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 Gladly Went Where No One Had Gone Before

On September 8, 1966, NBC began broadcasting Star Trek, and Mister Boomer was watching. He watched all three seasons — just 79 episodes — with his family on their black & white TV. Then, when the show began syndication, he continued to watch the original episodes as well as the later incarnations of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and all of the movies. Mister Boomer’s aunt, being born in 1918, was even a bigger fan than Mister B. She never missed an episode, and declared her favorite character was Mister Spock. The show had a vast reach across generations, because of its hope and optimism for a peaceful future based on mutual respect.

The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, worked with Desilu Productions to pitch a pilot for the show to NBC. Desilu was Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s company, but Lucille Ball had bought out Desi’s share to become sole owner when they were divorced in 1960.┬áIt was billed as “Wagon Train to the stars,” comparing the premise to the popular western TV series about pioneering the Old West. The first pilot was rejected by the network, but they saw enough potential in it that they asked for a second pilot to be produced. It was the second pilot that introduced the actors and characters we came to cherish on Star Trek.

It’s not surprising that boomers loved the show; after all, we grew up with the Space Program. At the same time we watched the metaphorical sci-fi alien movies of the 1950s on TV and it set our imaginations churning into what we might find out among the stars. NASA was in the process of forming its ability to take us where no one had gone before, and then Star Trek showed the possibility of that progress into the 23rd century. Meanwhile, we were watching every launch and mission, from Project Mercury with Alan Shepherd’s first foray into space to ultimately Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

In 1960, President Kennedy had laid down the challenge of sending a man to the moon and back within the decade. By 1966, however, when Star Trek first appeared, NASA was in the middle of the Gemini program, which tested crucial docking procedures between spacecraft and saw the first space walk EVAs (extravehicular activity). Star Trek was leaps and bounds beyond our earthly capabilities.

As a youngster, the technology of the show was the ultimate dream. Mister B recalls that in school, he and his friends were immediately struck by the ethereal theme song and whooshing Enterprise spacecraft that left the name of the show in futuristic lettering on the TV screen. Mister B and his friends would try to draw their own names in the style of the Star Trek lettering on their paper bag book covers. Then there were the flip-open communicator devices; they seemed very far out at the time, but sort of the logical move from Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio. The hand-held phasers were a real mindblower. A flip of a switch could change the gun phaser blast from a stun ray to a death ray. Now that was a weapon young boys wanted to see. The mac-daddy of tech was the Transporter. To think people could be molecularly deconstructed and whisked through space, only to be reconstructed at a different location was great sci-fi in anyone’s estimation.

And as soon as Mister Spock performed his first split-hand salute while stating, “Live long and prosper,” all the boys tried furiously to duplicate the sign. Very few could do it at effortlessly as Spock in their initial attempts. One by one they succeeded, and Mister B was among the first group who could display the hand signal across a classroom when a teacher wasn’t watching. It was as if the “Trek” boys had a new club of their own.

Like Twilight Zone before it, boomers who Mister B knew quickly latched on to favorite characters and episodes. However, Mister B would be hard pressed to pick a favorite character or episode. Before Star Trek appeared, his sci-fi reading was defined by Jules Verne, so the show was a real mind expander and gateway to his next generation of sci-fi reading, which continues to this day.

Rather than a favorite character, Mister B enjoyed certain phrases repeated by certain characters. There was Mister Spock’s “Live long and prosper,” of course. There was also, “I’ve given it all she’s got, Captain,” from Engineer Scotty; and “I’m a doctor, not a magician,” uttered in various iterations by Doctor McCoy. Mister B also liked when Captain Kirk, at the end of several episodes, was asked by navigator Sulu for travel coordinates, would point to the space view screen and say, “Out there, Mr. Sulu,” like Babe Ruth pointing to the spot he would hit his next home run.

There is hardly a person in our culture who hasn’t been in some way touched by what we began watching on Star Trek fifty years ago. As you watch those original episodes during the 50th Anniversary celebration that is now underway, take note of the influences the program has had. Star Trek had people of all races working together, and portrayed women in key positions at a time when it was unheard of in corporate America. While most will readily admit we have a ways to go in accepting each other, we do have a black president and a woman candidate from a major political party running for president. We’ve seen women at the head of major tech companies as well. Then, of course, Motorola based early designs of the cell phone on the Star Trek communicator. The StarTAC phone debuted in 1996. Mister B still carries a similar model of a flip phone today. He thinks of Captain Kirk every time he opens it. When Yeoman Rand approaches Captain Kirk with electronic data tablets, is it hard to imagine our future e-readers and tablets?

Mister Boomer has always been a Trekker at heart, though he never — not once — used the phrase, “set your phasers on stunning” to impress a young lady. How about you, boomers? Were you watching 50 years ago, and what influence has the program had on you through the years?