March 20, 2013
This is the 22nd in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 22nd episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 24, 1963, and was titled “Private Property.”
Like many that would come before it, this episode of “The Jetsons” centers around the business rivalry between Mr. Spacely and Mr. Cogswell. However, a short scene from the episode featuring Judy and Jane is far more interesting for our purposes than two middle-aged cartoon men yelling at each other about where their property lines begin and end.
Jane and George have tickets to go to a play titled My Space Lady, a reference to the 1950s Broadway musical hit My Fair Lady. In order to determine what to wear to the play, Judy employs a rather Jetsonian method of trying on clothes.
“What are you wearing to the show tonight, Mother?” Judy asks.
“Well, Judy I can’t make up my mind,” Jane replies.
Judy suggests turning on the “dress selector” in order to find an appropriate outfit for the show.
“Oh we need the facsimile image! It’s the second button from the top, Judy.”
A screen descends from the ceiling in front of Jane and Judy pushes a button to turn on the dress selector projection machine. But when it comes to dresses Jane has is very discerning. “No, not this one, early Galaxy simply isn’t in vogue this season,” she says.
Another dress is projected onto her body. “Ooh, isn’t that a Christian Di-Orbit, mother?” Judy asks in a 21st century nod to mid-20th century French fashion designer Christian Dior.
“Yes, but I wore it at the ballet last month,” Jane replies.
With yet another switch, Jane decides on a dress with the projected image moving along with her arms in perfect synchronization.
In the 1993 AT&T concept video “Connections” we see a similar scenario play out as the one that would precede it by 30 years on “The Jetsons.” In this case, a woman and her daughter are shopping for a wedding dress. The daughter visits her mom at work and they proceed to “go shopping” by dialing in to Colton’s National Bridal Service.
The service asks the daughter to authorize her electronic mannequin, which brings up an animated avatar of her in a simple white tunic and heels. They can then flip through the different possibilities in wedding dresses, customizing features as they see fit while being able to see what it looks like on her body.
Here in the year 2013, we seem ever closer to that Jetsonian vision of choosing outfits. A number of clothing websites now let you “try on” clothes in a virtual fitting room, while shopping malls are also installing machines that allow you to find your size by way of sizing kiosks. Yesterday I walked down to Culver City’s Westfield mall and tried out their Me-Ality sizing machine.
I began by giving the attendant working the booth my name, birthdate, zip code, and email. Stepping into the booth feels a bit like the TSA’s backscatter “naked” x-ray machines, though the young woman working there assured me theirs is different (read: less cancer-causing?) technology. After a 10-second scan (again, which feels exactly like an airport backscatter scan with its swoopy arm buzzing in front of me) I exit the booth and am shown a computer screen which lists various types of clothing. Touching each button category (jeans, sweaters, etc) brings up stores that may have clothes in my size.
As the Huffington Post notes, the free clothes sizing scan from Me-Ality comes at a cost. Not only is your information shared with retailers, Me-Ality also sells all of the data to researchers and marketers, since it “collects information about the precise heights, weights and body mass indexes of the shoppers who use it, from which it can also determine health risk factors.”
As far as we can tell, Jane Jetson never had her body mass index, email and zip code sold to market research folk. But welcome to the retail future.
March 18, 2013
Many of us here in the 21st century like to think of the newspaper as this static institution. We imagine that the newspaper was born many generations ago and until very recently, thrived without much competition. Of course this is wildly untrue. The role of the newspaper in any given community has always been in flux. And the form that the newspaper of the future would take has often been uncertain.
In the 1920s it was radio that was supposed to kill the newspaper. Then it was TV news. Then it was the Internet. The newspaper has evolved and adapted (remember when TV news killed the evening edition newspaper?) and will continue to evolve for many decades to come.
Visions of what newspapers might look like in the future have been varied throughout the 20th century. Sometimes they’ve taken the form of a piece of paper that you print at home, delivered via satellite or radio waves. Other times it’s a multimedia product that lives on your tablet or TV. Today we’re taking a look at just a few of the newspapers from the futures that never were.
Knight Ridder’s Newspaper Tablet (1994)
The newspaper tablet of the future was demonstrated in a 1994 concept video released by Knight Ridder. I found the video over at the Open Video Project back in 2007 and wrote a short blog post about it. I’m sure glad I didn’t make any snarky comments about how this whole tablet thing was never going to happen because as we know, the iPad would emerge less than three years later.
Back in 2011, a judge in the Apple vs. Samsung patent battle made note of this video as possible prior art which could invalidate some of Apple’s iPad patents. However, last year an appeals court found that the Knight Ridder concept tablet couldn’t be considered prior art and that Apple’s patent claims were significantly different enough.
From the Knight Ridder video:
Let’s take a closer look at the Information Design Lab’s vision of the electronic newspaper of the future. On first glance, it looks just like a printed newspaper. In fact, you can browse stories and turn pages just as you would on paper. But if a story interests you, you can read it more deeply. Suppose this story about Bosnia catches your attention. Just touch the text and the full story appears. What you read is no longer limited to the physical constraints of the printing press and production process. A story is edited for content and completeness, not for newshole.
And the tablet newspaper extends communication beyond the written word. Touch the map and it comes alive, using the tools of sound and animation to tell the story.
Philco-Ford’s Newspaper Printer (1967)
We recently looked at an episode of the CBS show “The 21st Century,” hosted by Walter Cronkite titled, “At Home, 2001.” Originally airing on March 12, 1967, the show took viewers of the late 1960s to the futuristic world of the year 2001. In the future, news would be delivered by a satellite feed and stories could be printed out at the touch of a button.
This console provides a summary of news relayed by satellite from all over the world. Now to get a newspaper copy for permanent reference I just turn this button, and out it comes. When I’ve finished catching up on the news I might check the latest weather. This same screen can give me the latest report on the stocks I might own.
You might recognize this newspaper printer from another concept video from 1967 by Philco-Ford called 1999 A.D.
Back to the Future II (1989)
In Back to the Future II‘s futuristic world of 2015 they have hoverboards, flying cars and instant-dry jackets. But the newspaper’s physical presence looks pretty identical to that of 1989. The form and function hasn’t changed, but futurist jokes about everything unhealthy being good for you (think steak being healthy in Woody Allen’s Sleeper) is shown with this below the fold headline: “Cholesterol May Be Cancer Cure.”
RCA’s Newspapers by Radio (1930s, ’40s)
In the 1930s and ’40s a surprisingly large number of newspapers and broadcasters (sometimes owned by the same company) were experimenting with newspaper delivery by radiowaves. The idea was that unused radio spectrum could be licensed to deliver newspapers at night via “radio facsimile.” These “radio faxpapers” would be printed in the home while everyone was sleeping. The family would wake up to a freshly printed newspaper without a paperboy ever having to get his hands stained with ink.
Minority Report (2002)
The newspaper in the 2002 film Minority Report seems to have the size and flexibility of a printed newspaper, but the technological advancement of a web-connected device. Once John Anderton’s (Tom Cruise) becomes a fugitive of pre-crime justice we see a newspaper on public transit that’s interrupted with an animated breaking news special report.
My favorite headline from that newspaper is in the upper right corner of the screen: “$30 Billion approved.” For what, we’re not sure. But you can rest assured that $30 billion has been approved for something somewhere.
L.A. Times Laserjet Printed Newspaper (1988)
The April 3, 1988 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine was dedicated to what Los Angeles might look like in the year 2013. Their predictions included art by Syd Mead and plenty of what you’d expect from late-1980s futurism: fingerprint verification at the ATM, computers in the classroom, smart appliances, and plenty of household robots. The prediction about what the newspaper of the future might look like included printed copy delivered electronically to you by way of the personal computer:
With a barely perceptible click, the Morrow house turns itself on, as it has every morning since the family had it retrofitted with the Smart House system of wiring five years ago. Within seconds, warm air whooshes out of heating ducts in the three bedrooms, while the water heater checks to make sure there’s plenty of hot water. In the kitchen, the coffee maker begins dripping at the same time the oven switches itself on to bake a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls. Next door in the study, the family’s personalized home newspaper, featuring articles on the subjects that interest them, such as financial news and stories about their community, is being printed by laser-jet printer off the home computer — all while the family sleeps.
Jetson’s Televiewer (1962)
In the third episode of “The Jetsons” George sits down to read the newspaper on his Televiewer device. As we’ve seen with videophones in the Jetsons universe, there’s not a lot of consistency around what the various devices are capable of doing. Sometimes a given console will appear to be dedicated to one task (as is often the case with their videophones) but here George appears to be reading on a more generic device that we can assume might also handle broadcast TV.
Pneumatic Tube Delivery (1900)
As we’ve seen in our examination of the midcentury animated TV show “The Jetsons,” the pneumatic tube was thought to be the wave of the future, being installed as a way to deliver goods (and people!) right into our homes. The newspaper may still be of the deadtree variety, but according to the December 24, 1900 issue of the Boston Globe Bostonians of the future would have their paper delivered each morning by tube.
The pneumatic tube service, by the way, will have reached its perfection long before the first half of the new century has flown. It will have become a most important factor in the domestic life of the people which also will have undergone great changes.
Through such tubes a householder will undoubtedly receive his letters, his readymade lunches, his laundry, his morning and evening paper, and even the things he may require from the department store, which will furnish at the touch of a button any essential solid or liquid that can be named.
Blade Runner (1982)
In the 1982 neo-noir film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott, we see the protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) reading a newspaper. The film takes place in the year 2019, but the newspaper looks like it would be right at home in 1982. That is, except for the content. The newspaper headline is difficult to make out, but according to Blade Runner messageboards the headline probably reads: “Farming the Oceans, the Moon, and Antarctica.”
National Newspaper (1900)
At the turn of the 20th century, newspapers were incredibly local. There was no such thing as a nationally focused newspaper like USA Today. But in the December 26, 1900 issue of the New York World, Alfred Harmsworth, the editor of the London Daily Mail, predicted that there would soon be national newspapers.
We are entering the century of combination and centralization. I feel certain that the newspaper of the twentieth century will be drawn into the vortex of combination and centralization. In fact, given the man, the capital, the organization and the occasion, there seems to be no reason why one or two newspapers may not presently dominate great sections of the United States, or almost the whole of Great Britain. In other words, where there are now a multitude of papers — good, bad and indifferent — there will be then one or two great journals.
Neon Newsboy (1937)
Today the street corner newsboy may be relegated to cartoon cliches about young newsies screaming “EXTRA! EXTRA!” all around town to announce breaking news, but back in 1937 newsboys in Philadelphia were outfitted with the wave of the future: neon signs. From the April, 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine:
Newsboys in Philadelphia wear neon signs that flash across their chests the name of the paper they represent. The neon lamp not only has a strong advertising appeal, making it easy to “spot” a newsboy on a crowded street at night, but it protects the boy selling paper in automobile traffic. To be practical, the chest lamp had to be shockproof and operate on a portable battery. The name of the newspaper is made of a single continuous tube of glass, its base imbedded in a plastic substance which protects the tube from shock and breakage. The neon is activated by a battery which gives forty-eight hours service on one cell. A small vibrator changes the direct current to alternating current and a transformer steps up its voltage. Battery, vibrator and transformer are carried in the boy’s apron.
March 14, 2013
This is the 21st in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 21st episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 17, 1963 and was titled “TV or Not TV.”
Much like both “Elroy’s Pal,” and “Elroy’s TV Show,” this episode ostensibly gives viewers another look behind the scenes of television production. George and Astro are involved in a misunderstanding (isn’t that always the way?) where they think they’ve witnessed a robbery. In fact, it was just a TV shoot for “Naked Planet,” a spoof on the late 1950s ABC show “Naked City.” Thinking that mobsters want to snuff him out, George goes into hiding with Astro at Mr. Spacely’s vacation home in the woods.
That vacation home – Mr. Spacely’s “old fishing cabin” — is one of my favorite examples of Jetsonian architecture. Probably because the building bears a striking resemblance to the villain Vandamm ‘s hide-out in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North By Northwest.
Sadly, the home in North by Northwest is not a real house that you can visit, but was instead built on an MGM set.
Both the Jetsons version and the Hitchcock version have the signature of midcentury hyper-modernism or, as it came to be known, Googie: dramatic sloping roofs, plenty of glass, steel, maybe a little plastic, and some stone when you wanted a touch of that comfortable earthy flair.
Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic, has deemed the look “mid-21st century modern” — a play on the term “midcentury modern,” back when the century in question happened to be the 20th.
The architecture from “The Jetsons” clearly takes cues from architects who worked in the midcentury modern/Googie style, like John Lautner and Oscar Niemeyer. Jetsonian architecture also seems to draw from the work of Charles Schridde in his series of ads for Motorola in the early 1960s which ran in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine.
But as I pointed out in my post about Googie architecture from last year, the artists and animators working on “The Jetsons” didn’t really need to leave their own backyards for inspiration. The Hanna-Barbera Studio which produced “The Jetsons” was in Hollywood and in the late 1950s and early 1960s buildings all across Los Angeles had that mid-20th century modern look that would become identified as Jetsonian.
The people working at Hanna-Barbera could find inspiration at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in Anaheim, dozens of Googie coffee shops in Southern California, and maybe the most iconic Googie building in L.A. (if only for its visibility to tourists), the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport.
Another building which clearly inspired the architecture of the Jetsons universe was the Chemosphere. Designed by John Lautner and built in 1960, the home looks like it could take off into the sky like a flying saucer at any moment. The Chemosphere sits in the Hollywood Hills and has been an incredibly popular shooting location for films and TV shows that need a futuristic feel — including a 1964 episode of “The Outer Limits” set in the 21st century.
The architecture of the Jetsons is a reflection of the future, but even more so a reflection of that late-1950s and early 1960s Space Age design we so associate with the golden age of futurism. Well, someone’s golden age.
And just as we’ve seen mention of the Jetsons become a kind of shorthand way to talk about the technology of past futures, so too has “that Jetsons look” eclipsed Googie as the descriptor of choice for people talking about architecture from the futures that never were. People may think you’re saying Google, when you mean Googie. But fifty years after its debut, there’s no mistaking the Jetsons landscape.
February 25, 2013
This is the 20th in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
“We may take it for granted that every well-equipped business office will be in direct communication, by means of large-calibred pneumatic tubes, with the nearest post-office. And however rapidly and however frequently the trains or airships of the period may travel, the process of making up van loads of mail matter for despatch to remote centres, and redistribution there, is far too clumsy for what commerce will demand a hundred years hence. No doubt the soil of every civilised country will be permeated by vast networks of pneumatic tubes: and all letters and parcels will be thus distributed at a speed hardly credible to-day.”
-T. Baron Russell, A Hundred Years Hence: The Expectations of an Optimist (1905)
In the 20th episode of “The Jetsons” viewers are treated to a diverse mix of the most Jetsonian of technological wonders. The episode, titled “Miss Solar System,” first aired on February 10, 1963 ,and featured a little bit of everything: videophones, 3D-TV, autonomous cleaning robots, moving sidewalks and pneumatic tubes. But unlike the vertical-lift pneumatic tubes we’ve seen in almost every episode of the series thus far, this episode shows a horizontal pneumatic tube system with multiple points of entry and exit.
In the late 19th century pneumatic tubes were starting to be widely used in department stores, banks and stock exchanges, where small packages and notes could be sent over relatively short distances at a rapid pace. This development was reflected in the futurist fiction of the time, like Edward Bellamy’s influential 1888 novel Looking Backward.
The technology even evolved to sometimes include home mail service and on a much larger scale, pneumatic train transportation. But needless to say, unlike the world of “The Jetsons,” the pneumatic tube doesn’t work so well in the real world as a transportation device for a human unprotected from the dangers of the tube itself.
In the Jetsons universe, the pneumatic tube is a high-speed substitute for the elevator, where stepping into the tube instantly transports someone to another floor. But on occasion the movement is lateral, like in the sequence below.
Like virtually every technology we see in The Jetsons, this futuristic idea had origins elsewhere. By the early 1960s, some organizations were touting this idea of sending people through pneumatic tubes. In 1960, the American Petroleum Institute gazed into its crystal ball and made some predictions on “Petroleum’s 2nd Century.” From the February 7, 1960 Hammond Times in Indiana: “The [American Petroleum Institute] cited, as a long-range possibility, the movement of such diverse items as turpentine, fruit juices and milk through pipelines the way petroleum travels today. Even people might be transported the way sales slips and payments are delivered by pneumatic tube in department stores.”
Of course, this human projectile pneumatic tube system has yet to become a reality here in the 21st century.
This episode may be the most Jetsonian of the entire series: while it’s ostensibly about the relationship between Jane and George — the give and take of marriage and how we treat family — each of the dozen or so technologies that viewers are promised are sprinkled about; the future tech masquerading as scenery while they’re in fact the star of the show.
February 19, 2013
This is the 19th in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
“Yesterday, I worked two full hours!” George Jetson complains.
“Well, what does Spacely think he’s running? A sweatshop!?!?” Jane replies.
The 19th episode of “The Jetsons” first aired on February 3, 1963, and was titled “G.I. Jetson.” The episode begins with George having a nightmare about his tyrannical boss, Mr. Spacely. Apparently Mr. Spacely thinks he can get away with forcing people to work what’s considered inhumane hours in the year 2063 — two whole hours a day!
As we’ve seen time and again, this idea of a push-button future of leisure that would ultimately result in considerably fewer working hours was not only a Jetsonian staple — it was a mainstream assumption made by even the most conservative of prognosticators. The idea that the push-button would dramatically reduce the average American’s workload was a given, it was only a question of how quickly it would happen and how we’d occupy all of this new free time. By the year 2000, advances in automation were supposed to give us an average workweek of 30 or maybe even 20 hours. Maybe we wouldn’t even have to work at all.
This world of little to no work would have its effect on the home and transportation of the future, but it would also impact jobs often considered the most back-breaking — like those in the armed services.
During “G.I. Jetson” George learns via tele-tape (delivered by Western Universe) that he must report for two weeks of training in the United States Space Guard. For a moment, George thinks that this will at least give him some respite from seeing his loathsome boss every day. But, of course, it’s never that simple. Mr. Spacely is also called up for the U.S. Space Guard and pretty soon they’re off to Camp Nebula together.
Once George, Henry, Spacely and the rest of the crew arrive at Camp Nebula poor George and Henry discover that they’ll be working hard. At least by 21st century standards.
“I don’t know about you Henry but all this manual labor has me worn out,” George whines to Henry.
“I don’t know if I can take two weeks of this… oh boy!” Henry concurs.
With an army of robots at our disposal, the exhausting work of the past might very well be replaced by the tedium of the future. That is, unless our definition of hard work changes.
But lest you think this vision of push-button electrical servants has its origins in the 20th century, take a look at some visions of the year 2000 from 19th-century France. There are conflicting reports of where and why these illustrations were created. But I’m inclined to believe Isaac Asimov, who wrote an entire book about them in 1986 titled Futuredays: Nineteenth-Century Vision of the Year 2000. According to Asimov these illustrations were created by Jean Marc Cote in 1899 who was commissioned to produced them for a series of cigarette cards. The company that was intending to release them supposedly went out of business, leaving just one set of cards.
I can’t speak to the veracity of these claims, but lining them up next to stills from “The Jetsons,” we can yet again see that this midcentury cartoon didn’t invent the promise of push-button leisure.
Uniblab makes a return appearance in this episode and this deceitful robot is up to all his old tricks. By the end of the episode, George and Henry are yet again sabotaging Uniblab, causing Mr. Spacely a considerable amount of stress and damage to his reputation. And much like the lesson of the 10th episode, viewers are left to decide if the automatons of tomorrow are more foe than friend. Especially when they still make you slave away for two whole hours a day.