The past’s view of the future has us living in a techno- paradise, replete with flying cars, private rockets to Mars, and humanoid robots that will take care of our house chores, along with a plethora of other labor-saving tech allowing us to wallow in a leisurely, stress-free lifestyle. Humans would be relieved from life’s drudgery, with future tech solving our problems, including food production, disease, poverty, and pollution. As new scientific developments or concepts emerged, such as wireless communication, TV, and robots, the visions of the future became brighter. Cartoons in magazines and newspapers parodied these fanciful flights into the future, to the delight of their readers. Space travel, ray guns, and robots were seen throughout the popular culture landscape of newspapers, radio, magazines, and movies by the 1930s. This idyllic future arguably reached its pinnacle in the 1950s and 1960s, when space flight, computers, and microprocessors all came to the forefront of futuristic visions. TV shows like The Jetsons and Lost in Space brought the latest musings about the future into everyone’s homes. Commercial artist and industrial designer Arthur Radebaugh put all of this and more into his weekly strip Closer Than You Think. Running from 1958 to 1963, Radebaugh’s Sunday comic immersed the reading public with an unabashedly positive view of the future. He was partially right about the sea bottom robots; instead of walking on the ocean floor, they landed on Mars instead. Radebaugh’s Farm Rainmaker would be a big help with the droughts that now plague the United States and Europe. Given today’s pollution, climate change, rising oceans, and growing populations, we may well need a fleet of his Space Mayflowers sooner as opposed to later. It is clear that here in the 21st century, the future is not as bright as it used to be.
Warren Bernard is an author/lecturer in the history of editorial-political cartoons and the executive director of the Small Press Expo.
William MacKay: The Social Comedy (1902), Life Magazine
Harry Grant Dart: We Must Turn Jepson in for a New Model (1928) | A Possible Drawback to Television (1929) | According to Mr. Einstein (1929), Judge Magazine
Arthur Radebaugh: Farm Rainmakers (1959) | Space Mayflowers (1959) | Glider-Slider Bus-Trains | Sea Bottom Robots (1960), The Chicago Tribune
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