Consumerism: Industrial Movies and the Ford Rouge Tour

Written by Consumerism

Troy McClure made the industrial film a legend. In his brief life, Troy narrated such films as “Lead Paint: Delicious but Deadly” and “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom”. He also did the more tourist-friendly “Welcome to Springfield Airport” and the introductory video to the “Ah! Fudge” chocolate factory.

McClure’s work resonates with us because, well, it’s so typical of the genre.

Ford Motor’s River Rouge Assembly Plant is open to the public, which is pretty cool. It also has not one, but two, industrial films

The Rouge was the centerpiece of Ford’s emphasis on seamless integration. Here, the ore, coal, and other raw materials would arrive via ship, and then be turned into steel, parts, and finally cars. The facility has changed a lot over the years. It now houses the assembly line for the Ford F150 truck, the company’s best-selling model, and employs about 6,000 people – down from peak employment of 100,000.

The first movie on the tour tells the history of Ford Motor Company and from the plant. It’s mostly spliced from old black-and-white promotional films, and it’s mostly balanced. The perspective is Ford’s, but the movie includes information about the company’s checkered past with the United Auto Workers (the Rouge being the site of one of the United Auto Worker’s largest strikes). Of course, we’re in a new era of labor-management relations – maybe. It’s a standard industrial film, updated just enough to avoid the Troy McClure clichés.

The second movie on the tour puts a nail in Troy’s coffin. Called “The Art of Manufacturing”, it’s in 3D! With special effects, like hot air and warm mist! And a score by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra! It’s more Walt Disney than Henry Ford. You’ll wonder why Bob Seeger, Michael Stanley, and Bruce Springsteen wrote so many songs about the frustration of factory work, because it sure looks like fun in this movie.

Of course, the Rouge tour includes a walk through the assembly line, so you can see it for yourself what it’s like to work there now.

Factory work will never be fun, but it is not as tedious as it once was. Many of those 94,000 people who used to work at the Rouge have been replaced by robots; machines don’t get bored, and they can work to high precision. The humans have the jobs requiring judgment, fit, and quality control. Just what sound system goes in which vehicles? How does it have to be installed? It makes the work more challenging, but it also means roles for fewer people. Those who are still making cars are proud of what they do, and they want you to appreciate it. (They’d also like it if you bought a new Ford F150.)

If you’ve never seen an assembly line in operation and find yourself near Detroit, go see the Rouge plant. That form of work is a key piece of American life and culture that many of us overlook. And, in this case, the movies are as much pure entertainment as they are an introduction to the tour.

Tours of the Rouge plant leave from the Henry Ford Museum, 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn. Adult tickets are $15, children’s are $11. Check the website to ensure that the plant is open, because it periodically shuts down for model changeovers, inventory management, etc.