Boingboing have a link to a rather cute old animation about the World's Fair. It's a speculative look at what wonders the technology of tomorrow would bring to the following year's American version of England's Great Exhibition of 1851. As Cory says, "the Fleischer toon shows us the fair through the eyes of a hayseed couple -- one is literally chewing on a stalk of the stuff." And it is this gently mocking premise that looses the cannon of irony.
It's charming at one level to see the naive 'push button' view of the future which prevailed well into the 50's but at the same time there are shadows of the social ills to come. On a production line, entire tables and chairs are punched, fully formed, from a giant log, wasting the vast majority of the wood. In the next scene an entire tree is used to make a single clothes peg - much to the characters' delight.
Efficiency brings waste but that's nothing compared to the commoditisation. Identical houses are plastered across the land by robot and children delivered along with them, a mere accessory like the furniture sent tumbling down the chimney. One wonders whether there are vouchers for childminding services on the hall table. An orange plant is germinated and grown to order, sprouting a single giant fruit that looks horrifying beyond the mild unease brought on by your average GM scare story.
The automatic barber shop is somewhat hair-raising but the sole advantage - fewer employees - is negated by the robot attendants' subsequent demand for tips. More disturbingly, the woman's experience in the beauty parlour, at first a similarly amusing automated version of her daily routine, ends with a brutal clamping in a body mould - literally forcing her to conform to a single idealised shape. And how do the couple enjoy their newly groomed status? By hitting a jazz bar together? Sort of - but they actually end up dancing separately, with 'by the hour' robot dancing partners. In truth, I'm getting carried away here; once the timers run out on the machines they do in fact dance together, perhaps inspired to greater things by technology.
At the end of the movie, our hero throws a quarter in a machine and out pops a self-assembly sports car. Having arrived sedately in a trap he upgrades with nary a second thought and roars out of town in a blur of squealling tyres, all too eager to take up this glittering new lifestyle. Tellingly, he rushes past a long queue of traffic and it's only on second viewing that I noticed the sign over the coin slot: "Down Payment". I wonder if chapter two shows him struggling to meet the payments while his wife complains that she hasn't had a body-mould in months?
In 1938 I'm sure these things were amusingly over the top but as automation and wealth have made them more possible, the whole movie takes on a distinctly more sinister overtone.
God, I need to cheer up sometimes. Bah.
Other Carl sites