Get ready to meet George Jetson – because he’s about to give birth.
According to The Jetsons canon, the button-pushing, flying, car-driving, iconic man-to-be entered the galaxy on July 31, 2022. While George is celebrating his first birthday, the show itself is celebrating its 60th: it debuted on September 23, 1962, a century before it was discontinued.
That means we’re only 40 years away from the Jetsons world of Rosie the Robot, toothbrush machines and apartment buildings high above the clouds.
So why are we still stuck on the ground waiting for our jetpacks? And why, all these years later, do we still hold a slightly cheesy, old-school animated sitcom as a beacon of what could be?
“We’re still talking about the future in Jetson’s terms,” said Jared Bahir Browsh, author of the 2021 book Hanna-Barbera: A History. “A show that originally only ran for one season had such an impact on how we view our culture and our lives.” (“The Jetsons” actually came out in two tracks: the original ’60s run was only 24 episodes, and then there were another 50 in a 1985 reboot.)
Read on to see what “The Jetsons” got right — and what it got hilariously wrong — about the future.
To 1960s audiences, the Jetsons’ videophone – a large piece of hardware whose static screen gives way to an image of the person trying to reach you – seemed like a dream. Everett Collection
Despite its sci-fi setting, the show was a typical ’60s patriarchal sitcom, depicting George, his wife Jane, his teenage daughter Judy, and young son Elroy endlessly satisfying their needs through automated gadgets and ubiquitous treadmills, themselves but still bicker over typical work and family drama.
And yet, according to Smithsonian magazine, “The Jetsons” are “the single most important piece of 20th-century Futurism.”
One of the things that makes The Jetsons so distinctly different from other sci-fi films, according to Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic, is that it’s neither dystopian nor utopian—definitely not “Mad Max”, but not the peaceful federation of “Star Trek” either.
“It was trying to have that forward-thinking view of where we might be a century after the show first aired,” Graydon said.
A woman in a video conference. Getty Images
To 1960s audiences, the Jetsons’ videophone – a large piece of hardware whose static screen gives way to an image of the person trying to reach you – seemed like a dream.
By 2022, we’ve surpassed that technology without even realizing it — and we’re already sick of it. Skype came out in the early 2000s, and FaceTime followed in 2010. Thanks to the pandemic, we’re all experiencing video chat trauma, even if the name “Zoom” sounds kind of Jetsons.
“It’s pretty amazing how accurate it was, especially in the Zoom age,” Browsh said. “We’re starting to live this life more and more.”
While sassy robot girls like Rosie aren’t hitting the market anytime soon, we’ve had cleaning aids in the form of Roombas – which are actually based on land mine technology – and other robot vacuums for ages.
A drone in the sky.JCRice for NY POst
A Roomba.Corbis via Getty Images
We also have Jetsons flat screen TVs, cameras that can look inside your body and drones that dot the sky. In the year 2062, Elroy Jetson and friends watch “Flintstones” reruns on a TV in the background of class — something you can now do on an Apple Watch, which came out in 2015. While the wrist-worn devices won’t also be able to make video calls like on the show, add-on accessories can accomplish the feat, and Apple looks set to add a camera to the watches very soon.
Graydon said he recently tried an exercise app on his Apple Watch and it reminded him of an episode where George just watched an exercise program without actually participating in it.
“Technology literally takes away the urge to do everything right,” he said.
Almost there, but you can’t use it
Judy Jetson fed her family at the push of a button. Everett Collection
Matriarch Judy Jetson had a home machine that delivered breakfast at the touch of a button. Technically, this technology has been around since 2006 in the form of 3D food printers, but it’s limited to exhibitions, labs, and experimental uses. For example, one startup uses 3D printers to make meaty steaks from plant-based ingredients.
While the world waits for such devices to become widely available, you can pick up a June Smart Oven, which costs around $1,000, works over Wi-Fi, and can detect what foods you’re cooking. With smart fridges, you can see what’s in your fridge from your phone, but you still have to cook it yourself.
And that’s just the kitchen.
A June Smart Oven, which costs around $1,000, works over Wi-Fi and can detect what foods you’re cooking. San Francisco Chronicle on Gett
“The Jetsons” promised us a morning routine full of automatic hygiene machines that comb hair and brush teeth at the same time. Instead, we have some electric toothbrushes that are advertised on podcasts that still use AA batteries.
Skincare is a little more advanced – we have masks that shoot LED light at your face and home lasers that rejuvenate your skin. “The Jetsons” definitely underestimated how concerned everyone would be about aging in 2022.
A machine for brushing teeth on The Jetsons.ABC
Judy Jetson gets her nails done by a machine. Everett Collection
When it comes to transport, experimental military “jetpacks” also come in technically chunky forms, but you can’t use them. And self-driving cars could be on the market before 2062 if they can ever stop killing people on the road.
Many fans – including Browsh and Graydon – cite flying cars as the Jetsons’ invention they long for the most. But they also see the challenges realistically.
“[A flying car] looks like a lot of fun too,” Browsh said, “until the first crash happens.”
A prototype flying car tested by a Japanese company in September 2020 SkyDrive/CARTIVATOR/AFP via Getty
Capitalism still exists in the future, although George Jetson only works three hours and three days a week and pushes a button in the sprocket factory. It’s in depicting a workday that reality deviates most from the world of the “Jetsons,” Browsh said, at least in America, which still lags far behind European countries on working hours, work-life balance and paid family vacations.
“I think at this time many of us are working harder than ever,” he said. “This notion that automation would not only make our lives easier has led to panic that it will replace work.”
No more “wow” factor
The family in their flying car. Everett Collection
We’ll never have another show like The Jetsons again, Graydon said, because we’ll never be so naïve about the future again.
“It’s harder to create really amazing views of the future,” he said. “Technology is evolving so quickly that it’s actually very difficult to achieve the ‘wow’ factor.”
By 2022, our optimism about the future has also given way to a clear view of the roadblocks: endless energy demands, supply chains, climate change, socioeconomic gaps, government gridlock, and imaginative tech billionaires with their hands on all the buttons. Our science fiction has become decidedly gloomy. Apple TV’s Severance envisions a world where the workday technically never ends, while Westworld is filled with murderous robots.
While naughty robot girls like Rosie aren’t hitting the market any time soon, we’ve had cleaning help in the form of Roombas.ABC
Now, a savvy audience would want to know what the world looks like beyond the Jetsons’ space-age home.
“What about the local people?” Browsh wondered. “Do you still live there?”
The show heavily implies that the earth has been devastated by smog, pollution, and extreme weather, leading to a grim reality where humanity has chosen to live above its problems rather than make lifestyle changes to fix them.
If you think about it, all of the series’ technological advances point to a lazier future, a possible prequel to the world of Pixar’s “WALL-E,” in which unsuspecting humans lead sedentary lives, oppressed by scheming robots. Moving walkways and automated chairs are everywhere in The Jetsons; Sky structures make walking impossible anyway.
Everything is amazing in the cartoon, and yet nobody is happy – but that’s how the creators planned it.
“It speaks to this idea that as humans we always have something to complain about,” Graydon said. “One of the problems with utopias: if you create a perfect world, that world could be pretty boring.”