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!