Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks.
So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring Spacely Sprockets.
Spacely Sprockets (in some episodes referred to as "Spacely’s Space Sprockets") is the manufacturing company responsible for roughly half of the robot and robot component production in the animated, space-age, super-googie situation comedy The Jetsons. As the protagonist is an employee of the corporation, it is featured in nearly every episode, and the owner and CEO Cosmo Spacely is a regular character.
In the early 2040s, just as the boom was beginning in the sentient robotics industry, Cosmo Spacely, a recent business school grad opened a small company devoted to producing sprockets with a new method, which he developed for reducing overhead, and increasing profits at a level never before seen in gears manufacturing, called the "one-button" sprocket process.
He hired on, as one of his first employees, his childhood friend George Jetson. The business took off right away, and would have been nearly unopposed in the market, except that simultaneously, one of Spacely’s business school rivals, Spencer Cogswell, who felt slighted by being beaten out by Spacely for top spot in the class, opened his own similar business, seemingly with the express intention of opposing Spacely.
This began a bitter rivalry between Spacely and Cogswell - who already disliked each other - and their companies Spacely Sprockets and Cogswell’s Cogs. In a way, the rivalry was good for their businesses, as each was determined to push the other out, and each was a genius at business. Soon they were the only two manufacturers of robot gears in the world, and they each began absorbing other aspects of the robot manufacturing market; each one forcing himself to keep ahead of the other with each step.
By the early 2060's they were the only two major manufacturers of robot components, with both companies seeing huge profits.
Of course, the constant rivalry took a toll on both owners. They each became completely absorbed in their businesses, to the detriment of their personal relationships, alienating their families and former friends, and treating their employees with undeserved vehemence.
This is most well illustrated by Spacely’s treatment of his friend Jetson, whom he seems to have almost completely forgotten was ever a friend, and whom he frequently fires - though, as it’s a sitcom, and needs a return to normalcy before the end of each episode, Jetson always gets his job back before the credits.
While Cogswell seems to have become a truly evil person at heart through this conflict, Spacely has retained some of humanity, and at one point even reaches out to his former friend, Jetson. When he hears that his friend’s dog is dying from accidentally eating one of Spacely’s products, he first ignores the issue, uncaringly, but shows up in time to rescue the dog when time is beginning to run out. Of course, in true sitcom style, the next episode shows a complete reversion of his new-found humanity
Spacely Sprockets presents with a lot of the classic greedy corporation elements, but it has the added theme of the loss of humanity through corporate gains, as we can see the toll running the company has on the once bright and kind Spacely. It also serves as a cautionary tale about pushing competition where there should be cooperation, and the loneliness of deep ambition.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at Wayne Enterprises. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.