The People Beneath the Clouds
This is a short essay I wrote based what Black scifi fans experienced upon coming to the realization that some of their favorite science fiction, in this case The Jetsons, is absent of ANY People of Color. This was written as a proposal for an prospective interview with science fiction author N.J. Jemisin, who speculated on this epiphone in her essay “How Long ‘Till Black Future Month?”, the title of which she has utilized for her latest book, a collection of her short stories.
The Jetsons is the story of the trials and tribulations of a modern space-age family. It’s a show like most with the intention of showcasing life, but in a futuristic setting—which leaves so many possibilities in representing a time to come. Even though it’s a show about the future, it has not aged well—not because of its treatment of modern life, not because of the gadgets and gizmos and setting…it’s the simple fact that its monolithic representation is not only dishonest, it’s unrealistic—even more so than the automated appliances, robots, and flying cars. In the simplest terms, there is not one person of color represented on a show that is supposed to be about the future.
Pick an episode, any episode, and you will not find one ounce of melanin in any of the occupants of this universe. One has to wonder…why? Is it that the creators imagined a “utopian paradise” where people of color were extinct? Or did the scenarios happen to take place in predominately, or exclusively, Caucasian spaces? Maybe, as viewers, we were not shown the “Black” neighborhoods. Maybe, just maybe, these areas do exist, but in the places that we could not see. Not the places up on the stilts and platforms that hovered up in the skies. Maybe we need to look beneath the clouds.
Is it possible, perhaps, that the people of color are terran-bound? Beneath the sky-based suburbs, there are the Earth-based ghettos on the ground levels that were abandoned by the wealthy and upper-middle class centuries ago. Relegated to dwell among the mounds of discarded plastic, segregated from the sun, clean water and non-toxic air. Pushed aside with the dying plant life and diseased animals. Left to look up to a world they would aspire to but never be a part of—not because they wanted to be like them, but because they deserved to live the way human beings should live.
Or…is it that the creators of the Jetsons had no exposure to the people they blatantly ignored? Maybe it was natural for them to overlook those that did not reflect the humanity they grew up to acknowledge. Maybe the Jetsons is a thesis on the lack of representation through a lack of experience. If you’re not exposed to certain people, if you live a life absent of color, does it even exist? Does it even matter? Did they even care? Was it even purposeful? After all, it was Roland Dahl’s intention to make Charlie Bucket from his ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ a Black child. It was his agent that shot down this idea. “People would ask why” was the alleged reason. Why indeed.
“Why,” upon reflection, is a resounding “why not?” Because in the future, people would most definitely question the oversights, the neglect, and the ignorance of the past. What was once hip becomes stale. What was once the norm becomes fringe. What was once implied becomes blatant. What was once acceptable is no longer tolerated.
The Jetsons showed us a future that has become antiquated and obsolete. It’s a time capsule, perhaps of an alternate universe where its residence were too wrapped up in themselves to notice anyone else. It’s the future of the past; it’s out of date. In a world where Afrofuturism is as fresh, as realistic, and as honest as you can get…the Jetsons have moved beneath the clouds, and Janelle Monae ascends to the heavens.