The Future of Prehistoric Television: The Implication of the Flintstones in Modern Culture

All Historical information about The Flintstones can be found in the link to the video below.

A link to the particular episode referenced in the post can be found here:

http://www.thewb.com/shows/the-flintstones/monster-from-the-tar-pits/80f44987-4d4d-416e-902f-73ae942adc12

The animated series The Flintstones may be known to an entire generation as one of the most successful cartoons ever, but its beginnings were far rockier than its high ratings suggest. A product of the Hanna- Barbera studio (the birthplace of Yogi Bear and Scooby- Doo), The Flintstones was pitched to and rejected by studio after studio before ABC, an up- and- comer in the industry at the time, picked it up and began airing shows in 1960. The rest is history; the show- in part because it was intended for whole families and not just children- became wildly popular. Fred Flintstone’s lovably short temper- a tribute to the Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden- is offset by Wilma’s Levelheadedness and eventually the cute gurglings of the baby Pebbles. The Flintstones’ neighbor, the Rubbles, included Fred’s best friend Barney and his wife Betty (and a son Bamm Bamm, who appears later in the series). With the two men’s get- rich- quick schemes and their wives’ exasperated tolerance, the show entertained children and their parents alike until it left the air in 1966, due in part to the shift in focus from an adult audience (sponsored by Winston Cigarettes) to appeal to a younger crowd (the cereal and Welch’s endorsement attest to the change).

The show’s setting, though, is perhaps its most defining feature; set in a universe where cavemen coexist with dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, The Flintstones’ most unique definer is that the families can have modern sitcom- like comic situations in a world where everything is made of rock and wood and powered by animals or the characters’ own two feet. Fred and Barney are on the bowling team for the rock quarry where they work; they build helicopters powered by pedaling, have sinks and showers turned on by tugging on the trunk of woolly mammoths, and buy alligator bags for their wives (and by alligator I mean little live reptiles with handles attached to their sides).

This anachronism- taking something out of its place in time for rhetorical effect- is crucial to the show’s popularity; never before had a primetime sitcom done something so radical as to put a modern family with modern problems in a world where modern solutions did not exists.

In the particular episode we will discuss, the link to which can be found above, Fred Flintstone mocks the people of Bedrock for being so obsessed with the ‘Hollyrock’ movie industry before he is inadvertently cast as a double for the main character and becomes himself fanatical about becoming a big star. After a display of typical sitcom comedy (Fred takes abuse as the double, makes funny quips about his situation, and is ultimately deceived by Hollyrock), Fred learns his lesson and vows not to be snared by the movie industry again.

What makes this episode, and by extension the show, so novel in its form is that there are direct references to real- life places and people with a Flintstones twist on their name (usually a reference to rocks). The show is informing its audience that they are to make direct parallels between Fred’s world and their own. It is an appeal to pathos; it is appealing to our sense of familiarity and by doing so giving us comfort in their strange land. The same can be said for the Flintstone’s lifestyle; Wilma does the cooking and tends to the house- as was expected of women at the time- but she does so with little elephants that are used to vacuum the furniture and birds that help with the laundry. The televisions and radios are made of rock and seemingly unattached to anything.

This is not just anachronism, it is archaism. It is deliberately reminding us of a time long past, a time we as modern human have no exposure to (no would we ever have since the show simultaneously refers to several different periods in time at once) and thusly gives the whole show a more serious tone. That’s not to say The Flintstones is anything but a comedy- far from it- but simply that each silly little issue Fred and Barney run into, every scheme thwarted by their wives has a weight to it; perhaps these situations exists everywhere. Perhaps every husband and wife in every universe argued as the Flintstones do.

In an inadvertent way, the show is actually a proponent of human evolution. Sure, the purpose is comedy, but there is an underlying truth there that prehistoric humans were like their modern counterparts in many ways; in fact, they are so alike that they share the same problems, the same beliefs and ethics down to women’s rights and typical household values. Perhaps this wasn’t the intended effect, but it certainty sends a message.

In the world of television, The Flintstones set a precedent for animated shows everywhere, pioneering the adult- oriented cartoon as well as a single story line per episode (which was novel at the time). Culturally, the show is making a much grander statement; Fred and Wilma Flintstone, a prehistoric couple from a time we can’t even imagine, have the same values and petty quarrels that a husband and wife might share today.

The goal may not have been to promote Darwinism. It may not have been anything more than an attempt at doing something novel with the setting of the show. Regardless, The Flintstones paved the way for shows that followed to depict things that never would have appeared on television before Hanna- Barbera productions though of the premise of their new series.

It’s not the Honeymooners. It’s not a typical comedy in any right. The Flintstones is a cultural phenomenon that allows audiences to see and thusly consider something they may have never before, when the issue was avoided by producers; husbands and wives do share beds, couples do have problems with conception (Bamm Bamm is not a biological child of the Rubbles), and perhaps modern humans were evolved from prehistoric Freds and Wilmas.

What does that say about the media’s perception of Darwin’s theory? What does that say about human evolution as a cultural phenomenon? More importantly, what does that say about our underlying values as humans?

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12 Responses to The Future of Prehistoric Television: The Implication of the Flintstones in Modern Culture

  1. freddie1994 says:

    One of the points raised here, by roberly2, is indeed very interesting. Were the creators of the show trying to make a statement about human evolution through the setting of the show, or is the setting just meant to add comedic effect. As roberly2 points out, whatever the reason for the setting the creators of this magnificent show have indeed sent a message, be it advertent or inadvertent. Giving modern problems to cavemen exemplifies how much humans have evolved since those times.
    When careful thought is given to some of the problems faced in The Flintstones, such as Fred’s issues with ‘Hollyrock,’ we, the viewers, should realize that it really would have been funny if cavemen had these problems. Then we start wondering what their daily problems would have been, most likely where they (the cavemen) were going to hunt or gather food that day. Then the viewers should start to realize how much humans have evolved socially, mentally and emotionally. Humans used to stress out mainly about how they were going to get food, and nowadays we stress out about some of the stupidest things, such as schoolwork.
    Putting a modern family in prehistoric times is funny, but it also allows people to realize what evolution has done for the rest of us.

  2. secondcitytocapitalcity says:

    While I agree with roberly2 and freddy1994 that the Flintstones shows how fundamentally different we are from early humans, I think that the similarities that we can draw between the characters and ourselves show us more about human nature, evolution, and the media. First, any television show wants to use some sort of pathos appeal to the audience. I think that being able to empathize with the characters on the Flintstones is an important part of the appeal. The characters might have a totally different lifestyle, but they are concerned with issues concerning jobs, children, and spouses. These problems are universal enough to keep the Flintstones relevant in today’s culture even after being on air for decades.
    Also to me, the way the Flintstones uses everyday situations in a prehistoric context shows that no matter how evolved humans have become, we will still have problems. This is not a criticism of the theory of evolution but rather an acknowledgment that evolution can not solve all of our problems.

  3. I agree with secondcity’s point on what the similarities show us rather how we are different from early humans. The similarities between modern culture and the Flintstone’s society portrayed in the show is comedic, but shows us about human nature, evolution, and media. The almost modern society in pre-historic times makes you think about what society was actually like in pre-historic times. The Flintstone’s version only makes it evident that humans, as we exist today, have existed for millions of years without any fundamental changes in our biological make-up, and our neither has our nature. Still being concerned with jobs and relationships, Fred and Wilma do not differ much from a modern couple. In actual early history of homo sapiens, a underlying human nature is possible and easy to fathom. In early civilization, humans may have put the same importance on similar aspects of life that modern civilization think are important. The underlying human nature I am referring to is highlighted in the Flintstone’s and what makes the show so comedic. Viewers are able to make parallels within their own lives. Viewers laugh because the familiarity is reflected in a world of the Stone Age.

    As a species, we share core values of nature that are unique to humans. These values are easier to see in the Flintstone’s society. In the Stone Age, actual human society, though we will never know absolutely, has the potential to be similar in values to our modern society. We must still consider evolution and how it factors in to the basis of the Flintstone’s and what the show says about the theory of evolution. The show’s basis of showing modern society in pre-historic setting does not give much credence to Darwin’s theory. I believe, through the window of the show, it is easy to process that early humans and modern humans are very similar. This is an important pillar to the theory of evolution in that showing that humans have been the same for a longtime, however, over millions of years, we have evolved from different species that are different genetically but similar relative to other organisms. This second point, that our species have come from a direct line from other species is harder to see in the television show.

  4. roberly2 says:

    Both commenters here have brought up interesting points that I hadn’t thought of. Freddie1994 made a connection to prehistory in a new way; maybe the Flintstones had no intention to make us think about what life was like tens of thousands of years and maybe they did. The point is that the show, in its comedy, forces us as an audience to think about the situations Fred gets himself into in the context of the show. Did cavemen really have moral dilemmas about the film industry? No, but what in their biological makeup evolved to create modern human who do have such issues?

    Biological evolution is a masterful way of accounting for physical changes in humans, even for physiological differences as they pertain to the brain and its chemistry, but it is not such a definitive explanation for humans’ emotional responses. At the heart of it, The Flintstones is a demonstration of a caveman’s response to problems that arise in his life, and those responses are very modern in nature. It adds to the comedic effect of the show, but it also opens the audience’s eyes to the chance that perhaps evolution changed our biological makeups and thought processes, but did it change our emotional reactions? Do we as a species react in quick anger, like Fred Flintstone, because it is the remnants of our ancestors’ animalistic natures?

    Secondcitytocapitalcity also commented that evolution cannot solve all of our problems, as the Flintstones highlights. In fact, evolution, in creating modern humans capable of higher level thinking and complex analysis of situations, may have created more problems. Why then did we evolve, if only to evolve into a species with more complex and difficult- to- remedy problems?

  5. phishmonkees says:

    I found this blog to be different from most of the other blog posts posted thus far in this class and quite unique. The website which sm1414 sites http://www.darwinawards.com/rules/ is not a scientific website, rather it is a comedic and thought provoking assortment of different short stories and lists. The question of whether common sense is a genetically inherited trait is one that is open for discussion. Common sense, unlike IQ or cognitive ability is not measurable. In fact, in different parts of the world the definition of common sense varies, therefore it is not a universal term. In a recent Huffington post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/25/gun-poll-criminals_n_3991261.html) the author references common sense by conducting a survey; he claims that the majority opinion is common sense. In my opinion common sense is a reflection of the culture in which you are raised. For example in Nazi Germany it was common sense that Jews were abominable, whereas in the U.S. it was common sense that Nazi Germany was an evil empire. Therefore it is a product of nurture and not nature. I am in accordance with jps591; I too question the validity of some of the stories. Regardless, I did enjoy scrolling through the Darwin awards, but the argument for common sense as a genetically inherited trait, in my opinion is a weak one.

  6. theotherhemingway says:

    Regarding some of the questions raised by roberly2, I feel that we must take a look at the historical context of the Flintstones even further. Our reactions in quick anger could very well indeed be tied to our prehistoric and animalistic ways. However, it is equally likely, paralleling one of Jerry Coyne’s penultimate points of “Why Evolution Is True”, that all traits are developed because they give a species an evolutionary advantage represented as increased reproductive capability. Now clearly, traits exhibited by characters in the Flintstones are not the best candidates for examples of human evolution, however, the basic notions of tool usage and general domestication of early humans’ environment are prevalent themes in the show. As such, it is logical to presume that although much of the dialogue of the characters is written for comedic effect, the quick reactions of anger–chosen by writers who write dialogue for humans, regardless of comedic effect–suggests that it an evolutionary advantage somehow.

    There are endless reasons and paths that allow for one to draw the conclusion that anger and heated situations are complimentary and an advantageous component of our evolution, and the show perpetuates many of them. For example, Fred often clashes with his wife on matters of the house or those regarding Pebbles, however, Fred typically resolves these clashes by the end of the episode and strengthening ties with the entire family. In an evolutionary sense, Fred’s actions support the bond between him and his partner, increasing the chance of reproduction in the future. Therefore, I would argue in opposition to the claim that Fred’s retorts are a manifestation of evolutionary progress, not of evolutionary backwardness.

  7. I have to largely disagree with roberly2 on the positive effects of the Flintstones on encouraging Darwinism. I feel that if anything the Flintstones had a negative effect on its viewers understanding of evolution. The Flintstones reinforcement of stereotypes such as the depicting man in animal skins carrying clubs and even the ludicrous notion that man and dinosaur lived side by side, do nothing but confuse and muddle the facts about early man’s past. The idea that man walked the earth with dinosaur is in itself a creationist idea as creationist believe in almost simultaneous creation.

  8. running95 says:

    I think that everyone has brought up very valid and important points. Secondcitycapitolcity also brought up a very important point that I have never thought of before. I never thought that the point of The Flintstones besides being an engaging and successful family comedy may have been to make the bridge between humans of prehistory and those of modern days. However, at the same time, I do not believe that this was the creators’ intentions. I think that the makers of the Flintstones instead sought out to make a family sitcom–an animated version of The Honeymooners. Furthermore, in my opinion, The Flintstones does not relate at all back to our evolutionary past or our ancestors. It is more telling of that specific time period of the early 1960s, not of our ancestral past as a whole. While it is true that every group of people throughout history has had everyday issues, it is most likely not the aim of the show to prove that to the average middle-class, American family of the ’60s.

  9. mykkros says:

    I think roberly2 brings up a good point when he brings into question the reason for why the Flintstones are shown in such a way. Roberly2 is absolutely correct in stating that the Flintstones are “set in a universe where cavemen coexist with dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals”. It brings up an interesting idea; did the makers of the show do it because of ignorance in thinking that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans or was it just negligence as, after all, the show is just a cartoon. While it may be easy to dismiss the ignorance of the creators of the show in believing that humans lived alongside dinosaurs, it is important to note that according to a poll by the National Center for Science Education, 35% of Americans believe it true that “God made the dinosaurs, along with all other animals and humans, less than 10 000 years ago” (http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3/americans-scientific-knowledge-beliefs-human-evolution-year-). Quite clearly, the idea of a Flintstones like society of dinosaurs and humans regularly interacting is still widely believed.

    I agree with what darwinlegacy1 states, that the show has a negative effect on its viewer’s understanding of evolution. In fact, concerns of the sort have been brought up before. For example, the large British newspaper, the Daily Mail, published an article stating that primary school children were being educationally harmed by shows such as Flintstones and Barney in the way they depict dinosaurs interacting with humans. Furthermore, the author of the article questions in a caption to an image, “Fact or fiction: TV programmes such as Barney & Friends and The Flintstones created a pop-culture cliche of interaction between humans and dinosaurs which is exploited by creationist” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197348/Teach-primary-children-evolution-dont-mistake-Fred-Flintstone-scientific-fact.html). While I do not think there is a necessarily a conspiracy by creationists, the article does bring up a good point about such shows.

  10. djrosato says:

    In my opinion, I tend to agree with running95; The Flintstones is simply a family fun cartoon, not an educational show. Although the setting undoubtedly played a role in the popularity of the show, The Flintstones was not intended to promote or obstruct America’s belief in evolution. In the end, Hanna-Barbera only owed their allegiance to the show’s ratings. I very much doubt that Hanna-Barbera intended for the town of Bedrock to be taken seriously. Dinosaurs were very popular at the time, so to immerse a typical 60’s middle class family in a prehistoric setting was a commercially ingenious idea. It’s important to note that almost all of the animals that are present in the Bedrock existed in different time eras, humans included. Humans are the obvious ones that are displaced in time, but most of the birds, mammals, and dinosaurs never would have met in history anyway. Bedrock is more of a melting pot, in some sense, of a lot of the evolutionary tree of the Animal Kingdom.

  11. First, I’d like to compliment Roberly2 with such a creative post. I certainly never would have thought of this connection, and definitely not with so much breadth. I absolutely back your point up, regardless of whether or not the creators had that conscious intention, it is a fundamental human thought. I just don’t think humans really have the ability to imagine thoughts other than our own. It sort of goes along with Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”. How do we know what our ancestors early human brain- thought processes were like? (Food, Fire, Mate, Food, AHH Tiger!?). So not only is it logical to assume that even in its rudiment, human communication would be similar to our own. The best proof I can offer for this point is my experience at the HoHO. Throughout the exhibit, we are shown all different examples of early human culture, as soon as homo sapiens came around and settled down, things like art, music, and jewelery came about (Think about Wilma’s rock necklace). Humans have been doing the same fundamental things, especially in area of self-expression, since we were humans. There are still these traces of our ancestors within us. All we have done is find more complex ways to do things, as our brains continued to develop, and we began to focus on things and create institutions, basic things were just focused upon and became more complicated; the standards rose. Berries squirted on to a wall was no longer art, rocks strung together was no longer jewelery, instruments became better, everything moved forward, and progress has brought us from grunting by a fire sharing an opinion with a groups to me sitting in Gelman typing away on a laptop. At the least it is wonder that made the Flintstones what it was. We as humans simply wonder what our previous brothers thought and did and how they acted, we feel the relationship, and we apply it in the only way we know, situational comedy.

  12. foldervral says:

    I agree with darwinslegacy1 that the cartoon does not support any form of Darwinism. This is, of course, assuming the creators of the show had science or religion in mind when they thought of the premise. Running95 brings up a good point that it is still even more likely that there was intention of making a social commentary on evolution. The most obvious fact in support of Running95 is that the show focuses on dinosaurs and humans, which both creationist and evolutionary theorists believe were wiped out by a large natural disaster. Also personifying the dinosaurs makes it so the creators of the show are complete avoiding the evolution of the brain in animals, making some of the dinosaurs on par with human intelligence. This also contradicts the religious idea that humans are above all animals as the chosen species of God created in His image. It was an extreme success so no fault can really be found with the creators in pandering to their audience. They focused on a use of pathos and nostalgia. The pathos was effective on children and a younger audience while the nostalgia was effective on the older viewers. Overall the show avoids a definite stance on creationist vs evolution and directly engages the family audience.

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