Somewhere between the promise of our national paternity embodied in George Washington and the perils of dystopian dictatorship described by George Orwell, we encounter the everyday “foibles of the future” through the animated experiences of George Jetson.
While many of us got better acquainted with Washington through our studies of American history and later encountered Orwell’s compelling fiction in literature class, baby boomers got to know George Jetson and family through television.
“The Jetsons” premiered on ABC Sept. 23, 1962, so the cartoon classic will celebrate its 60th anniversary next month. As for the fictional father of that 21st century family, series canon proclaims his date of birth as July 31, 2022.
Happy belated birthday, George!
Tim Donnelly and the New York Post chose that day to chronicle “What ‘The Jetsons’ predicted right — and wrong — about the future.” Aside from cataloging the “hits” (videophones — think Skype and Zoom; flat-screen televisions — no further explanation required; and robotic maids — not Rosey, but Roomba); the “misses” (still no machines to simultaneously comb your hair and brush your teeth, nor prepare fabulous meals with the touch of a button); and the “maybes” (personal jetpacks do exist, but not for consumers, and flying cars still remain “in development”), the article also notes the series casts a very long shadow despite a very short run — only 24 episodes over a single season in its original iteration.
So, it’s “Back to the Future” for an even earlier generation, to explain the outsized influence of this cartoon series. No less a publication than Smithsonian Magazine put it this way: “‘The Jetsons’ stands as the single most important piece of 20th Century Futurism,” it proclaimed in an article published a decade ago, when the show celebrated a half-century.
Entire books have been written on the subject.
British author and professor Danny Graydon, wrote his book “Cartoon Classics: ‘The Jetsons’” in 2011. In observing both his “American Cousins” and the tenor of their times from a safe transatlantic distance, he offered this analysis: “It coincided with this period in American history when there was renewed hope. … There was something very attractive about the nuclear family with good honest values thriving well into the future.”
Through the eyes of a certain 4-year-old, enthralled with the 1962 orbital flights of John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, and eagerly awaiting Wally Schirra’s turn in October, the premiere of “The Jetsons” just reaffirmed the reality of the Space Age but also kindled a form of initial introspection about the concept of age and aging — also known as “growing up.”
For the grown-ups raising that 4-year-old and seeing their own nuclear family expand, even as a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the USSR loomed later that fall, “The Jetsons” provided a form of escape and much-needed laughter.
There’s no doubt the show’s creators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, saw “The Jetsons” as a variation on the successful theme they first developed with “The Flintstones.” After introducing America to the “modern Stone Age family,” it only made sense to mine for comedy gold from the other end of history’s timeline. As noted, those efforts were initially met with limited ratings success.
But to paraphrase Gen. Douglas MacArthur, “Old TV shows never die. … They return in reruns.” And the influence of “The Jetsons” shows no signs of fading away.
Etched into the memory of that 1962 4-year-old is the saga of Astro, the Jetsons’ dog. Six intervening decades have done nothing to diminish the youthful angst experienced when viewing the story of a billionaire who initially owned the canine named “Tralfaz” lost him, only to have George and family find the dog and rename him… then the ensuing legal verdict from “Jury-Vac” to award the pet to the man with all the money. And even now, a feeling of relief returns when recalling the realization of the billionaire that Astro ought to remain with the family who took him in.
With all due respect to the research of the scholars and analysis of the social commentators, it isn’t the gleaming gadgetry of the future that accounts for the enduring influence of “The Jetsons,” it’s the relationships found within the family.
Like Elroy and Astro… a boy and his dog.
A king of old put it this way in his ancient, sacred text: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
That’s the truth, by George.
J.D. Hayworth represented Arizona in the U.S. House from 1995-2007. He authored and sponsored the Enforcement First Act, legislation that would have mandated enforcement of Federal Immigration Law in the 109th Congress.