Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Jetsons are 50 years old this week

This year, I've been celebrating…or at least remembering…the 40th anniversary of Glam Rock.  1972 was not just the year that pop effloresced into glitter and fun, but was also a recognizably modern year. The bitter labor disputes and recession in the UK led to headlines that could be recycled today.  Gays were coming out – at least David Bowie was, and Jobriath.   Pong was released, so at least technically some people were hooked on videogames.  Men were still walking on the moon up until December and the UK had "gone decimal" the year before.

I was jolted to learn, then, that The Jetsons is 50 years old this year. I can remember quite clearly hating it (or what I saw of it, because I don't remember it being syndicated in any organized fashion) for using old tropes of science fiction so tired E E "Doc" Smith himself would have disdained them. Even as a teen, it was obvious that The Jetsons was The Flintstones with flying cars and antennae, and both were nothing but interesting wrapping around a tale of 1950s-approved family units. Mom, Dad, the kids and the pet (and even a maid – albeit a robot maid) ground as deep into our consciousness as hard as all the massed weapons of  modern media could rub, in some throwback effort to make the nuclear family the norm by portraying it as ubiquitous and without alternatives – literally unrivaled.

In its coverage of the 50th anniversay, boing boing seems to think that the program was a hopefilled outgrowth of the Space Age, an exuberant celebration of Science and How Science Has Won.
It only lasted 24 episodes (not including the mid-1980s "revival"), but it truly embodied the tech optimism of the time. 
They approvingly quote Matt Novak in 50 Years of the Jetsons– Why The Show Still Matters as saying that the show had "a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity."

To me it showed the opposite – that mankind (as we used to call us) could progress from foot-power stone vehicles in The Flintstones to flying cars in The Jetsons, but society and the family would remain unchangeable and unshakable forever. That wasn't a pleasing thought even back then in 1972, when gay pride and transgender people, no-fault divorce and free (or at least reasonably priced) love were just beginning to make themselves known.  Now, when cartoonists from Ren and Stimpy, through Spongebob Squarepants to Futurama have appropriated every visual, all the aesthetics, and have used them to portray non-traditional relationships (still within the safe confines of 21st Century American ideals, of course) The Jetsons seems positively antediluvian – as much an abode of cavemen as The Flintstones. 


Mike said...

Early sixties American cartoons aped late fifties American sitcoms: Flintstones - Honeymooners, Topcat - Bilko, Jetsons - Blondie.
The future was the bourgeois utopia: technology's victory over drudgery and poverty. Humanity's biggest problem: what to do with all the leisure time?
For the masses, the decade of social change was the seventies, rather than the sixties.
Then the utopia was destroyed by the bourgeoisie themselves, pursuing thirty years of neoliberal capitalism.

I think the traditional family unit (albeit with some dysfunctionality for spice) remains central to American sitcoms (Friends, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family) and cartoons (King of the Hill, Simpsons, Family Guy). Eg. Leonard & Penny - parents, Howard & Rajesh - kids, Sheldon - pet.

Peromyscus said...

I take your point, but I'm not sure I'd see Big Bang Theory quite the same way...


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