The Jetsons: 50 years later

Fifty years ago this week, The Jetsons premiered. It only lasted 24 episodes (not including the mid-1980s "revival"), but it truly embodied the tech optimism of the time. In the world of professional futurism, The Jetsons (like a lot of science fiction) can be a great provocation for discussion. For example, every episode is filled with examples of futuristic tech that never happened, at least in the way that we imagined them in the 1960s. (Roomba vs. Roomba!) Clips of The Jetsons are also a fun way to draw out insights about the history of the future and why certain visions of tomorrow caught on at specific points in history. Over at Paleofuture, Matt Novak is has launched a series of posts titled "50 Years of the Jetsons: Why The Show Still Matters." His introductory post and recap of the first episode ("Rosey the Robot") are fantastic. From Paleofuture:

NewImage“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.

"50 Years of the Jetsons: Why The Show Still Matters"


  1. My favorite episode is where George thinks he’s going to die and signs up to test the indestructible suit. That epitomized the future for me. Indestructible clothing and swallowable diagnosis bots in pill form. A few years ago I swallowed a camera capsule to take photos of my Digestion System all the way through. Thanks to the Jetsons, the Future is Now.

    Violent Femmes: Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah

  2. When I was a kid I watched the Jetsons and marveled that George’s job was just pushing buttons all day. How could they pay somebody to sit in one place and just push buttons all day? That can’t possibly ever happen.
    Yeah, guess what I do for a living now.
    Livin’ in the future people. I WANT MY FLYING CAR DAMMIT

    1. Why do you want a flying car though? Doesn’t that mean you can commute to work faster? That’s just dull! I don’t understand this modern obsession with the predicted future of the 60s/70s which only promised the exact same as people had then but…more – faster commute, more productive, automated kitchen devices etc. Technology went into a far weirder, interesting and socially disruptive direction.

    2. A just machine to make big decisions

      Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

      We’ll be clean when their work is done

      We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young

    1. The women in those cartoons were always beautiful, and the men were always lumps. At least until Bamm-Bamm grew up.

  3. Interesting take on the first episode…but am I the only one who reads Rosie the Robot as the future-equivalent of a wisecracking Black servant in a white middle-class household?  It’s not really something we see today, but had ample precedent in 1960s TV.

    1. I always assumed that she was modeled on Hazel. She speaks almost exactly like Shirley Booth. She even calls George ‘Mr. J’ like Hazel calls her employer ‘Mr. B’.

  4. It’s hard to imagine anything more nauseatingly baby-boomer-esque than sitting around being nostalgic for “The Jetsons” unless it’s arguing that the show was an important cultural artifact.

  5. Jane Jetson was right up there with Alvin Toffler and the top futurists of the 1960s.  And I still think her “buttonitis” is a much better term than, “Repetitive Stress Injury.”

  6. Is there any other 24-episode TV series so remembered?

    I have to admire Hanna-Barbera.  They were determined to stay in the animation biz no matter how many corners they had to cut and somehow they made it work.

    I recall a story told by one of their deputies who said they went to a network meeting to present their new show ideas and got shot down on all of them, so Barbera started making stuff up.

    After the meeting she said “Joe, we just committed to making a show about a pirate ghost with a rock band!”

    “”Yeah…” he said, “but we made the deal!”

    1. “Is there any other 24-episode TV series so remembered?”

      It’s not alone. In the UK, Fawlty Towers is firmly embedded in the mass consciousness (though admittedly only for people aged 30+). It had a run of 12 episodes.

  7. I still remember the episode where Jane gets “buttonitis” from her daily toil of pushing buttons to make things happen all day long. According to IMDB, it’s episode 22, Dude Planet.

     I think at the time i was watching it, I saw the same family as in the Flintstones, just with different costumes. I suppose it’s a matter of time before they make a crappy live action film from it.

  8. As THE studio that killed full animation (the great Chuck Jones called their cartoons “illustrated radio”), was incapable of developing interesting characters on their own so they stole the voices/personas of Jimmy Durante, The Honeymooners (twice for Art Carney- Barney Rubble and Yogi Bear!), Phil Silvers, Andy Griffith, etc. ad nauseum, couldn’t come up with memorable plots or stories so they repeated their banal stories from show to show, used the same crappy stereotype characters and voices (angry boss, clueless male, etc) in every series, reduced the pantheon of cartoon sound effects to 4 or 5 constantly over-used ones, brought cartoon soundtracks from the heights a Carl Stalling achieved to mindless pap, dumbed down the subversive brilliance that was in the Warner’s cartoons and others to an insipid level suitable for instilling mindless complacency in their kiddie audience, gave us the repetitious laugh track so we knew when something was “funny”, and (perhaps worst of all) came up with  “Scooby- Doo”- I have to admit that the retro-future of the Jetsons cartoons is pretty neat.

    1.  There’s a difference between “killing” full animation and merely not doing it.  Full animation lived on in theatrical movies where it had been all along. 

      Television was new territory and not a fertile one for expensive arts like full animation.

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