Wednesday, 9 August 2017

What is "The Flintstone Syndrome" Anyway?

It may be the most unusual newspaper article about The Flintstones.

It was the cover story in the “TV Week” section of the Chicago Tribune, July 14, 1962.

A chap named Robert Anderson humorously talks about the series, but I really don’t get his point. Let’s set aside he’s enumerating all these gadgets on the show as if they’re brand new, when the series had been on the air for two seasons (it reads like something out of a Screen Gems press release instead of someone who has critiqued the show). He’s conjured up something called “The Flintstone Syndrome” but can’t seem to make up his mind what it is.

The headline calls it one thing, but then doesn’t refer to the example at all in the body of the story. Then it’s described as something else at the top of the story, and something else again at the bottom. The “how can this happen” version at the end makes the most sense and the story could have been pretty funny based on it. Like how do those signals get into Fred’s television set? And how do the cars keep moving for endless blocks (endless thanks to those repeating backgrounds by Monte and Art Lozzi we all love). And what is a “rock pickin’ minute”? Who picks rocks for a minute?

Oh, well. I’m sure Joe and Bill appreciated the free, almost three pages of publicity in a major newspaper.

You’re Watching TV? But the set’s off? You’re probably a victim of ...

A FRIEND of mine has a recurring dream [that's a rerun without a switch in sponsor] in which he is an archaeologist. He is following a native guide into the depths of a cave in the French Alps. It takes days, because he must dust each pebble along the way with a small paint brush. He grows weak with hunger; his guide goes mad and tries to eat an indigestible Brand X frozen dinner. Then—Eureka! He sees what is unmistakably a prehistoric scrawl on a square stone. He dusts it painstakingly with his stub of a paint brush until the legend appears: Welcome to Bedrock, pop. 2,500.
The dream ends there and the poor devil spends the rest of the night pacing the floor, wondering what would have happened next if he had not awakened. This is what psychologists might label The Flintstone syndrome. It comes from watching a certain cartoon series on channel 7 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. It is rare, however, because millions follow the show and get nothing more serious than a case of hiccups from laughing.
Yet it’s easy to see how The Flintstones, created by cartoonists Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, might slink in and sort of set up housekeeping in one’s subconscious. Of all the highly successful Hanna and Barbera cartoons [Tom and Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, etc., etc., etc., etc.], the Flintstones, which will start its third year on TV next fall, goes farthest toward creating a little world of its own.
ITS chief characters, Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble, live in the Stone Age suburb of Bedrock. Fred is a likeable loudmouth, very like Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners; Barney might pass for a neolithic Art Carney.
The enchanting twist is that they have Stone Age versions of all the modern conveniences.
The pickup for the hi-fi is a bird with a needle-sharp beak. The lawnmower is a grass-gobbling lizard in a harness. There are stone slab newspapers, stone TV sets, stone pianos, and “electric” shavers of clamshell with a buzzing bee inside.
They have movies [made in Hollyrock, where the big stars are Cary Granite and Rock Pile], Stonehenge drive-in restaurants and pterodactyl air liners. Flintstone plots parody modern fads and fancies in good humor. One time Fred wants to be an astronaut [blasting off from a catapult], another he’s a rock ‘n’ roll singer.
In one memorable episode, Wilma was “discovered” by Hollyrock and was going to become a big movie star. Fred, with typical bluster, insisted on being her manager. He quit his job after telling his boss off and began promoting. As usual, he ruined her chances and wound up eating a mammoth portion of humble pie. SUCH goings on have made the show so popular with adults and youngsters alike and it may last until the next ice age.
It’s great fun so long as you don’t start taking it seriously, so long as you don’t begin worrying about what makes those steam-roller automobiles run, or start trying to build a peddle-powered wooden helicopter like Fred’s. Once you do, you’ve developed the Flintstone syndrome—and you could wind up with rocks in the head.


  1. Nice article. I think "the Flintstones syndrome" is being obsessed with the show to the point that it interferes with your own life... as is arguably the case with someone who tries to build their very own Flintstone Flyer, or an archeologist who dreams that Bedrock was a real prehistoric civilization (obsession arguably indicated by the fact that he's dreaming about the show).

    I think that a funny live-action (or animated) movie or TV show episode could potentially have been made from this idea of the Flintstone Syndrome.

    Robert Anderson was, of course, wrong about how long the show would last. On the other hand, reruns still air to this day, so in that sense Anderson's prediction about the show lasting until the next ice age remains on track to come true. (Elroy Jetson warching the billionth rerun of the Flintstones comes to mind).

    Sergio Goncalves, AKA Pelayo

    1. Sorry, I was checking if this term existed. I was taught that the Flintstones syndrome was a cringe effect that comes from knowing where the plot is going. A purposeful example of this is "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The "Flintstone Sydrone" just means we, as an audience, know the end game, the last joke, and understand it is a set up. Specifically, some bad action a main character does, causes the issue. We, as the viewer, have to watch the whole episode. The problem is usually easily fixed, but never fixed until the end. Once more, for an extreme example of "Flintstones Syndrone" watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm." It's whole premise is this subject.

  2. I really like the line where he says that the Flintstones series "goes farthest toward creating a little world of its own."

    The way I understand it: "The Flintstone Syndrome" means the show's effect is so powerful it burrows into the subconscious mind. The ending phrase "you could wind up with rocks in the head" is a reference to the dream at the beginning of the article. I think the author is saying that we (collectively) have "rocks in our heads" (i.e. the world of Bedrock in our subconscious) due to watching and getting enthralled by the once-a-week helping of stone age antics.

    I also like his specific reference to the plot of the episode "A Star is Almost Born" (although similar plots exist in "The Happy Household" and "Hollyrock Here I Come", so it could be one of those, though I think my first guess is the one intended).

    It's nice to see a contemporary review that does not try to disparage or discount the show's success. In fact, this must be one of the all-time most enthusiastic reviews of "The Flintstones."

  3. The rock-pickin' minute line is derived from the phrase "cotton-pickin' minute".

    As to who would pick up rocks - isn't that basically what Fred does for a living?

  4. Well, picking and picking up don't strike me as the same thing. Years ago I picked raspberries. I'd only pick them up if they fell on the ground.

  5. When this article about The Flintstones was being carried by Chicago Tribune, this same series was being broadcasted here in Brazil by the late Tupi TV, in the prime-time (at the same way which was being broadcasted in the USA by ABC).

  6. Yes, this article is indeed enthusiastic and, as far as the whole "Flintstones Syndrome" thing goes, I think the writer was just trying to be clever, siting nagging cartoon license as a symptom.

  7. When I was a kid, I worried about all the service animals in the household devices--did Wilma have to feed them all? Did they have to stay in the closet or under the sink in the dark? Did the poor bird strapped to the turntable ever get to fly around? Did that lawn-mower reptile stay in that harness ALL the time, and how did he feel about it? I guess that would be the syndrome outlined here, though it may just have been a secret hope that the writers would think about it too, and subsequently mention a stone-age SPCA. "Aw, it's just a joke--don't overthink it," Joe Barbera might have said. Maybe THAT'S the Flintstones Syndrome: taking the sight gags too literally.

  8. Woah! How can I forget about it! It was lovely coming across this post. It made me nostalgic. Now, I will probably look for all the shows online and start watching it. It was amazing going through this post. There is always one special thing about a show. But now days the shows by Andy Yeatman have a lot of things that are superb and seem special.