Atompunk: A retro-futuristic aesthetic centered around the technology of the 1950s extended into the 21st century and beyond. It often depicts “traditionally American” values such as the nuclear family and a suburban lifestyle; conversely, the totalitarian regimes of Communist Russia and its satellites with their emphasis on technological power. I define its heyday as the years between 1944, when the U.S. Manhattan Project began, and 1964, with the rise of The Beatles.

The antenna ruled in this age, indicating the power of radio and radio waves to connect the world (and also spew propaganda.)

A prime feature of Atompunk is a robust faith in the power of technology to create a better world even when that technology belonged to the enemy, as Sputnik did in the illustration above. Walt Disney leveraged American’s fascination with the early Space Age into fodder for his TV show Walt Disney’s Disneyland and, in 1957, the Tomorrowland section of his Disneyland theme park.

The park employed couples dressed in silver spacesuits and bubble helmets to pose for pictures with visitors. Here, though, they seem more interested in flirting with each other.

Monsanto’s plastic House of the Future was another original Tomorrowland feature. Everything in it and around it was made of, you guessed it, plastic. Big picture windows were covered with drapes that could be swept aside at the touch of a button to let in the California sun. Inside, all was neat, orderly, and sterile.

Not a hint of homey clutter here.

The interior is, perhaps, too late and sophisticated to be truly Atompunk. Note the Eero Saarinen chair, for example. The palette of Atompunk, I think, is more drab and neutral than depicted: black, white, beige, shades of gray, touches of rocketry red and yellow, and grayish blues. Technology, though full of promise, was serious business and there was no room for extraneous hues like the gold, turquoise, and red-orange seen here. The fussy dried flower arrangement, too, may be considered extraneous, though it certainly fit with Atompunk’s no-fuss ethos. Preserved plants need never be watered, after all. The oddity of their shapes adds a touch of the alien. 

The House of the Future lasted a mere ten years, 1957 to 1967, and the original version of Tomorrowland is long gone as well in favor of a more Steampunk, Jules Verne vibe. But in its heyday it was Atompunk at its finest.

Another Atompunk kitchen featured its trademark curving, swooping lines, odd angles, and silver chrome. The woman’s tight shirtwaist dress is not Atompunk, however. It’s the real world of painful support garments and starched-to-hell crispness intruding. Her smile, though, seems genuine and not forced like the piece of cheesecake below.

Is this an Atompunk girl? Maybe, but she’s late in the era with her girlish makeup and naturalistic pose.

These models aren’t Atompunk either. They’re too casual and colorful, without the restrained, womanly gravity of the era. Despite their childlike clothes, they look more than a little wan and jaded. They’re ready to spring off into some adventure, not futz around at home. I’d call them Jetpunk or Modpunk.

These robots, from the 1954 movie Gog, seemed plausible at the time the movie was released. But now they look overly clunky and clumsy. All it would is a couple of sharp tacks under their thin tire treads to stop them. (The movie itself, though, is a good example of the Atompunk palette I talked about above, perhaps because of the Eastmancolor process.)

Atompunk bathrooms need Atompunk tile. I hope this still exists somewhere.

A favorite feature of the time period was the free-standing spire, as exemplified by the Space Needle of the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the GPO Tower of London, and the Toronto X. Here they’re depicted as a series of souvenier pens.

TV sets from the Atompunk age. These hadn’t evolved into the clumsy, wood-cabineted pieces of furniture they would in the late 1960s and 1970s, where they attempted to blend in with the real pieces of furniture. In Atompunk, they reveled in the display of a dazzling new technology.

Of course the U.S. military would be sending rockets into space at this point complete with its star logo.

See you next time. Bye!


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