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In Advance of the Nightmare: When Americans Still Dreamed

Or, “Who was that masked man?”

“Everyone says the future is strange, but I have a feeling some things won’t change.”

Once upon a time, under different spiritual, philosophical, intellectual, and political dominance America was a nation of big dreams whose business was making those dreams a reality. In those dear dead days beyond recall America promised an idyllic reality within reach of not just the nomenklatura and the elites, but the vast and ever-aspiring upwards middle class. Today the emblem of the defeat and degradation of that dominance is epitomized in the morbidly obese Lizzo miming fellatio on the crystal flute of James Madison while twerking her fat and fuming cheeks. That the present culture would allow this without heating up the tar and feathers is a signal that the America of aspiration is as dead as the dodo with the proviso that the Dodo was much more attractive and far less draped with folds of flab than Lizzo. 

Today the future just ain’t what it used to be.

Oh well, that America had a pretty good run. That America had some nice ideals and aspirations. That America was unconsciously immortalized in the kitsch classic, Design for Dreaming.  At once camp,  cartoonish, and slyly self-conscious Design for Dreaming froze that America at the top of its arc; its apogee. In fact, the descending cultural arc of Design for Dreaming runs in parallel to the decline and fall of the late great state of being it emblemized. Tracked from its debut to its end we can see how the culture it epitomized went from the ideals of a cornporn operetta to a cultural allusion to an element used in children’s games to a target of mockery by “too cool” America just before that culture of cool was itself transformed into cultural cannon fodder by #metoo, #nevertrump, and other assorted backhoes of woke.

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Design for Dreaming is a 1956 cult industrial short or sponsored film of about ten minutes in length about a woman (played by dancer and choreographer Tad Tadlock; real name Thelma Tadlock) who dreams about a masked man (dancer and choreographer Marc Breaux) taking her to the 1956 General Motors Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and to Frigidaire’s “Kitchen of the Future”.

The entirety of the dialogue is sung, though the actors do not move their lips to their characters’ pre-recorded voices. The film starts off with her in her bedroom, with the masked man suddenly appearing. He then takes her to the Motorama. After looking at several cars including Buick, Chevrolet Corvette, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Cadillac, she is taken to the “kitchen of the future”, where she bakes a cake. She then goes back to the Motorama and dances the “dance of tomorrow”. After looking at more cars, she and her masked man (who unmasks himself) travel on the “road of tomorrow” in “Firebird II” and fall in love.

Elements of this film return and are blended into Peter Gabriel’s video for his hit song “In Your Eyes” (starting at 2:51)

Other uses include Rush’s “Superconductor”(starting at 3:42)

And the ever-popular and much more super Super Mario back in 1989:

The film has over the years become a popular symbol of 50s consumerist culture and was featured extensively in the BBC documentary series Pandora’s Box by Adam Curtis (see the intro before the main title).

It also appears in its entirety with an amusing and suitably sardonic “commentary” as a short feature in a fifth-season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mystery Science Theater itself was the apogee of the “tool cool” retro-cool hipster culture killed off by woke.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!

PS: A somewhat more developed if not slightly overwritten iteration of this item can be read by all members at In Advance of the Nightmare: When Americans Still Dreamed on The New American Digest

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jwm October 12, 2022, 3:51 PM

    This was General Motors.

    Ford Motor company once had the futuristic exhibition hall called the Ford Rotunda, which at one time was one of the biggest tourist attractions in the mid-west. I’ve mentioned before that my grandfather was an engineer for FOMOCO. This was his desk plate: a never-built all aluminum concept car called the Ford Piedmont. The rendering is mounted in a piece of windshield glass, so it was hard to photograph. In 1991 I visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, and talked my way into the archive room, hoping I’d find some record of it. I got to spend a couple of hours looking at renderings of all the concept cars they had on file. What a treat that was. The piedmont was nowhere to be found. This is the only existing picture.

    Click to enlarge:



    • Vanderleun October 12, 2022, 4:02 PM

      O ye of little faith.

      • jwm October 12, 2022, 4:08 PM

        Thanks! I screwed that posting up pretty good. 🙂


        • julie October 12, 2022, 8:02 PM

          Ah, so there’s a back story. Very cool!

    • John Venlet October 13, 2022, 7:52 AM

      As CW at Daily Timewaster would say, I’d drive that. I think its a sweet ride, a sled to cruise in.

  • Silver Shamrock October 12, 2022, 5:37 PM

    It only gets worse under Beijing Brandon and look for his string pullers to nuke the former USA and blame Russia.
    It’s all been decided on this clowns with “nooklur” footballs hellride to Ozymandias and be ready for anything with your head on a swivel.

  • Anonymous October 12, 2022, 6:09 PM

    It’s like hating the art because I can’t get past the deplorable personal behavior of the artist. A vanity project for some GM exec, so flush with cash that they didn’t even know what to spend it on, so they just went crazy and slapped chrome on everything. Motor City execs trying to curry favor with the New Jack City culturati, as if that would do them any good. They would have been better off making affordable and reliable cars that ran and ran and ran. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

    Less is more. They didn’t need New York mavens to sell Mustangs.

    • jwm October 12, 2022, 6:44 PM

      There is plenty enough to by cynical about in this current age and time. While it may look extravagant, and little silly, this film is alive with the optimism, and enthusiasm for the future of an America that now has neither. To project the cynicism of this day and age on a production sixty six years in the past just reeks of bitterness.


      • John A. Fleming October 13, 2022, 1:41 AM

        Fine. I was the anonymous above. I’ll just say I was not charmed by this short movie, not at all, could only watch it in short doses, and I don’t know why. It’s like all art, some a person responds to, and some a person doesn’t, and some a person is repelled by, and it’s all very individual. This seemed to me to be a movie that is not art, but instead is playing at being art. I can’t even tell if it captures the genuine zeitgeist and gestalt of the age. It’s clear from both your comment and GVDL’s research that it captured the attention of a bunch of folks and wormed its way into the culture as an expression of mid-century Modern perhaps. I like some mid-century Modern, just not this. Maybe Casey could explain it, what makes some art universally appreciated, and some only appealing to a subset.

        • Casey Klahn October 14, 2022, 12:06 AM

          John, I have sort of the same response to it; I watch it in fits and spurts. You’d think my advanced age would make it more palatable than whenever I first saw it, in my youth. Nope: same uneasiness. Maybe that’s the concept of it; I’m no film critic.
          Universal appeal would be that which appeals to the greater percentage of viewers, but the subset would only appeal to initiates – people with some learned knowledge about what to look for. Rather than look there, I’d say trust your feelings: it’s weird!

  • ghostsniper October 12, 2022, 6:58 PM

    I’ve had Design for Dreaming in my database since the usenet days and view it now and then just because of Tad. Same with Touch of Magic. In fact, in that genre alone I have about 103 vids that spark all the nostalgia anyone could ever want, from the 30’s to the early 60’s. When today becomes unbearable or repulsive I step back into the past for a spell and recharge, rejuvenate.

  • Roadie October 13, 2022, 7:13 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! MST3K, how could I have forgotten you? I haven’t laughed this hard all year.

  • ThisIsNotNutella October 13, 2022, 2:13 PM

    Did anybody here notice that Kanye West just got DeTwittered and DisBankAccounted for naming the Kindly Ones who have absolutely zero power and are always guiltless?

    Golem Malfunction on Level 3! Response Units are responding. Remain in your pods and await further instructions. The soy ration will be increased by six million 25 percent for today only.

  • Casey Klahn October 14, 2022, 12:28 AM

    The Fifties! Jeepers Creepers, I was just 2 when that decade ended. I wouldn’t know a cultural apogee from a Frisco place to pee. It all runs together.

    Cars were beautiful, and that lasted another long decade, and then: pfft. Car design went to hell; the MBAs took over the car companies, I suppose.

    Were the 50s the cultural high point? I liked the Joker movie, with Joaquin Phoenix, because it placed peak dystopia at 1979-1980. That’s as fair a guess as any, I suppose. Or, will peak dystopia be the Joker sequel, which is scheduled to come out in October of 2024? Jeebers Fucking Cripes! October surprise? That movie will dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, I bet. I bet it’ll bomb tremendously, or anyway fall like to half of the first one.

    As if we can’t see it as an October surprise. Now, the movie is designed as an agent of change for the culture. Agent of change?? From democrat rule to GOPe? I highly doubt they want that, and so in order to seal the deal, I bet they’ll make it very pointed. MAGA will be set up as the butt of the movie, and you’re supposed to be scared to vote other than a Democrat. Sound like it’ll be good? Fuck no, it won’t be.

    I digress. What do I know of cultural apogees? Nothing, I’m sure. I suspect the place we’re at now is rock bottom, though. Rock flipping bottom. Heard any of your friends, neighbors or family recant their vax beliefs? I mean, they were wrong 5 ways to Sunday; tricked and bamboozled time and time again. Any idiot sees the lark that was the vax and the mandates. Well? Feel stupid, Mr. and Mrs. America? Ready to apologize for all that vax mania?

    My wife says she read that 2 weeks ago the current booster shot rolled out. It has a 3% compliance rate, I guess. That means 97% vaccine resistance I guess you could say.

    I am dreaming. And, I wish I could awaken.

    • Vanderleun October 14, 2022, 9:52 AM

      Don’t awaken. It will just be coming around for the next day of nightmare.

    • jwm October 14, 2022, 10:03 AM

      I could make some trite comment about “to each his own” or something. But it is one of those odd bits knowledge that we all keep in our heads, but never seems to descend into the gut. Like listening to the radio in the car. Every song you can’t freakin’ stand is number one on someone else’s play list, and every tune that you find good for pegging the volume, and running fifteen to twenty five over the speed limit gets the station changed in someone else’s car.
      But if your day isn’t wrecked, yet, let me help. Climate activists decided Van Gogh was a legitimate target:


      • Casey Klahn October 14, 2022, 10:22 AM

        I knew right away that the museum glass saved the painting, and the young near-psychotics also knew the same. However, note to the museums: run a bead of silicon to gasket the glass and frame interface of world treasure artworks.

        If they’d been boys, they’d’ve swung a hammer, but TG that didn’t happen. I wonder how much palm skin gets ripped off when you dissolve that glue they used to adhere themselves to the wall?

        There is more truth in Vincent’s incandescent yellow sunflowers paintings than in all the climate change literature in all the world.

        BTW I am pissed that a certain exhibition on NYC has a number of political art pieces in it; all Lefty, of course.

  • Anonymous October 14, 2022, 6:55 PM

    DFD looks like a Kenneth Anger production.