Woody, hydro-power, and plastic
Guthrie, not Allen. I was listening to his song “Talking Columbia Blues” today, and heard this verse – a future vision from the 1940s of how hydro-electricity would transform America.
You just watch this river, though, pretty soon
Everybody’s gonna be changin’ their tune;
The big Grand Coulee and the Bonneville dams
Run a thousand factories for Uncle Sam.
And everybody else in the world. Turnin’ out
Everything from fertilizers to sewing machines,
And atomic bedrooms and plastic —
Everything’s gonna be plastic.
(Full lyrics here.) Guthrie had been hired in 1941 by the Bonneville Power Administration to write songs for a film to promote the use of hydro power from the Columbia River in Oregon, although the film wasn’t released until 1949.
By the mid-1940s, it was pretty well-accepted that plastics was the future. In Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life‘ (1946) Sam Wainwright makes his fortune in plastics, and offers George Bailey (the James Stewart character) the chance “to get in on the ground floor” – prompting one of Stewart’s more memorable speeches:
Now you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors. And I don’t want to get married *ever* to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do.
And by the time Benjamin has the famous exchange in The Graduate, released in 1967, ‘plastics’ is used as a sign of how out of touch the older generation are.
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?
By then, the future has become the past.