How did we imagine life would unfold 100 years in the future?
Those who remember The Wonderful World of Disney saw teasing glimpses of Disneyland’s House of the Future, a plastic Monsanto marvel made in 1957 with no natural materials--and they boasted about that. It was short-lived, surviving only a decade before destruction and obsolescence.
Disneyworld’s Dream Home came later with silhouettes of the previous model tucked inside like drawings from Hidden Pictures of Highlights magazine. It featured automatic lights, cameras watching inside and outdoors, and wall-mounted TV screens in every room.
Preposterous, many said: That will never happen.
Now flash back to 1962. Feeding the national fascination with space, ABC chose for its first color broadcast an animated series for adults. What was this seminal work set in 2062? Hardly a heavyweight documentary, The Jetsons with George and Jane atop their Skypad apartment celebrated its 51st birthday this week. Teaming with his boy Elroy, Judy, Rosey the robot and Astro, ABC gave us episodes from a future we are blitzing toward with the speed of a flung Spacely sprocket.
2062 is not so far away; in fact, we are halfway there.
The Jetsons might be merely a footnote on the 1960s cultural landscape, but I discovered a cult following. What can this show teach us?
The Jetsons’ anniversary this week is a simple—very simple--visual reminder of the human tendency to create a new thing in our own image. The producers imagined a distant century but reflected the norms of its time. Do we not do the same? Myopic or distorted or blemished, our lenses inform the way we view life.
Seeing and interpreting the future through 1960s lenses, for example, they gave us turn-knob technology rather than touch screen digital operation.
Transistor radios were all the rage in the 60s. If we could reach all the way to WTIX in New Orleans on our AM dial or KAAY or WNOE FM at night, maybe a Dick Tracy video watch would not be far behind. After all, we could rotate the TV antenna outside to pick up new stations, offering a vast improvement over aluminum foil crimped around rabbit ears.
They created Jane Jetson, homemaker, reflecting the domestic scenery of the time because that’s what most women did. The family’s robot housekeeper merged images of a steel tank and a French maid in black skirt, apron and dainty white cap with a feather duster. Now we know feathers move the dust around; microfiber or wool captures it. A real robot or real homemaker would know this. But the duster is an image—cliché perhaps—for their depiction of Rosey. We, too, communicate in visual shorthand using images that pack an unspoken punch. Lapel pins and bumper stickers have given way to social media icons, donkeys and elephants.
What we and the Jetsons’ creators could not accurately foresee, however, was the concept of the internet and instantaneous worldwide communication. Some things are just too big to imagine; They exceed our capacity for taking in so expansive and new a concept .
Flying with a jet-propelled back pack, hovering in personal spacecrafts, living among the planets have been the stuff of Disney and science fiction for years. People are curious about what lies beyond our horizon.
Developing vivid imaginations and pursuing knowledge are worthwhile, stretching our capacity for human understanding. We yearn to understand how things fit together and to reconcile discord. And how often do people cry out in times of heartache or distress, “I just don’t understand…”
It serves to remind me that there are some things in life we’re just not meant to understand.
Understanding may offer wisdom or discernment.
Understanding may bring a measure of satisfaction.
But understanding alone will never bring us Peace.
The human drive to figure things out—even to control our circumstances and master our lives—can propel us in a circuitous maze whether in 1962 or 2062. Rather than live frenzied lives in futility, we can make a mid-course correction halfway to an unseen future. We can trust our present and future to the only One who is not bound by our human limitations of time and space, who offers Peace in God’s very Presence.
We can never understand our way into that kind of love. It’s out of this world.
(Reality, not imagined, as photographed by the Hubble telescope.)
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.