|Which of these men leads a happier life?|
Who would you rather be, George Jetson or Fred Flintstone?
I bet you said George Jetson. It seems like a no-brainer, right? I mean, George lives in a futuristic world of rocket cars, robots, and household appliances which do almost everything for you. Fred, meanwhile, lives in the Stone Age and doesn't even have shoes... or pants, for that matter. And George, with his cushy desk job at Spacely Sprockets, is clearly in a higher tax bracket than working-class Fred, who toils away at the quarry under the glowering eye of Mr. Slate. George is white collar, and Fred is blue collar -- literally and figuratively.
But hold on, gentle reader! The choice may not be so obvious after all. You may have been so dazzled by all the sci-fi wizardry on display in The Jetsons that you failed to notice a simple truth: Fred Flintstone is a much happier man than George Jetson. Fred, in fact, is a deeply contented, untroubled man who seems wholly satisfied with his life (hence his carefree catchphrase, "Yabba Dabba Doo!"), while George frequently seems edgy and neurotic, possibly suffering from ulcers or sleep problems. Why might this be? Well, I have a few theories:
1. Fred has friends and a social life; George doesn't.
|Barney and Fred at a meeting of the Water Buffalos. Don't they look happy?|
The Flintstones, history tells us, is based on Jackie Gleason's TV series The Honeymooners, while The Jetsons is modeled after the Blondie franchise of comics and films. Fair enough, but an important element got lost in one of these translations. Like The Honeymooners, The Flintstones features a strong male friendship. Instead of Ralph and Ed, we have Fred and Barney. But while Blondie's suburban protagonist Dagwood Bumstead has a best friend, the uninspiring yet reliable Herb Woodley, there exists no such corresponding "best friend" character on The Jetsons. George Jetson does not seem to have a friend in the world. He has no social life away from work or home either. Again, this is in sharp contrast to Fred Flintstone, who bowls regularly with Barney (and other men his age, like Joe Rockhead) and is a member of a fraternal organization, The Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes. These elements, again, were taken from The Honeymooners. Ralph, too, was a bowler and he and Ed belonged to the "Raccoon Lodge."
Why has George Jetson been denied any meaningful friendships or social interaction in his life?
2. Fred has a more satisfying home life than George.
If you study the opening title sequences of The Flintstones and The Jetsons, you will see that they are mirror opposites of one another. Here, take a moment to watch both of them:
Notice that the first clip is about Fred leaving work and rejoining his family -- and being overjoyed to do so -- while the second is about George being separated from his family one member at a time before finally arriving at work, where he immediately falls asleep at his desk. In their book Harry & Wally's Favorite TV Shows, TV critics Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik pointed out that Fred "has no real problems." They meant that as a complaint, but I think it's part of what makes the character so appealing. Fred, like his clearest latter-day successor Homer Simpson, simply loves his life and his family with abandon. Certainly, Fred and Wilma argue a lot more than George and Jane Jetson do, but I think this is just indicative of the fact that the Flintstones are passionate, vital people. They're alive, for god's sake! Meanwhile, there is something weirdly distant and formal about the Jetson marriage. Jane seems perfectly nice, but somewhat vacant and detached. I'm guessing a lot goes unsaid in this marriage.
Fred and George are both parents, but this fact causes George much more anxiety. Fred does not seem to be too hands-on in the raising of little Pebbles, but he is devoted to her and loves her unconditionally. With George and his kids, the relationships are more anxiety-plagued and complex. His daughter, Judy, is an adolescent -- often a rocky time for parent/child interaction. George hates Judy's music, hates her friends (especially her boyfriends), doesn't understand her slang, and probably doesn't feel like he can communicate with her meaningfully and effectively. It's a mixed blessing, then, that Judy has the same pleasant but vacant temperament as her mother. George is spared from any emotional confrontations with his daughter, but over the long haul this may have a numbing effect on him. Feeling alienated from Judy, George naturally gravitates toward his son Elroy. But even here, George feels insecure. He recognizes that Elroy's intellect is quickly outstripping his own, and he worries that Elroy will soon "outgrow" his old man. This accounts for George's many ploys to win Elroy's respect, such as the sad "Nimbus the Great" fiasco (from the "Elroy's Pal" episode) in which George dresses as one of Elroy's TV idols. When it comes to being a husband and father, George has less in common with Fred Flintstone and much more in common with Lester Burnham, the burned-out suburbanite played by Kevin Spacey (some name!) in American Beauty.
3. Fred feels more connected to his work and his environment than George ever will.
|George Jetson at Spacely Sprockets: Just a cog in a machine.|
What do we know about George Jetson's job? Well, we know he works for a company called Spacely Sprockets. Consider the humble sprocket, dear reader. It is a metal wheel with teeth, and its job is to mesh with a chain or track. It is worth noting that Spacely Sprockets' main competitor is Cogswell Cogs. Cogs, of course, have a great allegorical significance. To be a "cog in a machine" is to be merely a small part of a much larger operation. This is what George Jetson is -- a human sprocket, a living cog. He's not even involved in the production of the actual, physical sprockets. Instead, he has some ill-defined position at what seems to be an isolated workstation staring at a monitor all day much like a present-day cubicle drone. George is not only alienated from his work, he is alienated from his own environment. Think about it. George Jetson lives in a hermetically-sealed world. He spends all his time indoors, totally cut off from nature in his sterile, artificial world of emotionless gadgets and recirculated air.
Now what about Fred Flintstone? Fred, as we have established, works at the local rock quarry in the open air. The rocks from the quarry are likely used to build the homes and structures of Bedrock, so Fred can easily see the results of his labors. More importantly, Fred can experience the natural world which thrives all around him. Sunshine, rain, snow, the feel of grass, fresh air -- these are luxuries enjoyed by Fred Flintstone which are totally unknown to George Jetson. And Fred doesn't really seem to be hurting in the technology department. If anything, the radios, telephones, televisions, and airplanes of The Flintstones are more remarkable than anything seen on The Jetsons.
Which is your path, reader? The ancient past or the distant future? Select with caution.