Friday, May 11, 2007

Disney's Magic Highway, U.S.A. (1958)

[Update: The Paleo-Future blog has moved. You can read and comment on this entry here.]

On May 14, 1958 the Disneyland TV program ran an episode called "Magic Highway, U.S.A." It examined the past, present and (paleo)future of transportation. The 2719 Hyperion blog has a great breakdown of the episode.

Below is a short clip of the episode as well as some paleo-futuristic still images. Many thanks to Paul at Waltopia for the video.

As father chooses the route in advance on a push-button selector, electronics take over complete control. Progress can be accurately checked on a synchronized scanning map. With no driving responsibility, the family relaxes together. En route business conferences are conducted by television.

I really wish that Disney would release this as part of their Walt Disney Treasures collection. (Maybe an entire DVD devoted to Disney paleo-futurism?) Better yet, they could offer every Disneyland program on iTunes or use an advertising-based model. I know that Disney likes to make their offerings scarce through limited release DVDs, but the free flow of information just breeds piracy if "legitimate" copies aren't made available.

I'll get off my soapbox now. Enjoy.

See also:
The Future World of Transportation
Walt Disney Explaining the Carousel of Progress to General Electric (1964)
EPCOT's Horizons
Tomorrowland, Disneyland Opening Day (1955)


A.R.Yngve said...

Great stuff! :)

What keeps showing up in these paleo-futures, again and again, is how "smart people" assume the social roles of women will stay completely unchanged.

No one dares to suggest that in the future, Dad might do some shopping, or work from home and look after the kids.

Also, there is the complete unity of the designs: ONE uniform style for the whole nation/planet. Foreign cultural influences are absent; it's as if other cultures have disappeared.

smallerdemon said...

The house is very reminiscent of Monsanto's "House of the Future".

Reed Hedges said...

Insightful comments, a.r.yngve.

Another is that all this technological and leisurely living is all based on centrally planned infrastructure-- communications, highways and roads, all planned communities and housing, etc.

Is this "centrally planned life" meme something that snuck in from the USSR? Or is it just a response to the boom in suburban building, affordability of technology, building of the interstate highways etc. of the 50s?

TX972 said...

A lot of that future is here, isn't it?

Master-planned communities integrated with a highway network

In-car navigation systems

GPS tracking

Business teleconferencing. In car? Well, try your cell phone with camera capabilities.

Uniformity of style? There's growing popularity of school uniforms (to de-emphasise individual choice).

Hands-off car steering? Already one car (Toyota?) can parallel-park itself.

What's left? The car that splits itself into two units. However, some of the future is already partially dead past. The way the travel route was planned is already obsolete. And why commute to the office at all?

Disney totally missed the computer and telecommuting.

Mark Simonson said...

The video business conference looks a lot like Apple's iChat AV.

cellophane sixty-six said...

Really enjoy your site! Can't help but feel cheated that we don't have any of this stuff!

cellophane sixty-six said...

Really enjoy your site. Cant't help but feel cheated we don't have this stuff!

Mark Plus said...

Paleo-Futures never seem to have any nonwhite people or impoverished areas of the country, I've noticed.

The central planning theme reflects the social-democratic era in American history from the New Deal through the 1970's, when the Federal Government had more of a hand in building and maintaining the country than we've seen since the Reagan Administration. New Orleans in a typical Paleo-Future would probably have much more massive infrastructure built by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep water at bay, for example, along with an unexplained absence of impoverished blacks.

Unknown said...

Part of the preoccupation with central planning was also Walt Disney's personal vision. He was the ultimate mid-C20 technocrat, with the theme parks and (in its original conception) EPCOT-as-planned-city developing out of that.

Al said...

I just think of the opening sequence of the Jetsons by the time we get to the end of the video.

A.R.Yngve said...

Maybe some horrifying bits were edited out of those cheerful "City Of Tomorrow" movies:

[1950s style voice-over] "Slum residents have no place in the City of the Future, so they were all exterminated with smallpox-infected blankets, just like those bothersome Red Indians."

Anonymous said...

I got to see this a couple of years ago on the Disney Channel, when they still showed old Disney programs from the early Disney years. I always loved the ironic sense of futurism shown in the video. I also liked how the suburbs of tomorrow all have "The Monsanto" house that was displayed at Disneyland for several years. This would later be revistied in an episode of Buzz Lightyear, where Buzz is confined to his house in a suburb with these same dwellings.