February 27, 2013
The February 1989 issue of Life magazine predicted that, by the year 2000, many staples of modern American life might find themselves on the scrapheap of history. Life predicted that by the year 2000 people would need to say goodbye to everything from film (pretty much) to all-male clergy in the Catholic church (not so much).
Bid ta-ta to LPs, fur coats and sugar. Toodle-oo to checkbooks, oil and swimming in the ocean. Happy trails to privacy, porno theaters and who knows, maybe even Democrats. It’s not just animals and vegetation that are departing the planet (currently one species every 15 minutes). With them goes, for better or worse, any number of the tangibles and intangibles now taken for granted. Gathered here are the contents of an as-yet-unburied time capsule dedicated to impending obsolescence. So should auld acquaintance be forgot…
The predictions are especially interesting in that they were made shortly before the birth of the modern web and the mid-1990s flood of non-tech types getting online. What then will bring about the decline of the mailman? The magazine insists that it’s not email, but the fax machine.
A few of the things that Life said you’d “Say goodbye to…”
The Red Cent
“The extinction of penny candy along with the high cost of copper have made the life expectancy of this coin not worth a plugged nickel.”
On February 4, Canada stopped putting their penny into circulation. They joined the likes of Australia, Norway and Sweden among others, but there’s no indication that Americans will be rid of Lincoln’s copper face anytime soon.
Water from faucets
“Play taps for this kind of H2O, which pollution will make unfit to drink.”
Bottled water is a $22 billion industry, with many people believing that it’s safer than tap water. But given the 1.5 million tons of plastic used to make those disposable bottles, it’s taking quite a toll on the environment.
“Using microchips, proud grandparents threaten to store thousands of images on portable show-and-tell miniscreens.”
Life‘s prediction about the death of film was pretty spot-on. The interesting detail that they missed: those “portable show-and-tell miniscreens” would also be know as phones.
“Fed up with C rations, Americans want fresh food. No word yet from the nation’s pampered pets.”
Here in the 21st century, farmer’s markets and fresh produce are more in vogue than meal pills and canned food. But what are we supposed to stock our zombie apocalypse bunkers with?
“A database owned by the phone company will feed every home with 5,000-plus movies — some worth watching — via optical fibers.”
Sure, your local video store may be shuttered, and you may even watch movies on your phone, but it’s not just the phone company that’s controlling the vast database of content you’re watching. Netflix, Redbox and iTunes have been absolutely devastating the business of Blockbusters everywhere.
“Invest your money in diaper services because the environment is crying for a change.”
The disposable diaper industry has shown no signs of slowing down in the 21st century, with about 3.6 million tons of diapers dumped into American landfills each year, making up about 2.1% of municipal waste.
“Not snow nor rain nor sleet stays these couriers, but the fax will.”
With the end of Saturday postal service coming this August, there’s no question that the USPS is struggling. But it certainly wasn’t the fax machine that made deadtree letters an endangered species. The people who knew what electronic mail was in 1989 were few and far between.
“Say ahh. Fluoridation and good oral hygiene will root out cavities.”
While oral hygiene has improved over the course of the last century, you’d be mistaken if you think it’s because fewer people are going to the dentist.
“The handwriting is on the wall. For security, we’ll no longer sign checks and documents. Instead fingerprints, read by an electronic eye, will serve as ID.”
We certainly seem to be moving in this direction, but you’re likely still scribbling your John Hancock on everything from credit card receipts to digital FedEx package scanners.
Plugs and Switches
“Voice-activated appliances and electronics with self-contained energy sources will be set to play from the word go.”
Nothing says late 20th century futurism quite like voice-activated control of everything. But until Siri and her robot friends work out the bugs (and maybe we feel less stupid shouting at our machines), it has quite a ways to go before it becomes a ubiquitous technology.
“Competition from cable and entertainment systems catering to highly individual tastes may deliver a TKO to television’s Big Three.”
The Big Three television networks have seen a decreasing market share since 1989, but they’re certainly alive and kicking here in the 21st century as they still have some of the largest budget shows and still host many of the live events (Academy Awards, Super Bowl) that are impervious to time shifting.
“As capitalist tools shore up the state, the U.S.S.R. will retire Lenin.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall wouldn’t happen until November of that year, though it’d be hard to call Communism in the 21st century completely dead. But even China’s Communist Party—though still 80 million members strong—has embraced its own version of quasi-capitalism.
“The lagoon city may be going, going, gondola as water and air pollution erode its functions.”
Venice is still a city, but with scary weather like the flooding this past November there’s no telling how much longer that may be the case.
“Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of this vanishing species.”
Life may not have seen the internet revolution that was just over the horizon, but at least they understood that typewriters were on their way out.
“Plastic cards that open electronic locks (although they work only erratically in today’s hotels) will also show up at the front doors of homes and offices.”
With all the attention being paid recently to the vulnerability of hotel keycards, it’s unlikely many of us will be trusting our front doors to those magnetic strips anytime soon.
“For heaven’s sake, anything can happen, even at the Vatican.”
Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public address as Pope today, but despite a change of leadership, it’s unlikely the Catholic church will be ordaining women as priests in the near future.
Life had a few hits, and more than a few misses. But in a cruelly ironic twist Life didn’t predict yet another event of the year 2000… its own demise as a monthly magazine.
September 19, 2012
It was 50 years ago this coming Sunday that the Jetson family first jetpacked their way into American homes. The show lasted just one season (24 episodes) after its debut on Sunday September 23, 1962, but today “The Jetsons” stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism. More episodes were later produced in the mid-1980s, but it’s that 24-episode first season that helped define the future for so many Americans today.
It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future. And it’s for this reason that, starting this Friday, I’ll begin to explore the world of “The Jetsons” one episode at a time. Each week I’ll look at a new episode from the original 1962-63 series, beginning with the premiere episode, “Rosey the Robot.”
Five decades after its debut, not a day goes by that someone isn’t using “The Jetsons” as a way to talk about the fantastic technological advancements we’re seeing today. Or conversely, evidence of so many futuristic promises that remain unfulfilled. Just look at a handful of news stories from the past few days:
- In fashion. (“Who better than the Jetsons to be inspired by for an out of space theme?”)
- Johnny Depp talks about the West Memphis Three emerging from prison after nearly two decades. ( ”By the time you came out, it’s ‘The Jetsons.’ It’s a whole ‘nother world.”)
- James Cameron talks about the future of interactive movies. (“There might be a certain amount of interactivity, so when you look around, it creates that image wherever you look,” Cameron says. He concedes it is far off: “You’re talking ‘Jetsons’ here.”)
- The future of cars, as depicted at the Los Angeles Auto Show. (“Considering that 2025 is only 13 years away, you would think that nobody’s going to go ‘Jetsons’ with their presentation, but the LAASDC doesn’t roll like that.”)
- The sound of kitschy futurism in modern music. (“Silencio allows Sadier’s various musical influences to breathe and linger, without being upstaged by the motorik propulsion, and ‘Jetsons’ kitsch, of the Stereolab formula.”)
Thanks to my Google Alerts for words and phrases like Jetsons, Minority Report, utopia, dystopia, Blade Runner, Star Trek, apocalypse and a host of others, I’ve been monitoring the way that we talk about the future for years. And no point of reference has been more popular and varied as a symbol of tomorrowism than “The Jetsons.”
Golden Age of Futurism
“The Jetsons” was the distillation of every Space Age promise Americans could muster. People point to “The Jetsons” as the golden age of American futurism because (technologically, at least) it had everything our hearts could desire: jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, moving sidewalks. But the creators of “The Jetsons” weren’t the first to dream up these futuristic inventions. Virtually nothing presented in the show was a new idea in 1962, but what “The Jetsons” did do successfully was condense and package those inventions into entertaining 25-minute blocks for impressionable, media-hungry kids to consume.
And though it was “just a cartoon” with all the sight gags and parody you’d expect, it was based on very real expectations for the future. As author Danny Graydon notes in The Jetsons: The Official Cartoon Guide, the artists drew inspiration from futurist books of the time, including the 1962 book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach (who envisioned such breakthroughs as ultrasonic dishwashers and instant language translators). The designers also drew heavily from the Googie aesthetic of southern California (where the Hanna-Barbera studios were located)—a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity.
The years leading up to “The Jetsons” premiere in September 1962 were a mix of techo-utopianism and Cold War fears. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1957 created great anxiety in an American public that already had been whipped up into a frenzy about the Communist threat. In February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, but less than a year earlier the Bay of Pigs fiasco raised tensions between the superpowers to a dangerous level. Americans seemed equally optimistic and terrified for the future.
I spoke over the phone with Danny Graydon, the London-based author of the official guide to “The Jetsons.” Graydon explained why he believed the show resonated with so many Americans in 1962: “It coincided with this period of American history when there was a renewed hope — the beginning of the ’60s, sort of pre-Vietnam [protests], when Kennedy was in power. So there was something very attractive about the nuclear family with good honest values thriving well into the future. I think that chimed with the zeitgeist of the American culture of the time.”
Where’s My Jetpack?
As Graydon points out, “The Jetsons” was a projection of the model American family into the future. The world of ”The Jetsons” showed people with very few concerns about disrupting the status quo politically or socially, but instead showed a technologically advanced culture where the largest concern of the middle class was getting “push-button finger.”
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. Essentially every kid in America (and many internationally) saw the series on constant repeat during Saturday morning cartoons throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone (including my own mom) seems to ask me, “How could it have been around for only 24 episodes? Did I really just watch those same episodes over and over again?” Yes, yes you did.
But it’s just a cartoon, right? So what if today’s political and social elite saw ”The Jetsons” a lot? 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.
This nostalgia for the futurism of yesteryear has very real consequences for the way that we talk about ourselves as a nation. So many people today talk about how divided we are as a country and that we no longer dream “like we used to.” But when we look at things like public approval of the Apollo space program in the 1960s, those myths of national unity begin to dissolve. Public approval of funding for the Apollo program peaked at 53 percent (around the first moon landing) but pretty much hovered between 35-45 percent for most of the 1960s. Why is there a misconception today about Americans being more supportive of the space program? Because an enormous generation called Baby Boomers were kids in the 1960s; kids playing astronaut and watching shows like “The Jetsons”; kids who were bombarded with images of a bright, shiny future and for whom the world was much simpler because they saw everything through the eyes of a child.
Why Only One Season?
If ”The Jetsons” is so important and resonated with so many viewers, then why was the show canceled after just one season (though it was revived in the 1980s)? I’ve spoken to a number of different people about this, but I haven’t heard anyone mention what I believe to be the most likely reason that “The Jetsons” wasn’t renewed for a second season: color. Or, more accurately, a lack of color. ”The Jetsons” was produced and broadcast in color, but in 1962 less than 3 percent of American households had a color television set. In fact, it wasn’t until 1972 that 50 percent of American households had a color TV.
The Jetsons’ future is bright; it’s shiny; and it’s in color. But most people watching on Sunday nights obviously didn’t see it like that. The immersive world of “The Jetsons” looks far more flat and unengaging in black and white. And unlike the other network shows it was up against on Sunday nights (which was in most markets “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on NBC and “Car 54 Where Are You?” on CBS) “The Jetsons” suffered disproportionately more from being viewed in black and white.
NBC also had an incumbent advantage. If you’d made “Walt Disney’s Wonderful of Color” appointment viewing for the past year (Disney jumped ship from ABC to NBC in 1961 where they not only began broadcasting in color, but added “color” to the name) it’s unlikely you’d switch your family over to an unknown cartoon entity. “The Jetsons” was the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC, but it was still up to individual affiliates as to whether the show would be broadcast in color. According to the September 23, 1962 New York Times only people with access to ABC’s owned-and-operated stations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles were guaranteed to see the show broadcast in color—provided you owned a color set.
I’ve takens some screenshots from the DVD release of the first season to show just how dramatic a difference color can make with a show like this.
There’s also this promo from 1962, which gives us a taste of what “The Jetsons” looked like devoid of color. It’s bizarre for those of us who grew up on “The Jetsons” to see their fantastical world reduced to black and white:
There are a lot of “what-ifs” in “The Jetsons” universe that may have had substantial bearing on politicians, policymakers and the average American today. If we accept that media has an influence on the way that we view culture, and our own place in the future—as “The Jetsons” seems to ask us to do—we have to ask ourselves how our expectations might have changed with subtle tweaks to the Jetson story. What if George took a flying bus or monorail instead of a flying car? What if Jane Jetson worked outside of the home? What if the show had a single African-American character? These questions are impossible to answer, of course, but they’re important to recall as we examine this show that so dramatically shaped our understanding of tomorrow.
1985 and Beyond
Obviously the 1985-87 reboot of “The Jetsons” TV show played an important role in carrying the futuristic toon torch, but it’s in many ways an entirely different animal. The animation simply has a different feel and the storylines are arguably weaker, though I certainly remember watching them along with the original reruns when I was a kid in the 1980s. There were also movies produced—1990′s The Jetsons was released theatrically and the made-for-TV movie crossover The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones first aired in 1987. But for our purposes, we’ll just be exploring the first season and its immediate influence during the American Space Age. With talk of a live-action Jetsons movie in the works, it will be interesting to see how a revamped Jetsons might play today.
A few style notes that I’ll get out of the way:
- I spell Rosey the way it appeared in merchandise of the 1960s. Yes, you’ll sometimes see it spelled “Rosie” in video games and comics of the 1980s, but since our focus is the first season I’m sticking with Rosey.
- The show never mentions “within world” what year the Jetson family is living, but for our purposes we’ll assume it to be 2062. Press materials and newspapers of 1962 mention this year, even though the characters only ever say “21st century” during the first season of the show.
- Orbitty is from the 1980s reboot of The Jetsons. Orbitty, a pet alien, is essentially the Jar-Jar Binks of the Jetsons’ world and you probably won’t see me mention him again.
Meet George Jetson
The Jetsons, of course, represents a nostalgia for the future; but perhaps more oddly, it still represents the future to so many people who grew up with it. I’m excited to get started on this project and welcome your comments throughout this process, especially if you have vivid memories of the show from when you were a kid. I know I certainly do — I turned it into my career!
Update: The first paragraph of this post was revised to clarify that more episodes of “The Jetsons” were produced in the 1980s.
July 19, 2012
Last week Geeta Dayal over at Wired published portions of a very cool 32-page program for the 1927 futuristic film Metropolis. The program is for sale at a rare book shop in London and seeing the blog post reminded me of an article in one of my magazines from 1927. It took me a little while to find (most of my archive is a terribly disorganized mess) but I finally found the magazine I was looking for — the June 1927 issue of Science and Invention.
The magazine featured a two-page spread titled, ”Metropolis—A Movie Based On Science,” with photographs and illustrations depicting how the movie’s cutting-edge effects were achieved. The use of miniatures, sparks of electricity with forced perspective and television-telephones are all explained in illustrations credited to “Bate.”
The creation of Metropolis and its many versions is a fascinating story. Director Fritz Lang‘s original cut of Metropolis was a financial flop and appeared in German theaters for only four months before it was pulled and recut. The film premiered in Germany but was actually released to American theaters before it received a wide German release. Strangely, American audiences never saw Fritz Lang’s edit of the film, since Paramount (the film’s American distributor) preemptively edited their version of the film. If you get a chance, I highly recommend that you check out the 2010 documentary Voyage to Metropolis, about the many different versions of this film and its ultimate restoration in 2008 to an “original” version after the discovery of an old 16mm version of the film in Buenos Aires. The Buenos Aires version is believed to be the closest to the original, with over 25 minutes more than any previously known edit, and Metropolis was released theatrically in 2010 with these additional (if badly scratched) scenes added. I got to see the new cut two summers ago when it screened in Minneapolis and it really is gorgeous.
Just as different versions of this film are constantly resurfacing all around the world, I suspect different promotional materials — be they programs, magazines articles or movie posters — will continue to captivate historians and film fans hoping to learn more about how this classic piece of futurism was originally filmed and promoted. In the case of this Science and Invention article the film was promoted to an audience interested in how science would be used in movie effects of the future.
The illustration above, which shows the use of miniatures in the Metropolis city of tomorrow, is explained in the magazine spread:
The miniature set which was used in the filming of this remarkable motion picture. Toy trains and automobiles were pulled along the bridges by means of wires. The airplanes were suspended by a wire which was pulled by an operator outside of the set. At times full size lower stories were used, the image of the upper stories being reflected in a mirror to blend with them.
The magazine explained right down to the voltage how sparks were produced, creating a dystopian atmosphere for those working. In order to make the giant coils on the right appear to have sparks jumping between them, forced perspective was used with the sparks little more than a couple of feet in front of the camera.
The effect of sparks jumping about the machines was produced by placing a small high frequency apparatus near the camera as shown above. In the finished picture the sparks seemed to jump from the two huge coils placed on either side of the mechanism.
The illustration above explains how the magnificent glowing effects were produced using electricity and Geissler tubes.
The spectacular scene in the scientist’s laboratory. A weird effect was obtained by forcing compressed air through a closed tube containing liquid and illuminated by a lamp placed at the bottom.
Also discussed is the television phone. As the illustration above shows, a movie projector is used to make it appear as if two people are having a conversation. We’ve looked at the evolving definition of television many times on this blog, and it’s interesting to see that this article uses the term “television apparatus,” without mentioning the word telephone once. Before television was ever realized as a broadcast medium (and it would be decades after Metropolis was released), television was often envisioned as a point-to-point rather than broadcast technology.
Of course the city of the future would have all the inventions of which we dream today. The recently perfected television apparatus, is in common use. By using it, those who converse may also at the same time see the other party.
The illustration above shows, “A sectional view of ‘Metropolis,’ the city of the future,” with the Capitalist’s City above, power production rooms in the middle and the Workmen’s Underground Homes below.
The article illustrates how actors were moved through, “The maw of the huge machine which ruthlessly destroys body and soul.”
The illustration above shows how the “concentric rings of light which played about the manikin were hand operated” and gave the illusion that they were floating.
The last illustration in the two-page spread shows the destruction of the “Workman’s City,” which is again shot in miniature.
A small set was used and water, forced through pipes, was directed through the sides of the buildings and down from above. Pipes placed at street level ejected water in a geyser-like effect.
Aesthetically, Metropolis went on to influence countless other films about the future — from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, to the design of the robot C3PO in the Star Wars franchise.
April 30, 2012
A couple of weeks ago audiences at the Coachella music festival got to see Tupac perform live (NSFW language), despite the fact that he’s been dead for fifteen years. Countless websites have already dissected why the technology used to create this “Tupac hologram” isn’t actually a hologram, but rather a Pepper’s Ghost effect that dates back to the mid-19th century, so I won’t get into that. But the other fascinating element to this story is the fact that we can now RESURRECT OUR FAVORITE ENTERTAINERS FROM THE DEAD.
Bringing back popular entertainers was the promise of the future in the 1980s and ’90s. As computer graphics improved in the 1980s (with movies like Tron) and then in the 1990s (with movies like Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Jurassic Park) people imagined that actors like Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and even a Laurence Olivier/Abraham Lincoln mash-up would be able to star in the computer-enhanced movies of tomorrow.
Arthur C. Clarke’s 1986 book July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century includes a fictional movie listing for the year 2019:
Still Gone with the Wind. The sequel picks up several years after where the 80-year-old original left off, with Rhett and Scarlett reuniting in their middle age, in 1880. Features the original cast (Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Vivien Leigh) and studio sets resurrected by computer graphic synthesis. Still Gone sets out to prove that they do make ‘em like they used to (Selznick Theater, 2:00 and 8:00 P.M.)
The June, 1987 issue of Omni magazine featured an article by Marion Long, who spoke with six directors to get their ideas for the kinds of movies that they would want to direct in the year 2001. One of the directors that Long spoke to was Susan Seidelman, who in 1987 directed a movie called Making Mr. Right starring John Malkovich.
Seidelman’s hypothetical movie of the year 2001 was called Yankee Doodle Sweetheart, and was imagined as starring Marilyn Monroe, Robert De Niro, Debra Winger and Jimmy Stewart. Marilyn Monroe had been dead for 25 years by the time this article came out, and though Jimmy Stewart didn’t die until 1997, he was still pictured as playing a much more youthful (and completely computer-generated) version of himself. The synopsis of the film is below:
Seidelman electronically recreates Marilyn Monroe. The sex goddess of the Fifties plays a showgirl off to the front lines of a war on a Bob Hope USO tour. In sharp contrast to Monroe’s innocence and naivete stands Debra Winger, a military nurse acutely aware of the horrors of war. But this is Monroe’s story—her coming-of-awareness. Robert De Niro, a Marine sergeant deadened to human emotion, wants one thing: the showgirl. So does his friend, a young recruit, played a computer-simulated Jimmy Stewart. Monroe falls in love with—you’ll have to see the film.
The 1982 book The Omni Future Almanac also imagined even more radical computer creations, being able to include the acting skills of one actor with the appearance of another historical figure:
It is possible that dramatic performances, even actors’ lines, will be altered, via computer synthesis, yielding a perfect first “take” every time. Some actors, specifically character types, might be totally synthesized. One actor’s performance might easily be combined with another person’s distinctive physical look or voice. By using computer synthesis, a director would be able to marry the acting skills of Laurence Olivier to photographic images of Abraham Lincoln.
Marilyn Monroe popped up a number of times in predictions about future movies, which may have had something to do with the fact that she died so young—she was just 36 years old. A 1993 article in the San Francisco Examiner predicted that one day, “dead actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe could be ‘resurrected’ by using computers to generate their visages and act out scenes they never did,” while the following year, Popular Mechanics ran a story that also featured Marilyn Monroe. The March, 1994 issue had an article called “Beyond Jurassic Park,” which predicted a world of resurrected movie stars now that Jurassic Park had shown just how far computer graphics had come.
Marilyn Monroe moves smoothly under a red kimono, and the audience gasps with delight. The scene cuts to Marilyn seated in a swinging trapeze far above the ground. Her face is animated and happy, platinum hair flying in the breeze and her short skirt flipping up over her sleek, attractive thighs.
As in her previous life, nobody really knows this Marilyn. This Marilyn is a computer construct—a proof-of-concept synthetic human actor used to advance the science and art of realistic 3D digital animation.
The 1990s saw TV advertisements wherein Fred Astaire danced with a vacuum cleaner and John Wayne drank beer, long after both had passed away, but it seems the “Tupac hologram” has for those of the 2010s revived interest in the idea that we might see our favorite celebrities perform for us once again.
There’s speculation that Michael Jackson may be next to take the stage from beyond the grave. Or that maybe a digital Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes will allow TLC to reunite. But allow me to be the first to request a “hologram Sheb Wooley.” Because why not, that’s why.
And, what about you? If you were making a computer-enhanced film, who would be in your dream cast of living and dead actors?
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.