P.J. O'Rourke's Going To Tear Your Future Playhouse Down

The future ain't what it used to be. Satirist P.J. O'Rourke took his family to see the newly opened House Of The Future at Disneyland, and it was closed for repairs. ("HoFII has a subprime mortgage, or so it appears," he writes.) But he did get a good enough look at it to discover that it's barely futuristic, and most of its supposedly futuristic ideas are actually annoying as heck.

O'Rourke waxes lyrical about the original House of the Future, which was full of crazy plastic shapes and futuristic inventions like the "microwave" machine that cooks your food for you. And then there's the new version:

According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for “classic future” touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns. HoF II was designed by the Taylor Morrison company, a home builder specializing in anodyne subdevelopmental housing in the Southwest. The company’s president and CEO told the Associated Press, “The 1950s home didn’t look like anything, anywhere. It was space-age and kind of cold. We didn’t want the home to intimidate the visitors.”

A few HoF II innovations were discernible from our perch. The art on the walls, set in fussy gilt frames, kept changing—from Manet to Monet and back, I think. And HoF II’s dining-room table had plasma-screen place mats showing water rippling over rocks—just the sort of thing a drinking man wants waving away under his eggs in the morning.

Much of what we couldn’t see had been described in an AP piece, “Disney Revives ‘House of the Future’ to Showcase Technology.” Various passages had caught my attention when I’d read it, and raised my blood pressure: “Closets will help pick out the right dress for a party.” Imagine that: a talking mirror telling you, “That makes your butt look big.”

Also, supposedly your countertops will identify the groceries you've placed on them, and make menu suggestions. As O'Rourke's wife says, "You don't sell a house like this, you divorce it."

It's kind of sad that the new HotF is such a waste, and apparently Disney felt embarrassed enough by it that they kept making weird excuses not to let O'Rourke see it properly. First, there was a cast problem — the new House has actors playing the Family of the Future. Then it was a technical problem. As O'Rourke says, any reasonably sensible person could have come up with more interesting future inventions:

My wife later suggested a “face bidet” for chocolate-smeared kiddies and an iPod “nag chip” that periodically interrupts the music to tell children to do their homework. Muffin wanted to install hot-air driers in our shower floor “to save the Earth’s towels.” Poppet, our 8-year-old, envisioned a system of pneumatic tubes that would deliver the stuffed animal of her choosing to the place of her choice, worldwide.

It's about time we got a series of tubes that actually does something worthwhile. [The Atlantic]