Bacon in a Toaster: A Future Too Awesome to Happen

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the TV show The Jetsons. What was awesome about The Jetsons is that it showed us a marvelous 21st century future of flying cars, robot slaves, two-hour work weeks, semi-articulate dogs and push-button … everything.
It was all bullshit, of course; practically none of it came true. Sure, buttons are everywhere, and dogs are closer than ever to speaking in adorably dog-accented English, but domestic robot technology is still limited to minor vacuuming and assisted masturbation duties. Two-hour work weeks only exist for members of Congress. And don’t even bring up the flying car.

Damn right, Randal. TV does lie to us. But that’s not all. Books lie too. I’ve read entire books full of lies, and I’m not just talking about David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson here. I’m talking about books like 1975: And the Changes to Come by Arnold B. Barach, which was published in 1962, the same year The Jetsons debuted. It was one of those vaguely edu-taining books about how incredibly awesome The Future was supposed to be – in this case, the far-off future world of 37 years ago – by making tantalizing prognostications about cool technological innovations that were certain to come. Only one thing about this book is really certain, however: 1962 was a huuuuuge year for bullshit.
Here are a few of my favorite failed dreams of awesome-itude from 1975: And the Changes to Come:

Bacon in a Toaster. In a goddamn TOASTER! No more searing flesh burns from spattering pan grease or from flipping the strips over with your tongue. The bacon would come pre-fried, hermetically sealed in a futuristic aluminum space-pouch to keep away future bacteria and roving bacon-hunting Totoros. All you do is slide the pouch in your friendly 1975 toaster, set it to “Baconate,” and – a few minutes and searing flesh burns later – Instant Bacon Goodness. In a futuristic aluminum space-pouch, because, you know, the Future.

The Hi-Fi Sphere. In the same way that bacon tastes better when re-heated in an aluminum pouch, sound sounds better when it’s coming from a round aluminum thing. Long-playing Hi Fidelity records are round. Rolling Stones are round, Barry White is round. Your ears are round. Your head is round, and your face-talking hole is round. So should your high-fidelity, sound-barking, audio-making equipment set be: Round. EXTRA BONUS: Round(ish) speakers on an extendo-matic telescoping antenna-looking thingy, for maximum head-injury potential. When not in use, the giant round sound thing closes to form a perfectly symmetrical aluminum sphere, blending in naturally with all your other giant ball-shaped décor.

Giant Television … Something. We all knew the future of big-screen TV was going to be dozens of cluttered dials and twisty control things all crammed in together at convenient standing eye-level for maximum getting-up-out-of-your-chairability, and here our technological miracle stands – about six feet from your chair. The ultimate in deluxe televisions comes over-the-air, wired-antenna ready, able to receive grainy state-of-the-art analog signals from dozens of miles away, or maybe from around the world if something something. Set-top dials can be set to different time zones just in case you have that urgent OCD need to tell time that way, or maybe they’re kitchen timers for the bacon toaster. Plus a world map so you can keep track of where orbiting astronauts are. In the Future.

The Turkey Gun. With all the astronauting we will have had been doing in 1975, naturally we’ll have had needed revolutionary new food-to-face-hole delivery devices to take advantage of the huge pain-in-the-ass convenience of Zero Gravity. Based on absolutely no evidence or experience, the top futurologists of 1962 determined that earthly utensils, dishes and even solid food itself would be absolutely useless, if not deadly – and possibly Communist – in 1975 outer space. The answer? Based on the same physics principles that modern, 21st century pastry bags employ, this marvelous “Expelling device screws onto punctured can and is operated by squeezing to force food through the nipple.” Say that again: “Force food through the nipple.” Science!
I could go on, of course; there’s plenty more. In 1962 people were both anxious and hopeful about the future in that special way that only a culture on the cusp of both conquering space and self-annihilation could appreciate, and I suppose predictions like these held a special fascination for them. By now, of course, we’ve long since figured out that ball-shaped sound is for chumps and that we could hire other people to toast our pre-fried bacon for us, so perhaps we don’t look at the future in quite the same way – or maybe we do. I don’t know, I’m not fucking Carl Sagan here.

Photos from the book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach; Harper, 1962

See more information about all things bacon in my next post.


Whither the Glow-In-The-Dark Baby Jesus?

A constant reminder throughout the darkness that you are just a goddamn sinner.

When I am at my best, I can lose myself in writing. I am no longer a weary bag of flesh and neuroses when in the grip of muse – I become sounds and words and letters and the very punctuation of thought, the tiny impulse of electric fire that darts from neuron to nerve fiber to finger to plastic keys. Consumed by the wash of electromagnetic foam, springy globes of cognition floating in the salty brine, one shiny saliva bubble perched tenuously on the tongue tip of God – it’s the perfection of creation that thrills my gills.
That, I remind, is when I am at my best. That has not been the case most of these late days. Most of the time, when I sit down at the keys of my chosen instrument – a compact and extremely scruffy netbook of dubious origin – I feel like Bigfoot attempting a rendition of Moonlight Sonata on a Pianosaurus. Anyone remember Pianosaurus? What about Bigfoot? If not, then perhaps you see part of my problem.
I was born in 1967, but spent the bulk of my formative childhood in the 1970s. Richard Nixon, Sesame Street, Apollo 13 and the break-up of the Beatles were at the top of my hot cultural 100 just when cognition began to settle in within the confines of what would turn out to be a rather elastic mind of mine. Vietnam, Watergate, Cambodia and the Munich Massacre unfurled before my incredulous eyes and ears every evening around dinner time, usually after heavy afternoon doses of Leave it to Beaver, Lost in Space and Batman. A glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus was my nightlight lamppost to salvation and Evel Knievel was my stunt cycle hero in red, white and blue. In my eyes they were probably about equal back then.
When I was a child it was easy to think of them as equal, because back then they were both very popular and equally ubiquitous, like Dick Cavett and Hong Kong Phooey, and it was easy to suppose they had similar or perhaps complimentary superpowers. Kneivel would smash his bones to bits attempting to jump a dozen greyhound buses, while baby Jesus could heal those broken bones and turn water into gasoline to power those greyhound buses, and perhaps they would tour together in a great bus caravan across the highways and byways of the land, righting wrongs and getting into adventures as they discovered Richard Nixon’s America.
These days it’s a little harder to find Evel Knievel’s toy stunt cycles or glow in the dark baby Jesuses on store shelves. Evel soared too close to heaven when he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon in a slapped-together, steam-powered rocket cycle, and subsequently had his wings clipped. I’m not so sure why glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus disappeared, except that the glow-in-the-dark fad went away with Pet Rocks and lawn darts, and by the time the 1970s ended I was well stuck in the muddy ditch of puberty, and you’ll note that the Bible makes nary a mention of the smelly, insecure, girl-crazy and Star Trek-obsessed teen-age Jesus. So perhaps you see another part of my problem.
Then we also had Bigfoot, that cryptozoological superstar whose own career peaked around the time he did a guest shot on a two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, where it turned out he had a robot arm like Darth Vader, years before tall, dark cyborg anti-heroes became the rage. Around the same time he had a Saturday morning program in which he played single parent to an orphan waif known as Wildboy, again ahead of the single parent craze that seemed so cutting edge back then.
Now, of course, such cultural icons are simply nebulous, misty vapours of memories sloshing about in my brain’s chemical soup mix, and the simple joys they once engendered are as much a part of the past as my virginity, my appendix and a simple faith in a better world to come. Not all of these things are bad to lose, but it’s a shame nevertheless to brush against those little hollow gaps in my soul they once filled up.
Those gaps are particularly keen on those days when the muse won’t come, and the feeling of Bigfoot uselessly mashing his fingers against the keys of a dinosaur-shaped toy piano comes again to mind – which is not such a bad thing as it could be, when you get right down to it.