There was a time when we wanted the future to come and it looked something like this:
We’ll excuse the snowy whiteness of the whole endeavor for the moment because there’s something else going on that I find fascinating. In fact, I’ve been fascinated by Monsanto’s House of the Future since I first learned of its existence in an episode the old Disneyland show from 1958 called “An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom.” The park had a few updates and Uncle Walt needed no excuses to use his program to advertise new offerings there. To a young boy, brought up on reruns of fifties sitcoms and the like, this looked like the future we were promised — again, excusing that the future tended to be whites only — and most likely contributed to my love of that mid-century modernist aesthetic later in life.
But my, did Monsanto believe in its plastics. Looking at it today, all I can see is how easily those “modern conveniences” could go wrong. Chief amongst the maintenance issues I see would be all those mechanized appliances breaking down from use. The counter-tops getting littered as the drop-down shelving falls from failed gears. The inability to get at the irradiated food when that shelf refuses to open. Oh, to say nothing of the whooping junior and sister will get when their horseplay breaks the motors in the lavatory.
Crow T. Robot set it best in Mystery Science Theater 3000’s takedown of GM’s similar “Design for Dreaming” short when he said, “Just because it’s futuristic doesn’t mean it’s practical.”
Fifty years later, all we can see are the seams, cracks and inevitable flaws because we now understand that no one is capable of accomplishing anything anymore. And yet, that clean “it just works” aesthetic continues to be so appealing.
In some ways, it’s sad that we’ve lost the optimism American industry offered in the 1950s, back when the country was monolithic. Granted, it refused to acknowledge certain problem that would fracture it to its core, but there’s something charming about that hope of a shiny tomorrow.
And let’s face it, as the country only further fractures and faces the inevitable truth that it is no longer a single nation, it’s comforting to look at that fantasy future where we all had sturdy homes made entirely — from the floors, walls and furnishings — from plastics.
Well, okay, by everyone, I mean the certain folk welcome in that future.