin in the pocket, with no drop to drink.

It may seem that the poem and the song are bearing some contrasting ideas, but actually they do have much in common as they are devoted to the same problem. They sharpen the question of man’s place in modern society, just from different points. Wystan Hugh Auden shows how a man restricted by social demands and corporative rules looses his face, name and individuality on the whole, while John Rush funnels his arms to unfair commercial relations where the owners are only “selling make believe”¯ and in the long term leave industrial towns in ruins. In both cases the authors talk of how people get under implacable forces of administrative structures.

While comparing and contrasting the two texts, we should underline that they are written in different styles and have different mood. The poem seems to be of a positive effect and content, but it is obviously just a sharp satire. To some extent, it can even be compared with the state depicted in the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The author names more and more virtues which draw a very simple person without any outstanding features and brilliantly finishes the story with rhetorical question: Was he free? Was he happy? And answers himself that the question is absurd. The phrase Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard one more time makes a stress on the idea that everything we know of this man is information from official sources where there is no negative facts on the one hand and from where we can’t get who he really was on the other hand. Meanwhile, the song under consideration is written in a very blunt and pathetic tone, where the author doesn’t feel confused to speak of the Wall Street and Washington DC politics that makes blameless people suffer. The song became rather popular being rotated heavily on Michigan radio stations. It was also supported with a music video starring Kris Kristofferson as a worker being fired after 32 years of service. The video makes the picture more obvious and even sharper while it is shown that the man also looses his house in the end. Still, the music is not as dramatic as it may seem, it’s composed in country style. Such a spirit makes it sound pleasant and memorable and attracts more attention not only to the talent of the singer, but also to the ideas he expresses.

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