The Future Is Not the U.S. 1950s With Cooler Tech

By Nancy Jane Moore

When are we going to get past this nostalgia for crappy television? I recently saw a post on boingboing honoring The Jetsons.

Yes, really, The Jetsons. The early 1960s animated feature that assumed the future would look like the white, middle-class, American 1950s with more nifty keen gadgets.

OK, so I pretty much despise all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Like a lot of TV, they were derivative of more creative work (The Flintstones channeled The Honeymooners, only without the edge), sexist, conventional, and — worst of all — boring. None of the H-B shows could hold a candle to The Simpsons or King of the Hill.

Why on earth would anybody want to do anything with The Jetsons except forget it ever existed (which I had happily done until I saw the boingboing entry)? It wasn’t just bad TV; it was bad science fiction.

Don’t tell me it’s the Baby Boomers. I’m a Boomer, but that doesn’t make me nostalgic for bad television. Or for many other things that happened when I was young. Sure, some amazing art was created and the political energy of the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s movements was powerful. It was an exciting time and I’m glad I lived through it. But times have changed, and I’ve changed with them. I want to see new art, new ideas, new approaches.

There appears to be a mania for recycling the TV of my youth. I’m sure some of it has made money or they wouldn’t keep doing it, but the only good remake that comes to mind is Battlestar Gallactica. The new version took crappy TV and made it into something worth watching.

Not that anyone’s talking about remaking The Jetsons. I hope. They’re just waxing nostalgic, apparently because it was science fiction. But it wasn’t even good science fiction, probably because the people who made it had no idea what science fiction was about except gadgets.

It’s not that TV couldn’t do good science fiction and challenging art, even in the 1960s and within the confines of such a conservative medium. Contrast The Jetsons with the original Star Trek, which managed to sneak in challenging ideas of both the technological and cultural varieties while still conforming to the rules for one-hour drama shows. Yes, Star Trek had some shortcomings — the most obvious being sexism — but it was still brilliant TV.

Golden Age science fiction is notorious for having assumed the only characters that mattered were straight, Anglo men. That may make it hard for some of us to read these days — it’s annoying to read fiction that assumes you don’t matter or, in some cases, even exist — but in other areas those stories pushed the edge on science and exploration. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy may have completely misunderstood women of the future, but there are big themes there that are worthy of consideration.

If The Jetsons had included even a smidgen of the ideas inherent in real science fiction, it might be worth remembering. But, like so many things created by commercial enterprises that didn’t understand what was really going on in the popular culture they were using, it didn’t.

You want to honor something from the 1960s? How about Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner”?

Yeah, it’s kinda subversive, but you know what? So were the Sixties. The real Sixties, anyway.



The Future Is Not the U.S. 1950s With Cooler Tech — 5 Comments

  1. For sheer wittiness and inventiveness, no US cartoon surpasses Rocky and Bullwinkle and their siblings (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Fractured Fairytales, Dudley Do-right). The fact that it predated The Jetsons shows how regressive, boring and infantile the latter was — as were all Hanna-Barbera creations.

  2. I adored Rocky & Bullwinkle! The Jetsons didn’t do much for me, and the Flintstones joins it in Le Guin’s ‘a certain amount of junk is good for kids, because it teaches them the difference between junk and good stuff’ category. I do confess an old affection for Jonny Quest. But when I watched that, I always put an imaginary girl in there to have adventures with them. Now, I suspect I’d just keep wondering where all the women were.