Friday, September 19, 2008

The World of Tomorrow

Few things age more poorly than visions of the future.

Continuing my 1930s obsession of late, here is the official film of the General Motors Futurama exhibit from the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

Part 1



Part 2




I began my survey of modern art in Germany from 1892 to 1937 (from Kaiser Bill to Schickelgruber) with the idea that what made modernity modern was a faith in the future, a sense of expectation of a better tomorrow. I said that this is what separates us from modernism.  They believed in "The Future," we don't.  "Welcome to the World of Tomorrow" for us is a bit of ironic fun. For the generations before WWII in Europe (and before Vietnam here) that phrase was a declaration of faith.

I don't know what to think of that transformation.  Are we wiser, or poorer?

I love this film because it is so very quaint (though some of its ideas, especially about parklands and green spaces, are actually very farsighted for the time). It's fun to see what came true and what didn't, and to see all the shameless corporate promotion of automobile technology throughout.  Trains and train travel are conspicuously absent in this film.  

My father loved this film for different reasons.  He saw it with eyes shaped by a childhood that witnessed the Great Depression.  For people living in that dreary time, this must have appeared magical and very encouraging.

6 comments:

Scott Hankins said...

"I don't know what to think of that transformation. Are we wiser, or poorer?"

We are wiser, and we are getting poorer (most of us, anyway). The Atlantic Monthly had an engaging article on the idea of "progress" a couple of years ago. I can't cite it. But I grew up on that expectation and will likely never outgrow it. My sense is that "this" generation is fully in touch with the absurdity of the idea of "eternal progress". I'm grateful for that, and I look forward to learning more from them about that.

I note that you have deleted any reference to your profile, so I will respect that and just say how grateful I am that you are willing to give us a glimpse into your classroom. Thank you so very much!

When I visited Nashua, Iowa recently, there was a map of the rail lines in the midwest not all that long ago. Innumerable they were. I was amazed. They are mostly gone now, except for a few shipping lines.

Counterlight said...

I deleted the profile to keep my students out. I keep a separate blogsite for my students to get class information and study guides, and I rather they didn't wander into this blog.

It's a matter of keeping the job and the home life separate. When they show up in my email, I'm back at work.

Scott Hankins said...

Got it. Thanks. I was wondering what had happened, and that's the explanation. Having just returned home, and having parishioners who have leaked onto my blog, I admire your foresight.

BillyD said...

"Trains and train travel are conspicuously absent in this film."

Well, they're not shown (at least, not that I can see) but there is a brief mention of rail travel in the description of the airport.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The films made me sad. They were quite naive back then with their ideas of progress. Alas! The prediction of the giant motorways has come true.

Are we wiser? I don't know. More cynical, definitely. As far as progress goes, we're not even holding the line. We're going backwards.

BillyD said...

Believers in progress were always getting it wrong. One of my favorite books as a child was _You Will Live Under the Sea_. I remember looking very much forward to the days of domed underwater homes and seafloor settlements.

Thank God the dystopians seem to get it wrong, too. Mostly, and so far.