Prognosticators of how we would live in the future were everywhere in the 1960s. Famous writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as well as the General Motors, Bell Telephone and General Electric exhibits at the 1964 World’s Fair foresaw a world 50 years in the future as a marvel of tall buildings and labor-saving devices. Many of their predictions came true, like the proliferation and ease of instantly communicating with practically anyone on the planet. Several people foresaw the ability we now have — communicating with picture and sound, live, with a device that fits into the palm of our hands. Yet 50 years ago, things like the smartphone and GPS were the stuff of science fiction.
Since the growing popularity of television reflected our culture, visions of the future were bound to appear there, too. Star Trek, of course, presented an optimistic vision where people of all races from all over the galaxy could, for the most part, eventually get along. The Jetsons offered a way-out future of gadgets, talking robots and flying cars for the average Space-Age family. Ironically, several of the futuristic visions seen on The Jetsons are now reality.
By contrast, in The Flintstones (1960-66), boomer families saw a mirror of their own lives. It’s been said that The Flintstones was to 1960s America what The Honeymooners was to the 1950s. The show’s opening song spelled it out, that the Flintstones were a “modern Stone Age family.” Time-saving and labor-saving devices in the 1960s were part of our middle class, modern lifestyle. Those clever folks at Hanna-Barbera reverse-engineered “modern” 1960s devices and developed a counterpart in Stone Age Bedrock. No matter that many of these devices — like radio, television, the car and more, had been around for decades before the 1960s. It is, however, worth remembering that the tipping point for more households having TVs than not didn’t occur until the 1960s. Many of the show’s tech items were favorite parts of Flintstones episodes in Mister Boomer’s household, especially by Mister B’s father. After all, Fred Flintstone was, like Mister B’s father, a blue collar worker, an avid bowler and golfer, and always on the lookout for an easier way to get through household chores so he could concentrate on his own interests.
Technology in The Flintstones came in two varieties: things were either made of stone or used animals to perform the function. Items made of stone included the Rubble and Flintstone family radios, televisions, Fred’s foot-propelled car (complete with a squawking bird “horn”) and Bedrock’s city buses. At the end of every shift at the quarry, Fred slid down the tail of his rock-lifting dinosaur crane and punched his timecard by pulling the tail of a toothsome bird. Most gadgets used some form of animal, like Wilma’s small elephant vacuum cleaner; Fred and Barney’s lawn mowers had attached birds with grass-clipping beaks; Wilma used swordfish as kitchen knives; hand-held, teeth-clipping mammals were hedge trimmers; water spewed from elephant trunks for showers and dish rinsers; and one of the favorites in the Mister B household, the bird whose beak played phonograph records. Mister B’s father noted that monkeys were the pinsetters at the bowling alley. Early 1960s America still had human pinsetters at most bowling locations; in fact, one of Brother Boomer’s early jobs was as a pinsetter. (Not that Mister B would have ever compared his older brother to a monkey in any way, mind you.) In a mind-bending crossover to the future, if Fred took a picture with his rock camera, a bird popped out of the the back and pecked the “photo” out on a stone tablet. This mimicked existing Polaroid cameras and future digital cameras to come. What added to the fun of these domesticated gadgets was that most often, the animal had a pithy comment, job complaint or cultural joke for the viewing audience.
As we near the end of another year and inevitably examine where we have been and where we are headed, Mister B cannot help but wonder, like our predecessors 50 years ago, what our future will be like 50 years from now. If you look at the past 100 years — 1916 to 2016 — and all that has happened, then flash forward 50 years to 2066, what will our world look like and how will we live? Mister B, for one, hopes there is a version of a cartoon like The Flintstones that holds up a mirror to ourselves to let us laugh at our foibles while we enjoy our modern conveniences.
What was your favorite gadget in The Flintstones, boomers?