October 29, 2012
This is the sixth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
As a child, did you ever think that one day you might be able to vacation on the moon? You weren’t alone. A permanent settlement on the moon wasn’t some crackpot scheme only touted by fringe elements in the mad science community. Scientists, politicians, clergymen and journalists were all promising that once humans inevitably set foot on the moon, permanent settlements (and vacation resorts!) were sure to follow.
The sixth episode of “The Jetsons” revolved around this assumption that the moon would soon be the perfect destination for a Boy Scout-like camping trip. Titled “Good Little Scouts,” the episode originally aired on October 29, 1962 and was probably a pleasant distraction for U.S. viewers from the previous week’s headlines which were all about the Cuban missile crisis. We follow Elroy’s Space Cub troop and their new scout leader, George Jetson, to the moon. The only problem for George? His boss’s son Arthur is along for the ride and—when he goes off wandering the moon by himself—he causes George to get lost and look like a fool.
It’s not stated explicitly, but the sixth episode might provide the first look at a building on the earth’s surface — Grand Central Space-tion. Grand Central clearly takes its architectural cues from the Googie style — more specifically New York’s JFK airport TWA terminal, which was opened in 1962 (the same year as the Jetsons premiere) and designed by Eero Saarinen.
In this episode we learn that the moon is a bit like Yellowstone National Park — it has a hotel and some accommodations, but it’s largely unexplored and makes for a great camping trip. The moon has a Moonhattan Tilton Hotel, a play on the name Manhattan Hilton Hotel.
Fans of the AMC TV show “Mad Men” may recall a storyline wherein Conrad Hilton, the head of the Hilton hotel chain, wants an advertising campaign that includes a Hilton on the moon. This story arc wasn’t entirely fictional. The Hilton company (most especially Barron Hilton, one of Conrad’s sons) was known for their various promotions in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s that promised they would be the first hotel on the moon. They even had futuristic moon hotel keys made, which you can see over at BBC Future, where I’ve written about various visions the people at Hilton had for hotels on the moon.
Just as “The Jetsons” was inspired by futuristic ideas of the day and turned them even more fantastical, so too did Arthur Radebaugh‘s “Closer Than We Think” sift through the news stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s looking for predictions that could be heightened through fanciful illustration. As we looked at in February, the techno-utopians of the late 1950s were convinced that the Space Age would bring about a wondrous future of moon tourism. The June 1, 1958 edition of “Closer Than We Think” showed two couples dancing the night away in low gravity as they honeymoon on the moon; the earth sparkling in the distance.
Scenic spots on the moon, in years ahead, may become honeymoon havens, like Niagara Falls today. Newly wedded couples will be able to fly to a low-cost lunar holiday in a space craft propelled by thermo-nuclear energy. Space expert Wernher von Braun foresees pressurized, air-conditioned excursion hotels and small cottages on the moon. Couples could dance gaily there, whirling high in the air due to reduced gravity pull, and look out on a strange, spectacular scenery — part of which would be a spaceman’s view of the familiar outlines of the continents of the earth.
And it wasn’t just comic strip illustrators who saw humans living on the moon as a certainty. Insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions aren’t usually known for their exaggerated science fiction claims in advertising, but the early 1960s saw just that with a newspaper advertisement from 1962 for Michigan Mutual Liability. The ad imagined that by the year 2012 we’d be picnicking on Mars and have suburban-style homes on the moon.
This Jetsons episode is a perfect example of the Jetson formula that uses absurdist cartoon logic (complete with green, two-head Martians on the moon) but still manages to plant the seed of a wondrous future for 21st century humans in space. Recognizing how many kids were watching this episode on repeat throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it’s easy to see why so many people continue to ask, where’s my vacation on the moon?
October 25, 2012
The 2012 inductees to the Robot Hall of Fame at Carnegie Mellon have been announced. And sadly, Rosey the robot didn’t make the cut. She was beat out in the entertainment category by WALL-E — a worthwhile choice, but kind of like putting Justin Bieber in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I mean, Bieber hasn’t even gone through his inevitable Chris Gaines period yet.*
Naturally I was hoping for a Rosey victory, as we’re five episodes deep into looking back at every episode of “The Jetsons.” But there’s always next year. A sincere congratulations to all the robo-winners and the hardworking teams of humans that worked on them.
The winners were chosen in four categories: Education & Consumer; Entertainment; Industrial & Service; and Research. This year’s four winners are Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO, Disney’s WALL-E, iRobot’s PackBot bomb disposal robot, and Boston Dynamics’ BigDog. You can watch video of each winner below.
Education & Consumer: Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO
Industrial & Service: iRobot’s PackBot
Research: Boston Dynamics’ BigDog
*Before you get too huffy about it in the comments, I know that Bieber won’t be eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for many more years. I was just making a chucklegoof.
October 22, 2012
This is the fifth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The fifth episode of “The Jetsons” aired on Sunday October 21, 1962, and was titled “Jetson’s Nite Out.” The episode revolves around George’s plans to watch the robot football championship game and the various obstacles that get in his way. Eventually, through the scheming of his boss Mr. Spacely, George is able to see the game in person, but is found out as a liar by his wife when he’s shown on TV. The episode gave viewers of 1962 a peek at some often predicted technological advancements of the 21st century: including weather control, disposable consumer goods and gigantic television screens.
After World War II the dream of controlling the weather became somewhat common among future-oriented thinkers. Ideas for weather control came in many forms — from seeding clouds in order to cause precipitation to simply putting roofs over major American cities like New York. The Jetsons’ solution to a rainy day was moving the entire apartment complex up above the clouds by way of a mechanical lift controlled by the building’s superintendent.
You may recall that we’ve looked at postwar American visions of how weather control could be used as a Cold War weapon. Captain Howard T. Orville was chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control in 1953 and made some dire predictions during the Cold War should the Soviet Union master the science: “if an unfriendly nation solves the problem of weather control and gets into the position to control the large-scale weather patterns before we can, the results could be even more disastrous than nuclear warfare.”
In 1963 Vice President Lyndon Johnson mentioned weather control while making some predictions about the year 2063, and lumped it in with developments in space technology:
Among the space activities in the next one hundred years will probably be: weather control, global communication, global navigation, regular travel of people and freight between places on earth and space stations and the planets, and international policing against space and terrestrial conflicts.
The Jetsons’ version of weather control is of course less militaristic than the visions of the American government in the 1950s and ’60s, but it does give viewers a subtle hint as to why humans have taken to living in the sky.
Disposable Clothes, Disposable Dishes
Another recurring dream of the mid-century futurist was that of abundant disposable goods. From clothes to dinner plates, if it could be manufactured it could be done so affordably in a future of abundance. In this episode we see daughter Judy “doing the dishes” with the touch of a button. They’re first smashed to bits, then swept away with a robotic sweeper arm.
Disposable clothes were mentioned in the mid-century futurist classic 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn, as well as in Arthur Radebaugh’s Sunday comic “Closer Than We Think.” A syndicated article which appeared in the October 12, 1961 Evening Capital in Annapolis, Maryland imagined this world of disposable clothes with the headline, “Disposable Clothes Seen Just Around the Corner.”
A research laboratory cuts its big laundry bill way down by sending dirty smocks, coveralls, etc., to the garbage pail. A housewife convinces her husband that her new party dress is a good bargain because she’ll be able to wear it four times before throwing it away. Vacationers, ready to head home, stuff campsite trash and bedding into pillowcases and throw them into the campfire.
Disposable clothes are here – still being tested, but very much alive and kicking.
Interestingly, these many visions of disposable goods rarely mention the potential environmental impact of simply throwing away so much stuff. It wasn’t until Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock that mainstream American futurism really began to question the social and environmental costs of a throw-away culture.
The idea of gigantic flat screen and projection television may seem less impressive to the people of 2012, but in 1962 it was a revolutionary jump up from bulky televisions of the 1960s. As I’ve noted before, just 3 percent of American households had a color TV in 1962. And the idea of a TV that was more or less an entire wall in your home was extraordinary.
The March 23, 1958 edition of Arthur Radebaugh’s Sunday comic strip Closer Than We Think depicted this wall-to-wall television. Rather than football, the American family of the future in this strip is watching a bullfight, hinting at the wide variety of worldwide programming that was surely just over the horizon.
Tomorrow’s world-wide television will bring you bullfights from Spain, exploration from Africa and vacation reports from Tahiti — and in giant size, wall to wall if you wish.
Picture-thin screens will be made of tiny “electroluminescent” crystals, a brand-new development in electronics. They will replace the phosphor screen and electron gun of today’s thick TV tube.
According to E.W. Engstrom, a top industry executive, “The compact circuit for such a system may be built into a frame around the screen, and the channel selector and picture adjustment controls may be contained within a small control box.”
Again, the ubiquity of screens throughout a home may not be seen as terribly futuristic today, but in 1962 it was positively far out. The screenshot above comes from a 1962 Bell Systems film called “Talking of Tomorrow.” The film shares so many of the Jetsons’ visions for a techno-utopian future, not least of which is the idea that team sports will no doubt be a popular televised spectacle well into the 21st century.
October 18, 2012
NASA had an unwritten rule that married astronauts couldn’t be sent into space together. Davis and Lee had been assigned to the mission in 1989 but were later married in January 1991. After the agency learned of their marriage, NASA took two months to review the situation and believed that both were too important to the mission (the second flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour) for either of them to be removed. The couple had no children and NASA explained that if they had, they most certainly wouldn’t have flown together.
Their flight was a minor public relations scandal because of an obvious question that reporters of the time were not shy about asking: would they be having sex in space? The answer from the astronauts and NASA was an unequivocal “no”.
Outside of science fiction, the topic of sex in space has received surprisingly scant attention. But it was science fiction that inspired Dr. Robert S. Richardson to write an article in the March 1956 issue of Sexology: The Magazine of Sex Science, wherein he describes his vision of what sexual relations might look like when space travel is a reality. This was a year and a half before the launch of Sputnik, so the Space Age wasn’t even firing on all thrusters yet. But Dr. Richardson opens his article by discussing his frustration with the fact that sex is never addressed in any of the sci-fi shows on TV. Given the reputation of 1950s broadcasting as a sexless environment — where married couples on programs like I Love Lucy had to sleep in separate beds, and wouldn’t even say the word “pregnant” — Richardson’s surprise comes across as a bit disingenuous. Nonetheless, Richardson makes his case for what he believes the future of sex in space might look like.
From the introduction to the 1956 article:
Recent announcements by the United States and Soviet Governments that they are planning space satellites and space rockets have stimulated universal interest in the problems of space travel. Space voyages to Mars will take a long time, and settlements on the distant plants will be lonely. While much has been written about the various scientific aspects of space travel, this is the first article which deals with the important medical problem: How will the natural sexual needs of early space travelers be met so as to provide a modicum of mental health for the space pioneers?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. Richardson’s views on women in space aren’t the most enlightened. He writes under the assumption that only men will be astronauts and that these men will have certain carnal needs to be met during long missions in space. Many of Richardson’s ideas about space, and especially Mars, clearly come from the Collier’s series of articles on space travel from 1952 to 1954. Interestingly, Richardson becomes fixated on Mars throughout the article, ignoring the moon — a place humans wouldn’t even sink their boots until a full 13 years after his article was published.
Richardson compares the establishment of an inevitable Martian base to the experience of military men in remote regions of the Arctic. But unlike relatively short tours in Greenland of a year or less, he acknowledges that a trip to Mars would be an adventure of three years or more.
But can healthy young men work efficiently and harmoniously for long without women ?
Reactions to this question vary widely. There are some who think it outrageous that sex should enter into the question at all. Just forget about the women. Keep busy and you won’t need to worry.
Others recognize sex as a disturbing factor, but feel it is not too serious. In the old days, sailors made long voyages without women and still managed to perform their duties and bring the ship into port. They admit there was sexual over-indulgence soon after the sailors got on shore, but that was only to be expected. The remark heard most often is that the men turn to homosexualism and auto-eroticism during extended voyages.
None of these answers meets the problem squarely. They either side-step the issue or suggest some degrading compromise solution.
Richardson’s solution to the problem of loneliness for astronaut men sailing towards Mars is rather offensive, proposing that women tag along as sex objects with a mission to serve the crew (and take dictation when necessary).
In our expedition to Mars, let our healthy young males take along some healthy young females to serve as their sexual partners. (Of course it would also help if they could operate a radio transmitter and take dictation.) These women would accompany them quite openly for this purpose. There would be no secrecy about this. There would be nothing dishonorable about their assignment. They would be women of the kind we ordinarily speak of as “nice girls.”
“But then they wouldn’t be nice girls any more!” people will object.
Judged by the arbitrary standards of our present social reference system, they certainly would not. But in our new social reference system they would be nice girls. Or rather, the girls would be the same, but our way of thinking about them would be different.
It is possible that ultimately the most important result of space travel will be not what we discover upon the planets, but rather the changes that our widening outlook will effect upon our way of thinking. Will men and women bold enough to venture into space feel that they are still bound by often artificial and outmoded conventions of behavior prevalent upon a planet fifty million miles behind them ? May not men and women upon another world develop a social reference system — shocking as judged by us on earth today — but entirely “moral” according to extra-terrestrial standards?
This last bit of speculation — of proposing that on other planets people may develop their own set of cultural and moral standards by which to judge sexual activity — would certainly be an interesting discussion to have, if it weren’t predicated on the notion that women would necessarily be secretaries and sex objects acting at the pleasure of the all-male astronaut crew.
As far as we know, no one has yet had sex in space. But when they inevitably do, I suspect neither party will need to supplement their astronautic duties by taking dictation.
October 15, 2012
This is the fourth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The fourth episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on October 14, 1962 and was titled “The Coming of Astro.”
After Elroy brings home a dog and convinces his mother Jane to let him keep it, the family makes their case for getting a dog to George over the videophone. George isn’t too keen on getting a dog, but wants to keep the peace within his family.
George consults the company computer to figure out what he should do about his family’s desire for a dog. The computer suggests an electronic dog, which George sees as a wonderful solution since it has benefits like, “no feeding, no bathing, no fleas.” George makes his way to the local pet shop and buys a dog named ‘Lectronimo, a nuclear-powered pet with a penchant for biting thieves. Upon arriving home with his pushy pooch, George discovers that the family already has a dog named Astro — the flesh and blood puppy that Elroy brought home. George pits Astro against the robot dog in various doggie aptitude tests to determine which dog the Jetson family will keep. In the end, the Jetsons of course choose to keep Astro and donate their nuclear-powered electronic dog to the police force.
Naturally, the robot dog predates The Jetsons’ representation of the mechanical mutt by many decades. The oldest “electric dog” that I’ve been able to find in my archive comes from the September 1923 issue of Practical Electrics magazine, a hobbyist magazine of the 1920s. The cover shows a man leading an “electric dog” by a cane while a woman and boy look on.
The accompanying article explained how to make your own electric dog. The magnetic cane directs movement, but the electric dog is actually self-propelled, as you can see from the illustration below.
Just a few years after the Practical Electrics cover, a short item from the Associated Press told of a robot dog in Paris that could follow the directions of its inventor by way of light. From the November 24, 1929 Florence Morning News in Florence, South Carolina:
A robot dog that walks and barks is amusing Paris. Selenium cells in the eyes actuate motors that turn little wheels in the paws and a horn supplies the bark.
A flashlight directed at the eyes controls the various mechanisms. Held to one side, so one eye gets more light than the other, the paw-wheels on the opposite side move, causing the dog to follow the light. If both eyes are illuminated equally the dog advances straight forward.
An increase in the light causes barking.
In contrast, ‘Lectronimo’s barking appears to be caused by a “robber’s mask” which naturally, every robber of the future wears.
There’s no denying that ‘Lectronimo was clearly inspired by a robotic dog named Sparko, built by Westinghouse engineers in 1940.
Sparko was built after the massive success of another Westinghouse robot named Elektro, which took the 1939 New York World’s Fair by storm. At 65 pounds and about two feet tall, Sparko was built as Elektro’s best friend. And like Elektro, there were many variations of him (three by some counts) used by Westinghouse in the 1940s and ’50s for various promotional purposes. After his appearance at the 1940 New York World’s Fair it’s likely Sparko took a break from promotional activities on account of WWII. But Sparko came back with a vengeance after the war, helping Elektro and Westinghouse hawk as many washers, dryers and refrigerators as possible.
When Sparko came out of semi-retirement after WWII he was used to promote appliances at home and garden shows and retail outlets all across the U.S. The photo below comes from the May 26, 1951 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ads would run in various newspapers, explaining the imminent arrival of Elektro and Sparko. The ad below comes from the July 25, 1956 Port Angeles Evening Times in Port Angeles, Washington and claims that if you correctly guess the number of feet of wire in Elektro and Sparko you’ll win a free Westinghouse dryer.
The robot dog so many Americans had come to know in Sparko is shown to exist in the Jetsons world, but is ultimately rejected. In an effort to make the show relatable — to allow the people of 1962 to project themselves into the future along with the Jetson family — we spend most of the series not with robo-dogs but with Astro, a goofy and lovable dog that’s far more sympathetic than a cold metal canine. Like so many of the implicit promises of the Jetsons universe, this was an assurance to viewers of the 1960s that some wonderful technological changes would take place a hundred years hence, but your favorite cuddly things (like the family dog) will still be intact.
If Astro’s voice sounds familiar to another famous cartoon dog, that’s probably because Astro was voiced by Don Messick who would later do the voice of Scooby-Doo.
Today, there are a number of different people studying the way in which we interact with robotic pets. A 2004 study in Australia looked at the way that children and adults interacted with Sony’s robot dog Aibo. They found that children saw the robot dog as a pet first, and a machine second; whereas adults saw the inverse — a machine that happens to be a pet.
DARPA’s development of “pack mules” (which years ago they used to call “dogs) may point to the kind of dexterity that future robot pets could exhibit. But for now, robotic pets aren’t yet a reality for most families. Maybe that’s because the technology isn’t quite yet advanced or “lifelike” enough. Or maybe that’s because the Jetsons promised us Astro, not ‘Lectronimo.