Friday, August 08, 2008
Search for tomorrow
When I was seven years old, one of my most prized possessions was a book called The World of Tomorrow written by Kenneth K. Goldstein and published by McGraw-Hill. (Miraculously, I still own that book today, and it's still one of my most prized possessions.) As the title indicates, this was a book about the future, lavishly illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs of life in the year 2069.
You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent staring at those photos when I was seven. Well, actually, maybe you would. It was so authoritative: these were detailed photographs, not merely drawings created by some artist, so any reasonable person could only assume this was how the future was actually going to be. I tried to put myself into the world of those pictures to better understand how the future would feel to live in at ground level. What would it be like to walk down that street? What view would you see from that park? What sounds would you hear from the traffic of those automated cars zipping by on their grooved tracks? How would it feel to ride in one? Were those rosette-like buildings carousels or restaurants? Would it be strange to sleep in an underwater hotel?
Because of all those hours staring and contemplating, these images are still the indelible default setting for "the future" in my imagination. This is still the future cityscape I envision when reading a science fiction novel. It's the utopian future Earth of Star Trek; the three-dimensional version of what Curt Swan drew in old issues of Adventure Comics with the Legion of Super-Heroes.
It turns out the photos in The World of Tomorrow actually came from the Futurama II exhibit presented by General Motors at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the very building I wrote about in my previous post. (The original Futurama was presented by GM at the 1939 World's Fair.) Neither the corporate connection nor the association with the World's Fair were highlighted in any way by Goldstein or singled out in the acknowledgements. The book was published several years after the fair closed, in which time a lot had changed in America...and the surprisingly progressive, socially conscious, and environmentally enlightened text wasn't a commercial sop to the automaker. As a result, I went a decades not ever guessing the connection until I came across the familiar pictures by accident a couple of years ago while researching something else.
And now, because we live in the future -- where this home computer terminal I'm using at the moment is connected to a worldwide communications network -- I can share with you something I never dreamed existed: actual motion picture footage of that other future I kept trying to visit throughout my childhood.
Note: the above scans were found at nywf64.com, which offers a thorough guide to Futurama II among other attractions.
at 1:58 AM