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:
“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.