The Jetsons is an interesting show in many ways, but its characters aren’t really among them. Compared to their obvious predecessors, the Flintstones, the Jetson family comes across as rather flat, people who have things happen to them rather than ones who advance the plots themselves. It also comes across as more sexist. Sure, Wilma was a housewife who liked shopping, but Jane never seemed to have much character beyond that, not to mention her being the subject of countless “women can’t drive” jokes. I’ve been reading the recent Smithsonian reviews of the show, which focus on the show’s retro-futurism and the origins of its gadgets and such, and Matt Novak makes a point of mentioning how socially conservative the show is. It’s not like the creators’ only option was a white-bread nuclear family, even in 1962. Star Trek, with its multi-gendered and multi-ethnic crew, started only a few years later. (Of course, that IS set considerably farther in the future, but still.) I’ve also heard it mentioned that the Jetsons are white-collar and the Flintstones blue-collar, which is more or less true. Admittedly, we really aren’t shown a whole lot about the Jetsons’ place in society. Their only income is George’s, and he works about six hours a week at a job that mostly consists of pressing buttons. This is presented by the show as a typical full-time position for the era. The Jetsons do have some money problems, though, as evidenced by the fact that their robot maid isn’t a top-of-the-line model. Indeed, the only reason they can even afford an obsolete model, according to the premiere episode, is that Mr. Spacely took a liking to Rosey (or is it Rosie?) and gave George a raise. As for the Flintstones, despite Fred’s obviously blue-collar job, they do live in a detached house in the suburbs with a lot of animal-based household implements. Still, it does appear that the Jetsons are better off for their time than the Flintstones are for theirs. It’s interesting to keep in mind that the vast majority of the buildings we see on the show are either elevated on stilts or suspended in midair, leading some fans to speculate that the lower classes live on the ground.
In fact, in one early episode, we see a bum walking around near the surface.
The 1990 movie (which I haven’t seen, mind you) adds an environmental message by having the ground too polluted to live on, but there was no indication of this in the original series. There’s even a tongue-in-cheek theory that The Flintstones actually takes place at the same time as The Jetsons, only on the ground instead of in the air.
Something I never realized when watching the show as a kid was that there was a huge gap between the first and second seasons. The original run from 1962 to 1963 consisted of a mere twenty-four episodes, and it wasn’t until 1985 that new ones were produced for syndication. Syndicated runs of the show mixed old and new together, but at the time I didn’t have an eye for the differences. Looking at the episode descriptions and such, it looks like the eighties episodes had a lot more of Rosey and considerably more aliens. That includes Orbitty, who was introduced in the first of the newer episodes. Basically, the science fiction element became more pronounced in the eighties.
As with most older visions of the future, it’s interesting to note what the cartoon got somewhat right and what it got dead wrong. Video chatting is pretty common these days, but the devices we use don’t look much like the Jetsons’ video phones.
Flying cars still aren’t around, probably more for safety concerns than because we lack the technology. Space travel, a huge concern back in the sixties, is no longer a priority, so I doubt we’ll see vacations to other planets anytime soon. Not only is the Internet not around in the Jetsons’ future, but neither are portable phones, video recording devices, voice mail, or digital cameras. And while George had a similar reaction to Jet Screamer as a lot of parents in the sixties did to what their kids listened to, wouldn’t his style actually be very quaintly old-fashioned by the 2060s?
Admittedly, it’s even harder to predict musical trends than technology. Futurama jokes about it by referring to rap as “classical music,” but we don’t hear much of what would be considered contemporary in the thirty-first century.
Of course, part of the humor in The Jetsons was based on the fact that, as amazing as the technology was, it was still subject to bugs. Food-producing machines would sometimes generate the wrong thing. The original end credits demonstrated the possibility of being trapped on a treadmill. (By the way, if dog-walking on treadmills has become commonplace, is that also where they poop?) George’s compact flying saucer threw out his back in the first episode. Artificially intelligent robots can be neurotic or depressed. The message is, essentially, that things are never going to work perfectly, no matter how much technology advances.