February 10, 2012
After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, all bets were off for live musicians who played in movie theaters. Thanks to synchronized sound, the use of live musicians was unnecessary — and perhaps a larger sin, old-fashioned. In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.
The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot. The Music Defense League spent over $500,000, running ads in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. The ads pleaded with the public to demand humans play their music (be it in movie or stage theaters), rather than some cold, unseen machine. A typical ad read like this one from the September 2, 1930 Syracuse Herald in New York:
Tho’ the Robot can make no music of himself, he can and does arrest the efforts of those who can.
Manners mean nothing to this monstrous offspring of modern industrialism, as IT crowds Living Music out of the theatre spotlight.
Though “music has charms to soothe the savage beast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak,” it has no power to appease the Robot of Canned Music. Only the theatre-going public can do that.
Hence the swift growth of the Music Defense League, formed to demand Living Music in the theatre.
Every lover of music should join in this rescue of Art from debasement. Sign and mail the coupon.
The robot of recorded or “canned” music had many guises, all somehow destroying the best things in society. Here the robot makes a lunge in its attempt to steer “musical culture” away from a decidedly more pure course:
Another ad claimed that musicians were being put out of work by Hollywood because recorded sound required just a few hundred musicians in recording studios. The ad even uses scare quotes around the word “music,” implying that recorded sound couldn’t even be considered as such:
300 musicians in Hollywood supply all the “music” offered in thousands of theatres. Can such a tiny reservoir of talent nurture artistic progress?
Joseph N. Weber, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, made it clear in the March, 1931 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine that the very soul of art was at stake in this battle against the machines:
The time is coming fast when the only living thing around a motion picture house will be the person who sells you your ticket. Everything else will be mechanical. Canned drama, canned music, canned vaudeville. We think the public will tire of mechanical music and will want the real thing. We are not against scientific development of any kind, but it must not come at the expense of art. We are not opposing industrial progress. We are not even opposing mechanical music except where it is used as a profiteering instrument for artistic debasement.
That debasement came in the form of the evil robot grinding up instruments in a meat grinder, like in this ad from the November 3, 1930 Syracuse Herald.
The robot was even shown as a new nurse ineffectively soothing a baby, which represented the audience of the future.
You best hide your daughters, because this ad from the August 24, 1931 Centralia Daily Chronicle in Centralia, Washington shows an “unwelcome suitor” who has been “wooing the muse for many dreary months without winning her favor.”
The robot was often shown as greedy in the ads, caring nothing of people but only of profit, like in this ad from the October 1, 1930 Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire).
Fundamentally, the ads were an effort to make people believe what made music so special was the musician’s soul that was somehow only reflected in a live performance. This ad from the August 17, 1930 Oelwein Daily Register (Oewlwein, Iowa) got to the heart of it — robots have no soul.
February 9, 2012
In 1930 Frederick Edwin Smith, the First Earl of Birkenhead, wrote a book, The World in 2030 A.D., containing predictions about war (it’ll be less vicious when the world is a “single economic unit”), the state of agriculture (it will gradually go extinct), and the effects of science (Einsteinian physics will “provide the instinctive background to all men’s minds.”)
But the chapter that really stuck out for me was the one about women in the year 2030, which included predictions about ectogenesis; creating life outside of the body, presumably in a laboratory setting. The author claims that this will be the first step to men and women being paid equal wages for the same work, and usher in a brave new world that enables women to vastly “expand their accomplishments in every sphere of life.”
In 2030, the prospect of woman’s liberation from the dangers of childbirth will almost certainly become a matter of general realisation. This evolution, the most serious biological departure since the natural separation of living organisms into two sexes, will vitally transform the whole status of women in society. Unless their present importance and limitations be clearly apprehended, their future development cannot be apprehended.
Science as I hinted in a previous chapter, already foreshadows the possibility of producing living offspring in the laboratory from the germs of various animal species. Hitherto no living animal has been brought to birth ab initio; but the foetus of various species has been removed from the maternal organism and further developed by skilful manipulation in biological laboratories. It is certain that scientists will one day succeed in producing a living human infant by such means. This process, known as ectogenesis, will be violently and furiously opposed by the spiritual descendants of all those who now attack contraception….The first practitioners of ectogenesis will possibly obtain the crown of martyrdom.
Today, some religious groups oppose in vitro fertilization on the grounds that the act of procreation is disconnected from the love of the parents, who have been joined together in sacred matrimony. Frederick Edwin Smith foresaw such concerns.
Although its economic effect on woman is the most important result which ectogenesis will bring, I must consider also its effects on marriage and family life, as we know them. First, ectogenesis will entirely divorce physical love from the reproduction of the species. The common practice of contraception has already, in some measure, accustomed certain classes of the population to this idea; its complete realisation will occupy many generations and create a violent social readjustment.
This idea of separating romantic love from the procreation equation showed up in popular media of the early 1930s. A book by Ira S. Wilde in 1933 predicted that by 2033 we would see governments deciding who might be allowed to marry. The 1930 movie Just Imagine even farcically shows people getting their baby from a vending machine. And, of course, the classic dystopian novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley portrayed a future where children are raised in labs and conditioning centers, and the word “mother” has become an obscenity.
February 3, 2012
Sports writer Michael MacCambridge wrote, “The Super Bowl contains multitudes; it has always exemplified America at its best, America at its worst, and more than anything else, America at its most.”
So it’s no surprise that the largest televised spectacle in the world has a history of using jetpacks. It doesn’t get much more spectacular than strapping a rocket to your back and taking flight in a sports stadium holding 60,000 people.
In 1967 the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs faced off in the very first Super Bowl. A crowd of over 60,000 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — and 50 million watching at home — marveled at the sight of two men from Bell Aerosystems flying like Space Age supermen with their rocket belts (the more appropriate term for the technology, though I prefer “jetpack”). Those two men were more than likely a young William P. Suitor (who would go on to be featured in everything from James Bond movies to TV beer ads) and Peter Kedzierski (who acquired the nickname “Bird Man” at the 1963 Paris Air Show).
I emailed Mac Montandon, the author of Jetpack Dreams and an editor at FastCompany.com, and asked his take on the use of jetpacks at the first Super Bowl:
“Super Bowl I was an historic and memorable event for many reasons, not the least of which being that this was the first Super Bowl, as you may have gathered from that Roman numeral. Also Bart Starr quarterbacked the Packers and was named the game’s MVP. But the thing that most people remember about the first Super Bowl was that a jetpack flew during the halftime show–and there’s nothing quite as spectacular as a live jetpack demo. Okay, that’s not really what most people remember. But I think it should be. The Super Bowl, after all, happens every year. How many times have you seen a jetpack fly?”
The Super Bowl XIX pregame show on January 20, 1985 also featured a jetpack pilot. Fresh from his flight at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Bill Suitor’s rocketbelt still had the “USA” emblazoned across the back. Suitor (the the most famous of the Bell Aerosystems test pilots) salutes the crowd and gives a thumbs up before blasting off for a short trip around the field. Frankly, it feels less spectacular to watch Suitor in 1985 than it does to see the footage from 1967. Maybe it’s because there was sadly no real technological progress made on the jetpack in those 20 years.
For the hardcore jetpack enthusiast, Bill Suitor wrote a book in 2009 titled, The Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual.
Who knows when we’ll next see a jetpack at the Super Bowl. With any luck, Madonna will strap one on for her halftime show on Sunday. But I’m not holding my breath.
February 1, 2012
In 1950, the Hayden Planetarium promoted its new exhibit, “Conquest of Space,” by soliciting letters for the public to reserve a seat on the first trip into space. The letters all make for an entertaining read, but one in particular stuck out for me. A letter from a man named Arthur described how he’d like to travel to Venus to find out for himself if there really are dinosaurs there.
I would like to submit my name for an application for a space trip to Venus. I have always been interested in this planet, and would like to find out for myself if there are really dinosaurs living on it. Ancient animals have been a constant source of interest with me, and, providing the theory is correct, I would be thrilled to see a tyranosaurus or a brontosaurus “in the flesh.” Astronomy also holds a place of honor among my pastimes, and the urge to travel beyond the earth has always been in me.
Dinosaurs? On Venus? Where would Arthur get such an idea? There have been a number of science fiction stories set on Venus, but it seems plausible that he got the idea of a dinosaur-filled planet from a futuristic story in the March 1950 issue of Coronet magazine, called “Mr Smith Goes to Venus.”
The story (which strangely doesn’t credit any writer) tells of a family in the year 2500 who take a vacation on the planet Venus. The introduction explains that the harnessing of atomic energy just might hold the key to universal peace and travel to distant planets.
Today, the world stands on the threshold of the Atomic Age. Many people fear that the dazzling new power may bring the most destructive wars in history. In this mid-century year of 1950, weapons are still far in advance of other developments within the infinitely complex world of the atom. However, for the many who believe that atomic power can be the key to man’s most magnificent achievements, this story will have special meaning as a glimpse into the future — a glimpse into an age when the atom may mean universal peace — and a vacation to Venus for the neighbors next door.
What’s interesting to remember is that when this story was published in 1950, commercial airplane travel in the United States was still in its infancy. Most families had never been on a plane, let alone a rocket to Venus.
The story included an illustration of brochures from the future touting “big game hunting” on Venus. A mid-century style raygun is seen pointing down at a triceratops. But dinosaurs weren’t just to be hunted for sport. They would also be found in zoos on Venus:
The Venopolis Zoo was one of the most fabulous attractions of Venus. Deep pits separated visitors from the lumbering dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. Still, Mrs. Smith was uncomfortable being so close to the dragonlike creatures, and breathed easily again only when they had moved on to the amazing exhibits of brilliantly plumaged birds, and to the smaller animal enclosures. The children were disappointed that there was no Reptile House, but so far no serpents had been found on Venus.
Chesley Bonestell did the illustrations– 25 pages worth — for the story. Bonestell was a prolific artist who is credited with helping fuel American interest in space exploration with his incredibly captivating space art. Perhaps most notably, he did illustrations for Wernher von Braun’s 1950s Collier’s series which laid out the possibilities of spaceflight.