Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Future From A Car Commercial

Last night I came across the nine-minute 1956 movie Design for Dreaming.  This particular bit of Fifties Futurism is a big-budget General Motors industrial musical - an almost-modern ballet with lots of costume changes danced to almost-modern music with sung rhymed couplets.
Girls don't go to motoramas, 
dressed in a pair of pink pajamas!
The Cars of the Future are the real stars, of course.  The movie ends with the "fabulous turbine-powered Firebird 2" which is "designed for the electronic highway of the future."
Firebird 2 to the control tower.
We are about to take off on the Highway of Tomorrow.
Stand by.
Tomorrow, tomorrow. 
Our dreams will come true.
Together, together.
We'll make the world new.
The Kitchen of the Future from Frigidaire, a subsidiary of GM, also makes an appearance.  That's where the lady of the house will bake a cake, decorate it and even put candles on top, all quite unattended.  The kitchen does this inside of some sort of glass dome and then phones her when the cake is ready.

Aside from any marketing or corporate branding aspects, this movie struck me as a great example of how we saw the future during the fifties.  And the future was good, all filled with gleaming chrome.  Here, watch the future for yourself:

I immediately associated this advertisement with a current one for a different automobile with a different view about the future, a much darker outlook.  Elaborate music, dance and poetry, gleaming chrome, formal costumes are all missing. Instead we have a car in a dark tunnel accompanied by a sober, threatening male voice listing the evils of the future as predicted by competing automobiles.

Here's his text. It's kind of free verse:
Hands-free driving.
Cars that park themselves.
An unmanned car
Driven by a search engine company.
We've seen that movie.
It ends with robots
Harvesting our bodiess for energy.
(motor sounds)
This is the all new 2011 Dodge Charger.
Leader of the human resistance.

Apparently, in 2011, Fear of the Future can sell cars.  As cars become more and more computerized it looks like the "electronic highway of the future" from Design for Dreaming might just happen.  But if that future is frightening, you can forestall it by purchasing a noisy, muscle car - one that wouldn't have looked or sounded out of place on the highways of the nineteen fifties.

The tunnel in this (and many other) television commercials is Second Street in downtown Los Angeles.  Here's a shot from the end of the commercial showing the car driving out of the tunnel.  I've added the same shot from Google Street View.  Google, of course, is the search engine company developing a "self-driving" car.  In spite of what the Dodge ad says, the Google car isn't yet "unmanned".

Here's an ad from the August 1964 Readers Digest (page 200). I xeroxed this myself sometime after the Three Mile Island Accident in 1979 and saved it ever since because it touts cheap electricity from atomic power.  The picture shows a well-manicured woman holding the household control device of the future and therefore it fits into this post quite well.

She's monitoring her baby in the crib via the "Video Scan".  The other rotary knobs are marked "R/C Clean", "Lawn Care", "Disposal", "Floor Care", "Food Prep."  (Click the picture for enlargement.)

 Here's the text in a format Mrs. Google's robot can read.

easy does it
someday you may be able to run your all-electric home by fingertip control

Whatever electrical wonders come your way in the future, there'll be plenty of low-priced electricity to help you enjoy them.

America's more than 300 investor-owned electric light and power companies are seeing to that right now.  For example, they are investing about a billion dollars to develop atomic power as another source of cheap electricity.

And they have more than 1800 other research and development projects in progress or recently completed.  All are pointed toward keeping you and all Americans amply supplied with dependable, low-priced electric service, now and in the wonderful new world of your electric future.

Investor-Owned Electric Light and Power Companies
People you can depend on to power America's porgress
Sponsors' names on request through this magazine.

Here's a collection of articles about how the 50s viewed the future, from a blog called Paleofuture.

Fifties Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .


Daniel Wolf said...

As they say, the future's not what it used to be.


especially the link to Field's article on the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland (as a native of SoCal, the Carousel was the epitome of futurism...)

also, consider the title of Heinz-Klaus Metzger's essay on Varese: A little look back at the future.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I too am a native and kept picturing the opening of Tomorrow Land; Monsanto House. Sure didn't anticipate the dark and dreary pop culture of the 70's.

Towering Inferno
The Posidon Adventure