Monday, December 10, 2007

Big Laughs Coming (1922)

The May 31, 1922 Modesto Evening News (Modesto, California) ran an article titled, "Big Laughs Coming," about how future generations may look at the styles, technology and work life of 1922.

The writer of this piece clearly romanticizes the notion of rural life by proclaiming, "We, voluntarily imprisoned in cramped apartments or small house, will seem queer to our descendants. Daily we go to work in our prison cells, to pound typewriter keys, push a pen or perform monotonous operations with machinery - when we might all be free in the outdoors of farmland." The entire article appears below.
In cleaning house this spring, maybe you ran across the old family album. If so, you had a laugh at the peculiar clothing styles and solemn expressions on the faces of former generations.

Did it ever occur to you, that our photographs are also going to get "the merry ha-ha" when future generations discover them in some obscure nook of the airship-houses that will be in use 75 or 100 years from now?

The marvels of today will be laughably old-fashioned later on. It is hard for us to believe this. That has always been the way. Vanity being eternal, each generation - while laughing at the past - is cock-sure that the present is "the real thing."

Have you read Mark Twain's satire, "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court?" Its film version makes movie audiences roar at the ludicrous effect of a modern American transported back into time 1400 years, unhorsing armored knights with a lasso and knocking them down like nine-pins with a flivver.

The stately dignity of the ancients is farcical, from the 1922 viewpoint.

At lumber mills, teams used to haul boards to boxcars, where they were leisurely transferred by roustabouts.

At a modern mill, the lumber is carried out to the boxcars on a long conveyor belt, a sort of endless moving platform. The lumber comes in a steady stream. An efficiency expert has calculated how fast the loader at the car should work, and the belt is geared accordingly. The loader works at a set speed or gets buried under oncoming boards.

We regard this arrangement solemnly. But, having all the elements of humor, it will make future generations haw-haw.

In the future, automatic machinery and inventions will free men from industrial slavery. Cheap, fast-flying airplanes will enable all to live in the country. Cities, at night, will be deserted groups of factory buildings.

We, voluntarily imprisoned in cramped apartments or small house, will seem queer to our descendants. Daily we go to work in our prison cells, to pound typewriter keys, push a pen or perform monotonous operations with machinery - when we might all be free in the outdoors of farmland.

Will the future consider us laughable, pathetic or crazy?

It's a good thing the average person's sense of humor is not highly developed. Otherwise, we might either revolt against the stupidity of civilization - or laugh ourselves to death at our dignified solemnity.

See also:
Anachronisms of the Future (1911)
The Air Ship: A Musical Farce Comedy (1898)
Sees World Better or Worse (1923)

5 comments:

Wutzke said...

What's a flivver? I thought it was a car.

I like that they had to explain what a conveyor belt was.

Jack said...

"Airship houses"

Ooh! It's would be beautiful to live on a zeppelin.

Sociologists touted for years how cities would de-centralize, but it's really never happened. I think that they missed that even if work or transportation allowed one to live away from the city, many would still want to live there for the social activities, night life, sports, etc.

RaleighRob said...

Jack: True. They probably also didn't foresee skyrocketing gas prices, congestion, air pollution, and other such scourges of suburban sprawl.
Now, many are predicting more centralization, mixed-use urban infill, etc.

alan said...

that line about conveyor belt tyranny reminds me of that episode of I Love Lucy with the chocolates

Odon said...

Airship-houses...I've got to get me one of those!