October 10, 2012

Are The Jetsons at Age 50 Still A Vision of the Future?

I can remember the first few times I ever saw Hanna-Barbera's "The Jetsons" on television.  I was already accustomed to watching "The Flintstones" regularly by the same animation company since they were re-run in syndication daily.  However, for me, the space-aged version of the nuclear family was a glimpse into what life might look like in the future, and I thought it was so incredibly cool!

Their family car wasn't powered by their feet like on "The Flintstones", it was a personal hovercraft (plane, helicopter, or something that flew).  The young son on "The Jetsons", Elroy, had a watch with a TV set built-in (in reality, Sony introduced a product called the Sony Watchman back in the 1980s, but teachers were wise to that kind of thing and wouldn't allow them to be used in their classrooms, these days, it's SmartPhones that are the bane of well-meaning teachers across America).  Of course, I watched the original version of "The Jetsons" which ran from 1962–1963.  The very first episode of "The Jetsons" aired on September 23, 1962, and there were only 24 episodes.  It was also the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC -- talk about futuristic back in the day!  However, even watching the show for the first time as a kid more than a decade later, it seemed (to me, anyway) to be a rational vision of what the future might potentially hold, and it was awesome!

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Jetsons

As the premier date above indicates, September 23, 2012 was the 50th anniversary for "The Jetsons".  While I'm not even 50 myself (I have more than a few years before I'm there), it seems to me that "The Jetsons" helped shape what not only the Baby Boomers expected the future to look like, but also Generation X that followed them.  However, the Baby Boom and Gen X helped make those visions reality, which is (if I'm being honest) no small accomplishment!

One of the visions of the future I thought was particularly awesome at the time was the video-telephone the Jetsons routinely used.  In one episode, it's early morning and the matriarch of the household Jane Jetson receives a call from a friend, but she doesn't have her makeup on, hence she didn't dare take the call until she'd put a mask on to make herself presentable.  That clip can be viewed below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/0idWiHiasKg:

My recollection of that scene wasn't about Jane's mirage of a face, but how cool it was to be able to SEE the person on the other end of the phone.  What if the future enabled us to mitigate long-distances by enabling video conversations?

However, I think this is really important, even as a child, I knew cartoons weren't real.  I might have wondered if "The Jetsons" represented what COULD potentially be.  But I certainly didn't have any expectation to see moving sidewalks everywhere (although anyone who has ever had a connecting flight at airports in Charlotte, Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta or various other big airports has indeed seen and possibly even used moving sidewalks, although I see those more as time-savers without any expectation of seeing them appear on Main Street in the town where I grew up or even in Midtown Manhattan.  The need simply isn't there.

WNYC's "The Takeaway" featured a short audio clip about the 50th anniversary of "The Jetsons" and featured interviews with the woman whose voice talent was the original Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo (who, at the time of this recording, was 88 years old!) along with Smithsonian's Matt Novak, who blogged about the Jetson's 50th anniversary at Smithsonian's "Paleofuture" Blog.  You may listen to that clip below, or by visiting  http://tinyurl.com/WNYC-TakeAway-Jetsons:

Matt Novak's observations on "The Jetson's" 50th anniversary can be seen HERE or at http://bit.ly/T5NPuX.  He made a rather interesting observation there:

"It's important to remember that today's political, social and business leaders were pretty much watching "The Jetsons" on repeat during their most impressionable years. People are often shocked to learn that "The Jetsons" lasted just one season during its original run in 1962-63 and wasn't revived until 1985."

Like all kids my age, we watched the ORIGINAL Jetsons, in fact, I was already in high school by 1985 when the first reboot version appeared.

But his blog post adds:

"Thanks in large part to the Jetsons, there's a sense of betrayal that is pervasive in American culture today about the future that never arrived. We're all familiar with the rallying cries of the angry retrofuturist: Where's my jetpack!?! Where's my flying car!?! Where's my robot maid?!? "The Jetsons" and everything they represented were seen by so many not as a possible future, but a promise of one."

Even as a kid, I knew cartoons weren't real, but Mr. Novak contends that many people feel betrayed by what The Jetsons had that the average American does not enjoy today.  That's the wrong way to look at things IMHO.

To his point, the original Jetsons (forget about the 1985 reboot; the story lines weren't very good and the series had lost some of it's "edge" at the time so I'm not sure how much of a glimpse into the future those episodes were for many people).  Still, for me, I don't consider where we are today a sense of betrayal, but of just how much of what's become reality.  For example, I can sit anywhere in my house with my Google Nexus 7 tablet in-hand and conduct a face-to-face conversation with family members who are thousands of miles away.  I routinely microwave dinner in just a few minutes, hence this is really a matter of perspective.  I also have no desire to fly to work knowing how bad the roads are!  My smartphone has more power than my family's first computer did, and what's more, it has potential to not only Skype, but do much more (if you can see a 2-inch screen without magnifying glasses).

Who Will The Futurists of Tomorrow Be?

In fact, I do believe "The Jetsons" painted a picture of what the future could possibly look like.  My question is what visions of the future are being shared with today's youth?  Case-in-point: Today, Walt Disney World's Carousel of Progress ride no longer seems so futuristic to me (my last visit to that exhibit was in 2005).  There were some prominent futurists a while ago; in fact, a book that had a pretty profound impact on me personally was "Megatrends 2000" written by futurists Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt.  I don't recall all of their predictions, but if memory serves me, I think many of them actually DID become reality.  But I wonder who will tomorrow's futurists be, and what will they base their predictions on?

Author P.S., January 11, 2013:  Yesterday, NPR ran a story entitled "Fifty Years Later, Bits Of Our Own Reality Reflected In 'Jetsons' Future" which you can listen to at http://n.pr/Xquadl.

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