Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”

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?

Boomers Signed on The Dot and the Line

The 88th annual Academy Awards will be broadcast this weekend, so it got Mister Boomer wondering what was going on with the Oscars 50 years ago. As it turns out, 1966 was a momentous movie year for boomers. It was the first year the Academy Awards was broadcast in color; at the time many boomer households were acquiring color TVs.

The Sound of Music picked up five Oscars, including Best Picture. Many boomers have memories of seeing the picture with their families, at a drive-in or local theater. To win the Best Picture award, the film bested the now-classic films Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns and Darling.

The Best Actor category was a race among screen greats: Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came In From the Cold), Laurence Olivier (Othello), Rod Steiger and Oskar Werner (Ship of Fools), but it was Lee Marvin who took home the statue for his work in Cat Ballou.

Of particular note to Mister B was the award for Best Short Subject. A cartoon by Chuck Jones and Les Goldman, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. Every boomer knows the work of Chuck Jones. His Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons were favorites when we were young, and classics now. Boomers loved his work on Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and for Mister B, especially, Road Runner cartoons, to name a few.

The Dot and the Line was inspired by Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, an 1884 novella by Edwin Abbott. It was an exploration into different dimensions as well as a comment on Victorian society and culture. Jones’ The Dot and the Line is a whimsical love story about a line pining for the love of his life, a dot. The dot isn’t interested in the line, though, because “she” perceives “him” to be too rigid and stiff. Instead, she hangs out with the more impulsive squiggle. The line learns to bend itself, first into basic shapes, then mastering parabolic curves and complex mathematical forms to ultimately win over the dot when she realizes the squiggle is too impulsive and chaotic compared to the expert control of the line.

Mister B is a creative type, so he was always fascinated by the sheer beauty of every frame — each a modern painting in its own right. The cartoon pares down characters and scenery to a seemingly impossible bare minimum. Simple shapes and limited colors tell a very believable story as lines and dots acquire human characteristics.

Through the years there has been some talk that The Dot and the Line, like its Flatlands inspiration, was making a comment on culture and society. The argument goes, the rigidity of post-War America is represented by the line, the optimism for the future by the dot, and the restless aura of change by the squiggle. There is a brief musical introduction when the squiggle first appears, and it is definitely rock ‘n roll in its genre. Some say the chaotic squiggle represents the upheaval the rigid society perceived at the dawning of rock ‘n roll. In such an argument, reason, logic and trust in innovation win out over chaos.

For Mister B, an art history aficionado, the cartoon reflects what was happening in the art of the day. Abstract Expressionism had its start in pre-War Europe, but it was post-War American painters who brought it front and center to the world. Accenting gesture, emotion, freedom, individuality and expression, it embodied the elation of a new era. By the 1960s, change was in the air as a growing population, and especially boomers, began to be disillusioned with the idealized world that immediately followed the world’s second War to End All Wars. Civil Rights, women’s rights, poverty and individual freedom became rallying cries, and music reflected this movement. Art, on the other hand, went toward Minimalism, which concentrated on geometry, the depersonalization of industrial fabrication and purposeful lack of imbued emotion. The Dot and the Line bears aspects of both of those art movements in its execution, as both art movements residing side by side in the mid-60s.

Putting all the pseudo-intellectual explorations aside, The Dot and the Line should be enjoyed for what it is: a love story set in a particular space and time. For the imaginative manner in which this story was told, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded it the Oscar. Another great boomer moment.

Do you recall seeing The Dot and the Line in theaters, boomers?