Mid century, a half a century ago, two animated sitcoms became favorites for their takes on middle class life that at once seemed familiar and other-worldly. Fifty years before Modern Family, we were introduced to the modern stone age family,The Flintstones. A riff on The Honeymooners, The Flintstones used the comedic situations that were standard fare by the early 1960s, with the cute gimmick of prehistoric technologies–or modern situations demanding stone age materials and power (human and animal, including dinosaurs). The situations, aesthetics, cultural activities and references were all early sixties, including split-level caves with pelican washing machines. And who could forget Ann-Margrock serenading little Pebbles? The juxtaposition of modern with stone age was more modern than stone age, but the cultural signifiers were all suggested through stone age names and technology. The Flintstones was analog in every sense.
The Jetsons brought us from the stone age to the next space age. Cleverly combining the early sixties sensibility and success of The Flintstones with all things space related during the height of the space race, The Jetsons used the winning formula of The Flintstones and converted it to some future time when “typical” middle class families would be living in outer space. Of course, one would expect lots of gadgets and gizmos in the space age, and the idea of everything automated and robotic (including the housekeeper, Rosie) was in keeping with the images we as a culture expect(ed) of the future. Like The Flintstones, The Jetsons reminded us that although situations may include different technologies, the demands of life remain unchanged. Also, relationships are most important for happiness.
On both animated shows, the wives do not engage in professional work. They are mostly responsible for taking care of the home and the children, and being available to their husbands. The husbands must endure traffic and cranky bosses at soul sapping jobs, but are able to live decent lives and enjoy the company of their families and friends, even if they are negotiating inconveniences despite all the conveniences their applianced lives provide. Whether in the stone age or the space age, we see a mid-century middle class American family living comfortably on the husband/father’s salary, coping with everyday events that are undramatic, and require moderation,cooperation and fixing stuff. It’s all do-able. It’s the American Dream that we’d like to think exists in any age.
Now, 50 years after those cartoons ran in prime-time, I am struck by what it means to live in America in 2014. The recent release of the video of Ray Rice beating up his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in an elevator, and then dragging her limp and unconscious body out of the elevator, dumping her in front, and kicking her to clear the elevator doors, is more stone age than Fred Flintstone could ever have been. I do not judge the tragic Janay Palmer who went on to marry the brute, because although it is confusing, it is mostly heart-rending to me that she must feel as though she can’t leave him. It is beyond tragic. Wilma would never have stayed, and she had fewer options as a woman.
The public outcry when the video was publicly released was heartening in some ways. The NFL seemed out of sync with 2014. Sanity still exists outside the NFL. But, so do abusers and those who feel they can not leave. This is unconscionable in 2014.
If stone age behavior headlined the news again a few days ago, Jetson-esque news reigned supreme yesterday, with the rollout of the i-Phone 6 and the Apple Watch. Like the baby wooly mammoth vacuum cleaner and other animal powered appliances and machines on The Flintstones, or the myriad of push button devices, including Rosie, on The Jetsons, we love technology and the idea that our lives will be transformed by them. Technology does transform much of our lives and capabilities, and yet, with all the time and labor saving devices, we still get so stuck and feel so uncomfortable.
Despite all the social, cultural and technological advances we have made, we still seem to struggle so very much. Tonight, President Obama will address the nation (and the world) on how we will deal with ISIS. The Jetsons will meet The Flintstones.