Perhaps the correct thing would be to say that ‘Futurama’ will exist, not that it existed, that is why it is set in the future. Specifically in the year 2999, which is where Fry ends up after unintentionally hibernating for several decades and waking up in the time of his great-great-nephewnow an old man. And with this, they give rise to one of the best science fiction satires of all time, a Matt Groening production that is not comparable in longevity or popular impact with ‘The Simpsons’, but that is not short of virtues either.
In any case, what we do know about ‘Futurama’ is that it brims with winks: from the mathematical formulas on the boards of the Planet Express to specific tributes to characters and myths of science fiction, through el futurista ‘Psyché Rock’ by Pierre Henry and Michel Colombier that Christopher Tyng samples in his mythical tune of the series. And yes, even the very title of the series, ‘Futurama’, is a wink.
On the one hand, it is to that suffix, the “-rama” that ambitiously gives a touch camp and old-fashioned to any concept: from the cinerama format that he needed three 35mm projectors to display his extremely wide films to the Odorama with which John Waters pays homage to ‘Smell-O-Vision’. But also is a tribute to a real event: a 1939 exhibition that took place at the World’s Fair in New York.
Futurama in 1939
In this exhibition with the subtitle ‘Building the world of tomorrow’ (“Welcome to the world of tomorrow” is the first sentence uttered in Groening’s series) the future of cities was imagined, and some of the predictions were especially lucky or they point to a future that we have just around the corner, although the expo looked at the year 1960 with excessive optimism. For example, 14 lane highways with remote controlled cars, 400 meter skyscrapers and helipad, and elevated pedestrian areas.
The exhibition was built at a very specific moment: with United States emerging from the Great Depression and before entering World War II, which had already exploded in Europe, which is why Germany did not participate in the Expo. But the country looked to the future with unavoidable optimism after some very hard years that had cracked the country to its foundations.
Futurama was a model that functioned as a gigantic diorama. Nothing less than 3,300 square meters where half a million buildings, a million trees and 50,000 cars were shown, all under the auspices of designer Norman Bel Geddes. Also, Futurama wasn’t just paying attention to the cities: it was also looking at the rural areas that had suffered so much in the 1930s. In this imaginary future, crops are protected with chemical products and pollination is artificially aided.
It’s funny how Geddes got it right on questions like the omnipresence of personal vehicles and how industry and commerce would revolve around vehicles, at a time when having a car was a luxury and communications were far from working. like now. He designed highways where the maximum speed was 160 kilometers per hour, an excess then and now, although possibly then it was seen as much more supersonic speed than today.
Futurama, by the way, has another connection to Groening’s series: one of the series’ recurring characters, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, is an homage to the inventor Philo Farnsworth, who is revealed to be a direct descendant of him. Farnsworth, the real deal, was an inventor of gadgets like a small nuclear fusion device, but he is especially known for his three hundred patents related to radio and television. He invented the first fully electronic television system, which he presented precisely at the same international Expo where Futurama was held.
In short, Futurama points to a happy world for the future where technology has been able to free the majority of workers from their obligations (which is why amusement parks and forms of leisure abound in his vision). Something that may be true with regard to the partial relief of physical work, but that is far from becoming a reality in terms of time available for leisure.
It is logical that ‘Futurama’, the series, would look to Futurama, the exhibition, as an inspirational source. Beyond the sonority of the name, Groening and Bel Geddes had something in common: they knew that trying to imagine the future is the best way to analyze the findings and problems of the present. Possibly Groening hit the nail on the head with the topic of robots that want to kill humans, but we’ll talk about that when AIs become aware.