The 50th Anniversary of The Jetsons – a Look Back and a Look Forward



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“We seemed about to enter an Olympian age in this country, brains and intellect harnessed to great force, the better to define a common good.” - David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest

Somewhere along the line, there’s a good chance you’ve met George Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, and Jane, his wife (not to forget his dog, Astro). Today, The Jetsons remains a titan in the history of animated cartoons. In fact, the show was boldly futuristic in and of itself, from the first second of the intro on – it was the first television show to be aired in color on ABC. Hanna-Barbera’s family of the future was part of the initial charge of primetime cartoons on ABC in the 1960s, and remains popular even today thanks to syndication.

This Sunday, September 23rd, will mark The Jetsons’ 50th anniversary. Because official show canon says the show is set 100 years in the future (in 2062), that puts us in 2012 at the halfway mark. It’s tempting, then, to consider giving ourselves a report card – how far along are we to becoming The Jetsons?

As it turns out, that’s an impossible question to answer – because today, we’re light years ahead of The Jetsons in as many ways as we are trailing their stardust.

What makes The Jetsons timeless today is that it now exists not as a vision of the future, but as an alternate history. It is the 1960s extended 100 years into the future, technologically and culturally. The quote above is in reference to the early ’60s, which saw the creation of The Jetsons. It captures the attitude of the nation at that time, and something that was sewn into the fabric of The Jetsons’ world – a world of human comfort and convenience brought about by human ingenuity. Coming along for the ride was the keen observation that even with nine hour work weeks and completely automated household chores, we would still probably be able to find things to complain about.

The Jetsons’ future is one where the nation grew and progressed without interruption – an eternal ’60s space age. The early 1960s were the halcyon days of American progress and power – we had just sent a man into space! As a nation, optimism was abundant, although maybe it shouldn’t have been – the early 1960s and the decade before had a knack for turning a blind eye to crucial social problems. Those were problems that the tumultuous late ’60s would confront head-on, ending the optimistic age of post-World War II America and turning us away from The Jetsons’ track of progress.

To an extent, though, that optimism was warranted – some technologies, like computing, have careened ahead at breathtaking speed. But, in other ways, we have stagnated – changing attitudes and economic problems have slowed down space exploration, something The Jetsons could have never imagined.

As we are limited by reality, so The Jetsons were limited by that very ’60s vision of the future. Just as The Jetsons couldn’t have imagined the slowdown in (particularly manned) space exploration, they were equally unable to imagine an amazing invention that would revolutionize the world – the one you’re using right now. The Internet.

To celebrate 50 years The Jetsons, we’ll take a look back at their world – the technologies, the culture, and the animated silliness that makes the show endearing to millions even today.

Note: This retrospective will only look at The Jetsons’ original 1962-1963 24 episode run. Look for part II of The Jetsons’ retrospective, covering the show’s 1980s run, sometime during the summer of 2034.

The Jetsons’ world is awash in technology, but there’s one thing in particular that you can find in just about every location in the show, from the home to the mall to Spacely Space Sprockets – the conveyor belt.



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Conveyor belts used as moving walkways in the background

Conveyor belts weren’t exactly a bold vision of the future in the ’60s, but they are vital to understanding the general view of the future held by pop culture in the ’60s. That’s because conveyor belts, by the early ’60s, had become a symbol of American excellence in manufacturing. The assembly line was rational, efficient, and driving what was then a lynchpin in the booming American economy – the automobile industry. As American cars flew out of factories and onto the roads, the conveyor belt, over time, came to be a symbol of boundless potential.

The importance of the conveyor belt in the ’60s run becomes more clear when you consider that the ’80s run focused more on the role of computers in future life – a more appropriate focus for the early days of the personal computer. But, in the early 1960s, it was the conveyor belt that was seen as something that would literally carry the country into the future, as it continued to spew out gadgets and gizmos that would make life easier for everyone.

And boy, did the Jetsons have it easy. Daily tasks were all automated – machines that prepare food on demand (sometimes even in pill form), automated personal hygiene, machines that would put your clothes on for you, and so many household robots that the only finger Jane ever needed to lift around the house was the one that pushed the “on” buttons. That meant poor Jane needed a morning finger exercise workout program just to keep up with the daily grind, but she somehow managed.



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The future’s tough.

Today, we’re still using good old-fashioned arm power for our hygiene needs, so robotic grooming and washing might still be a ways off. Then again, considering how often tech broke down in The Jetsons, maybe that’s for the best.



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Jetson’s going to be in a world of pain if that thing goes haywire. Which it probably will.

As far as chores go, we’re well on our way to catching up with The Jetsons. We might not have automatic mops and clothing irons, but we do have the Roomba. So, there’s that.



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If I’m being honest, our Roombas look a little cooler.

But, as everyone who’s seen The Jetsons probably recalls, housework was the domain of Rosey. The Jetsons‘ robot maid (who, surprisingly enough, only appeared in two of the original 24 episodes) handled the housework with sarcastic aplomb, despite the robot doctor in episode 8′s insistence that “the factories don’t install emotion tapes.” Rosey proved the doctor wrong, and also proved that the Jetsons were right around the corner from a full-scale robot uprising, as Rosey developed not just the ability to give Judy the business about her love life, but the ability to find love of her own with the somewhat less cerebral service robot, Mac.



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What do those robot doctors know, anyway?

There will be grifters when the robots rise, too. Uniblab was supposed to be Spacely’s $5 billion answer to what today would be called Siri – a robot/AI that could supply real-time information from, say, the stock market. Spacely got more than he bargained for – a scheming con bot whose brilliance was only undermined by a little booze in the tank surreptitiously supplied by Jetson’s apartment super, Henry.



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Never play Jupiter Gin with this robot.

Obviously, we’ve fallen a little short in the robot/AI department. We have Siri, but with her track record, she probably would have been canned by Spacely within the first few weeks of employment. That’s not to say we won’t get there in the next 50 years. In fact, we might not be far away at all, although we’ll still have to wait a while for the sarcasm and the con man skills.

Take a look at the PR2, from Willow Garage. Willow Garage created PR2 along with open source software (ROS) that has been shared with several research institutions. PR2 can’t give you sass, but he can fold clothes, clean up cans and bottles laying around, and, yes, even fetch you a beer. It’s going to be a long, long while before these actually start showing up in homes, but we can safely say the ship has left port.

On the flip side, we also have this nightmare fuel from DARPA, which develops robotics technology for military applications. Uniblab’s brief stint in the military pales in comparison to what these guys might be capable of a few decades down the road.



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Sergeant Uniblab has nothing on DARPA.

Also, here’s an obligatory Asimo video.

Convenience was king both inside the house and out in The Jetsons. Moving chairs ferried workers around the office and at home alike. Relaxation came courtesy of automated massage machines, tanning beds, and something called a magno-manicure. Everything seemed to run without human effort in The Jetsons – it’s a wonder that anyone even has jobs in their world. Even the concrete is instant, as Spacely’s eternal nemesis, Cogswell, erected a new 2,200 foot (and 6 inches) high facility from the ground up within mere minutes – old Spacely could only marvel and think back to the days when it took whole weeks to get a new building completed.

Let’s give ourselves credit here. The instant building might be a pipe dream, but we’re blowing away The Jetsons in massage and tanning technology (alright, maybe we shouldn’t be too proud).



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Score one for us in the auto-massage column.

And, as for automatic moving chairs, well…



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Probably not what the Jetsons had in mind.

When it comes to televisions, we’re pretty close to even. At the beginning of the first episode, we see the Jetsons’ television, and it is ours. Aside from a ’60s design aesthetic, the Jetsons’ television looks like it would fit in with those of today – a flat panel, 3DTV. 3DTVs were a natural fit for the world of The Jetsons - in the 1960s, the original heyday of 3D movies in theaters was just coming to a close. It was easy to imagine that the next step for 3D would be into the living room. They were right, although it would take 3D falling into obscurity and rising once again for 3DTVs to finally come to pass.

But, we’re not all the way to 2062 yet. The Jetsons‘ 3DTV technology looks like it’s more reliant on high definition holograms, as shown much later in the season, during episode 20.



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George loves him some high-def holograms.

That’s nice, but the Jetson family can have their holograms. We’ll gladly take our DVRs, which the world of The Jetsons hasn’t gotten around to inventing just yet.



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“Aw, mom! Another adventure’s comin’ up!” Too bad you can’t just watch that stuff whenever, little buddy.

There’s one more future bummer – pay-as-you-go television. How quickly would that get old?

Television brings us to communications – the one place where we have undoubtedly sprinted past The Jetsons. On the surface, it looks like The Jetsons have made advances in communications – they have video calling and communicator watches! Elroy even talks with a universal pen pal way out in Outer Plutonia, wherever that is.



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Elroy communicating with an interstellar friend via radio.

But, all of those were based on radio frequencies, which were the most advanced means of communications publicly available in the 1960s. The Jetsons made radio frequency communications mobile, and expanded landline technology by creating video phones. ARPANET, the progenitor of the modern World Wide Web, was still a few years off when The Jetsons originally aired. Even when ARPANET was created in 1969, the technology and its implications would remain well outside of public interest until the Apple II introduced the world to the personal computer.

The Internet – a massive global information network available to the general public – was almost unimaginable for most people at the time The Jetsons was created. Never mind the fact that our present data and wireless networks rely heavily on satellites, the first of which was launched by the Soviet Union just five years before The Jetsons aired. Space travel figured prominently into The Jetsons, but at the time of the show’s creation, space was still a very new frontier. It was hard to imagine the possibilities, besides exploration.



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Harlan using an “ultrafrequency” wristwatch communicator to spy on Spacely Space Sprockets and report back to his boss, Cogswell

That’s not to say that a global information exchange was impossible to predict – here’s a video from 1969 and one from 1974 of Arthur C. Clarke commenting on the world created in 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which get several key features of the modern Internet correct. But, these views were still far out of the mainstream at the time. As far as television goes, both then and now, it’s usually not a good idea to venture too far away from the mainstream.

We can also briefly look to the 1980s episodes of The Jetsons, which appropriately had a much heavier focus on computers and their possibilities, during a time when computers were beginning to move into the home. The Jetsons of the 1960s remained true to the popular ’60s vision of the future, just as the ’80s run emphasized the tech trends of that era. It’s one reason why The Jetsons remains fascinating today – its three incarnations (the ’60s run, the ’80s run, and the 1990 animated movie) give great insight into values and visions of their respective times. As our world changed, so too did that of The Jetsons.

Tracking technology was in The Jetsons, to some extent. Considering the rest of the technology in the show, it’s unlikely that this was anything like our present GPS technology. The only tracking tech used in the show was to alert those at home when a family member was close by – usually to alert Jane that her husband was almost home from work. Since we can discount satellite technology, we can imagine that this bit of tech was probably based on proximity detectors.



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13-year-old me would have had a much easier time sneaking in after-school video game time before the parents came home with one of these. Would have beaten listening for the garage door to start opening.

Lest we forget, The Jetsons takes place in 2062. That’s still far in the future, and that means that sometimes, they’re still going to be light years ahead of us. Case in point – tech that can read brainwaves. Episode 7 centered around an incredible suit developed by the technology magnate Cogswell’s Cosmic Cogs. The suit would read the wearer’s brainwaves, and, using anti-gravity technology, would allow people to fly around using the power of thought. The X-1500, as the suit was called, “merely follows the movement pattern of the wearer,” and could top out at speeds exceeding mach four.

Fortunately, we still have 50 years to catch up. That said, here in 2012 we have managed to apply brainwave-reading technology to at least one consumer product, but…



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Best we can do is moving cat ears.

In seriousness, we have made tremendous strides in brainwave-reading technology. Just check out this report about a prototype electric wheelchair controlled by thought, and imagine the possibilities for the people who could be helped most by modern technology. If ever there was a reason to get excited about the future, you can find it right there.

At this point, I would be remiss in failing to mention what was arguably the most iconic image of the future as told by The Jetsons – the flying car.



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Excuse me, I was told the future would have these.

Often referred to in the show as saucers, the flying cars of The Jetsons were one of the major modes of transportation throughout the show. Saucers traveled along a series of well-organized and regulated “spaceways,” and policed by the 2062 equivalent of angry motorcycle cops, disappointingly lacking in aviators and mustaches. The Man does come packing high powered magnets to pull over speeders like George Jetson, though, so it looks like high-speed police chases won’t be the highest rated thing on television at 3:00 in the afternoon anymore.



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No more careening into a ditch and taking off on foot for you, big guy. The police have upped the ante.

The other major mode of transportation was an intricate system of vacuum tubes. The Jetson family’s apartment was outfitted with a few different programmed destinations (the exact numbered varied throughout the show), including school and work. Vacuum-propelled elevators would ferry George from his apartment to his apartment complex’s parking lot. They were amazingly fast and reliable. Well, you know, except for that one time when they delivered the wrong kid to the Jetsons’ apartment. Accidents happen.

Flying cars will probably remain elusive, if not because of the tech involved, then because, as much as we don’t want to admit it, they really aren’t feasible. Just imagine how much manpower it would take to regulate and police the skyways, and how much more dangerous mid-air collisions would be. That’s a bold undertaking.

Vacuum tubes, on the other hand, are within the realm of possibility. You won’t be chucking yourself into one Futurama-style, but vacuum tube transport could go under construction as soon as 2022. How fast will they be? Think London to New York in one hour. Try to wrap your mind around that for a second. After you’re done, check out this report from the BBC, which details how magnetic levitation technology can be combined with vacuum tubes to achieve those kinds of speeds, in either train or six-person capsule form.

With flying cars and vacuum tubes, you would think that the Jetsons were living in the clouds in 2062. It’s a popular conception of The Jetsons, but as it turns out, it’s somewhat misguided. To be sure, buildings are much taller in the future of The Jetsons - the new Cogswell Cogs building erected using instant concrete was 2,000 feet, 6 inches tall. Spacely’s complex was towering itself, possibly around 1,o00 feet tall. For reference, the tallest building in the world today is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at 2,723 feet (and number two, the recently completed Tokyo Sky Tree, doesn’t even come close to that). The Jetsons were skyward bound.

Still, even though the Jetsons spent most of their time in the sky, they hadn’t exactly left the ground behind. In fact, several times during the show, Spacely Space Sprockets is shown with foundations firmly on the ground. Also, that Cogswell building violated city code – by being over 2,000 feet tall – and had to be torn down. The Jetsons weren’t ready to soar above the clouds just yet.



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Mr. Cogswell, tear down this building!

Some buildings, like the SkyPad apartment complex where the Jetsons lived, could be raised or lowered to avoid rain – in episode 5, the building superintendent, Henry, did just that, with a dial that showed the complex could be taken to as high as 4,000 feet in the air.



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The SkyPad Apartments, being raised above storm clouds

The Jetsons‘ high-flying lifestyle had many viewers wondering about what was going on on the ground. The answer depends on the time period. The Jetsons: The Movie, which was released in 1990, included a scene where Rosey remarked that industrial pollution had driven humanity skyward. It was a legitimate interpretation at that time – by 1990, we knew about the harmful effects of industrial and commercial chemicals on the environment. 1990 was also the year when the Montreal Protocol was strengthened to, over time, completely eliminate production of CFCs, which were implicated in creating the infamous hole in the ozone layer. The 1990 movie was a vision of the future that fit the times in which it was made.

There was no such awareness in 1962, which is why the surface of the original ’60s run of The Jetsons had no such environmental damage (you can see that the surface looks green and healthy two pictures up). Ironically, four days after the premiere of The Jetsons, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was released. Silent Spring implicated certain pesticides as being harmful to the environment, and ultimately sparked the modern environmental movement. So, in September of 1962, the world had no, or at least little, idea about the risks industrial chemicals posed – neither, of course, did the writers of The Jetsons. Smog was a well-known issue, but it would remain poorly understood for long after The Jetsons aired. The early ’60s were a time when industry represented everything that was right and progressive about the world, and that was what was reflected in the original series.

In fact, we only know two things for certain about the surface world of The Jetsons – it was green and it was home to the homeless.



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He was actually made out to be more of a beatnik.

But, the Jetsons didn’t have their eyes on the ground – they had their heads turned upward. As was befitting the early 1960s, one of the biggest focal points of The Jetsons was space travel. And, why not? The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik in 1957, and the United States had responded in kind with the Explorer I probe in 1958. In February of 1962, just seven months before The Jetsons kicked off, John Glenn became the first American in space. Aside from the 1969 Moon landing, there was probably no greater time to be excited about the possibilities of space travel.

That’s why the world of The Jetsons is so far ahead of our own in this way, so much so that we almost certainly won’t be anywhere near what was on the show once we make it to 2062. In the show, space travel has become routine – there’s a great moment when an announcer begins a countdown for a Moon launch, only to stop at 5 and throw out a disinterested “and so forth,” before commencing launch. Orbit City’s Grand Central Spacion housed launches to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Moon, with shuttles that were said to go at 34 times the speed of sound. Taking the distance from the Earth to the Moon referenced on the show (238,000 miles, which isn’t far off from what is generally accepted today), that puts one trip from Earth to the Moon at a little over nine minutes. Just a hop, skip, and a jump.



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Grand Central Spacion, with a shuttle to the Moon preparing for liftoff. In the future, space travel becomes routine.

There were plenty of reasons to head away from Earth, too – episode 6 dealt with George leading Elroy’s Space Cub Scout troop on a mishap-filled camping trip on the Moon, while episode 17 saw George and Jane rocket off to the gambling capital of the Solar System, Las Venus. A distant planet called Beta 3 has been converted into a old-west themed “Dude Planet” resort that a stressed-out Jane escapes to in episode 23. George, Astro and Elroy even participate in a television show filmed on the surface of Jupiter during episode 9.



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On set on the surface of Jupiter. Real talk, though, they should all be flatter than pancakes right now.

We’re halfway to 2062, and unfortunately, manned space flights are far from common. In fact, the previous decade saw a precipitous decline in United States manned space missions – 34, compared with 63 during 1991-2000. Worldwide, manned space missions dropped from 83 during 1991-2000 to 59 from 2001-2010. The recent success of the Curiosity landing on Mars has lifted spirits, but even a single manned mission to Mars is still at the very least decades away.



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We’re still looking skyward.

What happened? We got hit with reality. The good times (economically) of the early 1960s were not to last, and over time, the space program simply became viewed as less and less important on the government level. The end of the Cold War, and the space and arms race with the Soviet Union that it entailed, probably had something to do with that fall-off, for better or worse. Even today, the space travel of The Jetsons remains a very distant dream, though maybe now seen through a more sober, wistful lens. It might not even be too much to say that, on the whole, people in 1962 felt closer to that dream than we do now in 2012.

There is one other detail about space travel in The Jetsons that’s worth exploring. Those space shuttles were privately owned, run by a company called Galaxy Space Lines. That’s something we in 2012 can identify with in some small way – those of us with hundreds of thousands of dollars of disposable income, that is.

Virgin Galactic could be putting the first space tourists into orbit by next year. Hundreds of people have put down deposits of $200,000 to participate in the first flights of SpaceShipTwo, a rocket that will be carried up by Virgin Galactic’s own carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo. WhiteKnightTwo will eventually launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, which officially became operational last October. Trips on SpaceShipTwo will give passengers six minutes of weightlessness in sub-orbit around Earth. Of course, that’s just the beginning, and Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, has very deep pockets and ambition to match. There will certainly be more where that came from.

There’s also LauncherOne, which has been built to expedite satellite launches. The supersonic carrier airplane will specialize in quick turnarounds – possibly as fast as one launch per day. Unlike traditional rocket-based launch vehicles, LauncherOne will be reusable, and will be able to carry payloads up to near the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, where it can launch satellites that can then take a relatively short trip to orbital distances. The result is a cheaper, more efficient way for countries, businesses, and research institutions to put satellites into orbit. Imagine a space launch requiring a traditional runway takeoff, rather than a rocket propelled vertical launch, and you’ll start to get an idea of how awesome this could be in the coming decades.



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Spaceport America (conceptual drawing) – Open and operational since October 2011.

Maybe we’re going somewhere after all.

Technological advancements aren’t easy to predict. That said, we do have a base of knowledge that we can draw on to at least make some reasonable guesses about what the world of tech will look like in the future. Sometimes we’ll nail it, and sometimes we’ll be way off base. Predicting the twists and turns of culture and society, on the other hand, is nearly impossible. When everything from the television to a pet rock to a four man band from England can drastically alter the landscape of popular culture, there’s just no way of telling where we’re going.

We do know this – technology guides culture. Technology is the means by which pop culture is communicated, sometimes crossing over and becoming the object of pop culture itself (everything from the Tamagotchi to the smartphone to the original NES). So, The Jetsons could make plenty of predictions about future technology – some even turned out to be true – but not so much when it came to culture. The result was a world where the machines kept improving, while the people stayed the same. The Jetsons’ world is the world of the early 1960s, extended into the future.

It’s in this friction between past and future that The Jetsons shines. Take George Jetson – the average working stiff of the mid 21st century. What is his job? In the 1960s, men like Jetson pushed pencils – in the 2060s, they push buttons. New century, same old story.

Same old story with a modern update, that is. The dream of the ’60s of a world of convenience where the machines do all the heavy lifting was realized in Jetson’s time – the era of the nine hour work week. Not that a three hour a day, three days a week workload makes the office any more palatable in 2062. As far as George is concerned, the old 12 to 3 grind is a killer. As anyone in any era might, George seeks to cut corners, take afternoons off, and nap on the job. He becomes almost apoplectic when Uniblab unveils his new idea for Spacely Space Sprockets – the reintroduction of the four-day work week. “What does he think this is?” George exclaims. ‘The 20th century?”

Nowhere is the influence of the early 1960s more clear than in the characters themselves. It makes watching The Jetsons fascinating – an incredibly advanced world inhabited by people who by today’s television standards seem quaint and dated. The Jetson family is the traditional nuclear family of the early ’60s – Jane is a stay-at-home shop-a-holic mother who handles the housework and the cooking (a.k.a. pushing a few buttons), Judy is the teen idol-crazed teenage daughter, and Elroy is the plucky, obedient young son. George is the traditional early 1960s head of the household, which, by today’s standards, often makes him seem like a temperamental bully, albeit one who always seems to be able to make things right in the end.

It’s funny to talk about The Jetsons being stuck in the past, but it is, and in ways that haven’t always helped the show age well. The entire episode dedicated to Jane’s ineptitude as a female driver is almost unwatchable today. It’s not so much the tasteless jokes as it is the episode’s ultimate conclusion – that a woman is better off in the home, not on the road (er, skies), and that her loving husband knew best all along (though, to the show’s credit, it makes no bones about it – George is depicted as an almost equally incompetent driver throughout the series).

Fortunately, today’s society is slowly adopting the more egalitarian notion that no one else on the road knows how to drive. Progress!

The Jetsons was progressive enough to poke fun at its own stereotypes, but not enough to challenge them. You wouldn’t expect anything different - The Jetsons was a prime-time cartoon made for mass appeal. It did its job, and did it well. It was, after all, just a cartoon.

The show’s view of women can best be summed up in one moment. Maybe it was inadvertent, maybe not – you’d have to ask the writers. Either way, Jane’s purchase of a new dress in episode 20 gives us a masterclass in good old days sexism – a dress that lit up by being plugged into the wall at all times. Presenting the woman, literally attached to the home:



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Jane, seen here SHACKLED TO THE HOME, MAN

There are other jokes that don’t seem so funny now. In the first episode, Jane frets about wanting a robot maid for the house, but being unable to afford one on George’s modest salary (the Jetsons were always shown to be chasing ever-elusive financial security). Jane’s mother reassures her daughter over the video phone – “You don’t need money. Charge it.” How quickly things change – as recently as 2005, that might have gotten some laughs. Today, it’s more likely to elicit a wince and a downward glance.

The Jetsons don’t exactly live in a utopia, for all their technological advances. The unemployment line still exists, as George finds out many, many times. Average families like the Jetsons struggle to make ends meet. It’s another reflection of the past (and present), and probably a good thing – a show about a utopia would be very boring.



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“Jetson, you’re FIRED!”

With its focus on technology, it’s easy to forget that The Jetsons, when watched today, is just as much about the past as it is about the future. Still, that doesn’t mean The Jetsons was completely bereft of bold predictions of the non-technological sort.

For starters, I don’t envy the kids of 2062. You want to fingerpaint in elementary school? Too bad – you’ll be studying elementary electronics, Siberian salt mines (“Don’t pick fights with the little Russian boys!”), and elementary mathematics (a.k.a. calculus). Meanwhile, Judy has Esperanto classes – OK, it’s safe to say that prediction was a swing and a miss.

Soaring advancements have also been made in the field of failure, as grades in 2062 go all the way down to “H.”

The boost to education was felt in television, too. The Jetsons’ world was one where education ended up taking center stage – most fictional programming had long since been replaced by educational shows. In fact, that had been the case for so long that by 2062, television executives were forced to start moving back to fictional programming, since the viewing public was finally getting bored of learning stuff all the time. That led to Elroy and Astro’s short-lived stint as television stars in a space adventure romp.

Unfortunately, we haven’t taken the same route.



Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader 350x230 The 50th Anniversary of The Jetsons   a Look Back and a Look Forward



No, this does not count.

But, television in 2062 wasn’t purely the domain of education. There will always be a need for teen idols, something Jet Screamer was more than happy to provide in one of the early episodes. This was an example of innovation in the real world, too – the brief music video for “Eep, Opp, Ork, Ah Ah,” which is mostly made up of graphics of the lyrics flashing on screen along with Screamer dancing and singing, was an early version of the modern music video, long before MTV even existed. Also, the catchphrase (“Baby, baby, baby!”) and the name makes Jet Screamer almost prophetic in yet another way -



jetsons4 350x189 The 50th Anniversary of The Jetsons   a Look Back and a Look Forward



Justin Bieber – Jet Screamer
“Baby, baby, baby!”
Coincidence? Unlikely.
(The rabbit hole goes deeper – see the Life in Technicolor Blog)

According to the future as told by The Jetsons, we’ll be living a lot longer, too. George’s very spry 110-year-old grandfather comes over for a visit in one episode, and goes on to accidentally flirt with women and do flips on a flying scooter, actions a police officer is disdainful of. In the officer’s opinion, they are actions more fit for a younger man in his seventies. It’s mentioned that old grandpa still has quite a few years ahead of him  - the show suggests that life expectancy in 2062 is around 150 years old. Seems far-fetched now, but then again, in 1900 the average life expectancy was somewhere around 47 years old, so I guess you never can tell. Maybe we’ll be doing flips on our flying scooters at 110 years old, too.

Just kidding. We’re never getting those flying scooters. Sigh.

There was plenty of room in The Jetsons for good old-fashioned cartoon craziness, too. Cars and closets transformed into suitcases, Spacely and Cogswell hurled all manner of sporting goods at each other through their respective televisions, and an automatic food dispenser seemed to always be changing its appearance, not just from episode to episode, but from scene to scene. Still, it’s almost surprising to look back on that original run and realize that, for the most part, the writers played it straight. Most of the tech in the show was grounded in at least some sort of conceivable reality.

It’s a good thing they did, too – we’re left with a fascinating take on an entire era’s hopes and expectations for the next 100 years. It’s a snapshot of the future, taken in the past. It’s a snapshot that shows a future where the Internet never came to be, but space travel became all we ever dared to dream of. It showed the average family of the 1960s whisked into the 2060s, along with all the little problems an average family faced.

And that’s why we’ll never be The Jetsons – it’s a future that belongs to the past. Fortunately for us, that makes The Jetsons a timeless piece of history that will never quite go out of style.

Before we embark on our trip through the next 50 years, we should stop to remember maybe the most important mark that The Jetsons left on our world. Some time after its primetime run in the 1962-1963 season, it ended up being one of the core shows that brought Saturday Morning Cartoons into our lives. For that alone, cereal-munching kids young and old owe The Jetsons an eternal debt of gratitude.

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