Flintstones: Meet the even-more-modern Stone Age family

Reading the first volume of DC’s short-lived FLINTSTONES by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh got me thinking about how you keep an adaptation faithful (or don’t) when it comes out 50 years after the original series first aired.

The Flintstones was a hit prime-cartoon that ran from 1960 to 1966. It was openly a spin on Jackie Gleason’s hit The Honeymooners, with Fred as Jackie Gleason’s Ralph and Barney as his sidekick Norton. Only, of course, in a fictionalized “modern Stone Age.” Socially, everything is like a simplified version of 1950s America (stay at home wife, husband who works 40 hours a week, then goes down to his lodge); technologically it’s an insane steampunk version where animals serve as appliances and cars are powered by just pushing your feet through the floor to move them.

Reruns, spinoffs (Flintstone Kids) and expanded-universe stuff (comic books and DVD films such as The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones) stuck to the standard presentation both visually and (as far as I remember) in keeping the 1950sish social setting the same. Russell/Pugh give the characters a more realistic look and shoot for a more contemporary stone age setting. Wilma’s now an artist, the politicians are incompetent, Fred’s boss Mr. Slate dreams of someday being one of the 1 percent. The original satirized Beatniks; here we get an issue were supporters of traditional relationships protest this newfangled idea called marriage (the sex cave was good enough for your parents, wasn’t it?).

I like it, though apparently not enough people did (it ended with the second volume, Bedrock Bedlam). But it strikes me a fan of the show could argue that by updating it, the comic book gets it wrong. And they have a point … but then again, so do Pugh and Russell. It depends whether you define the Flintstones as a satire on contemporary life or a satire on 1950s contemporary life. Both are reasonable interpretations but which is right? Is The Flintstones contemporary or a period piece?

This is something that’s easy to deal with in theater. After a play reaches the point where it’s social attitudes are too outdated, just do it as a period piece. No Sex Please, We’re British was a fast-moving farce about porn when it hit the boards in the 1970s. The sex elements are so outdated now that the last community theater production I saw treated it as a straight 1970s period piece. That was the right call.

It’s tougher with a series though because it has to engage readers over the long haul. I think Russell and Pugh made the right call; even though we still have stay-at-home wives (and I imagine always will) the show’s patriarchal assumptions would have looked absurdly dated today.

Thinking about the TPB after I read it, I realized it departs from the original in other ways too. The social satire in the original target rock-and-roll, Kids Today, gender relations, and well, men; Fred was an arrogant, rather dim buffoon and something of a jerk. He’s the man who thinks he’s lord of his domain when he’s anything but (much like Honeymooner’s Ralph).

Fred here is much less of a jerk, which is a plus. But the social satire’s a lot more pointed. Fred and Barney are vets from a pointless war against the tree people; capitalist consumption is a new idea and not making anyone happier (of course satire on people buying stuff they don’t need goes back 90 years at least); the elected leader is a blithering idiot; the cover image above has Pebbles reading Cannibalism: the Unknown Ideal (a takeoff on an Ayn Rand title). It worked well enough for me, but again, apparently not for everyone. I wonder if it didn’t just fall between the stools: didn’t draw new fans (I’m not sure there’s much Flintstone fandom beyond my generation) and wasn’t traditional enough for the old ones. Or maybe something else.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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