Murketing’s Sponsored Film Virtual Festival: “Design For Dreaming”

Posted by Rob Walker on May 2, 2008
Posted Under: America,Olde News,Progress,Sponsored Film Festival,The Designed Life

Design For Dreaming

[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

Design For Dreaming is the final entry in this virtual festival — and probably the best-known one. It’s even been mentioned on BoingBoing.

In part I assume this is because the film is — on one level — perfectly ridiculous, featuring a sort of Audrey Hepburn type who is “Delighted!” to see new cars that are “Oh so beautiful!” or whatever. It’s campy and funny. We all love to look at this sort of thing and snicker at how naïve people used to be. And without question, Design For Dreaming is absurd. But … I think there is more to be found here than that. “Design for Dreaming” is largely a musical in format, and at one point the heroine sings: “Everyone says the future is strange / But I have a feeling some things won’t change.” Then she launches into an amusing dance with a heavy drumbeat, before the exciting announcement: “Now the dream cars of tomorrow!” Browsing at the new cars in her fancy dress – she wants them all! And she wants the “push-button magic” of a new kitchen, too! Not to mention ““The electronic highway of the future!” The closing sentiment is: “We are about to take off on the highway of tomorrow!”

To me there are two striking things about this old version of “the future.” One is that while the tone of course strikes us kitschy, it has more than a little in common with our own era of “Good Design for All.” As I’ve argued before: Be prepared for much of what you embrace as progressive, forward-thinking design today to be laughed by your grandchildren as evidence of how foolish your generation was.

The other striking point, to me, is the ways that the old future and the new future differ. For starters, the old future had nothing to do with dissing the past; the new future is all about dissing the past. The new future is about “getting it” and not being a “dinosaur.” It’s about how we modern consumers aren’t a bunch of clueless zombies like … well, like the people who believed in the old future. In fact, embracing the new future is partly about laughing at the naiveté of films like this one.

In a sense, then, the old future was actually a lot more inclusive — it wasn’t about a battle between “get-its” vs. “get-it-nots,” or about winners and losers, it was simply going to happen and be wonderful for all. And yes, there was naiveté in that. (I’ve been on the highway of tomorrow that they’re so excited about — and the traffic sucks. Etc.) But after all, the 1950s consumer had just lived through an awful world war, and in many cases had direct memories of the Great Depression. So I’m guessing they were ready to start thinking about a brighter future — for everybody.

In comparison, the new future is kind of exclusive. Today, as you know perfectly well, by the time something really has reached the stage of being “for all,” then the people who pronounce trends for a living are sure to have moved on, and will have pronounced that something hopelessly passé. The new future is a kind of a moving target. Or possibly a shell game.

But the old future – how optimistic and pleasantly uncynical it all is. It’s not divisive; it’s not about me having better taste than you. It really is “for all.”

I know. I’m being very naive. But I’m just trying to get into the spirit of it.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

As well-written as your article is, I have to say that my point of view is diametrically opposed to yours. Have things really changed that much? In looking at the way the people of the middle of the previous century viewed products and fashion we see it through a distorted looking glass- that of the advertisements for those products that proclaim them to be for everybody. People back then wanted to stay ahead of the curve just as much as people now. The reason car models were redesigned every year was because many people would actually replace their car every year to demonstrate that they had the best the manufacturer had to offer. I don’t think their future and ours are actually that different. Every time I watch an episode of the Jetsons I am struck by just how many predictions for future appliances and devices have actually come true. It’s very easy to look at predictions of the future from this time period with a cynical eye and criticize all the predictions that haven’t come true, but ultimately, while the highway of tomorrow may have its traffic jams, the computers of tomorrow have allowed you to publish this article for essentially no money and have it distributed to a potentially infinite audience.

Written By Greg Western on May 5th, 2008 @ 5:10 am

Thanks for digging this up and sharing your thoughts about it all. I think it’s sad how brow-beaten people get over being “naive”. You can’t dream of a better world without putting some of the realities out of your head.

I think your point about competition and divisiveness is just another one in a great line of examples of how our society is eating itself. Even though many of our parents and grandparents buy into this crazy ass “personal responsibility” philosophy of the current administration they were the same people who saw inclusion in their youth. Now we have to work to bring that desire for inclusion back if we’re going to keep our country from bursting its seams.

All this from a car – who knew?

Written By andrew on May 5th, 2008 @ 8:01 am