Was it Fred Flintstone or Fred Engels who said that?

by Mark Ostapiak

Remember that guy Fred Flintstone? What a jerk. He would come home from work, beckon his wife, “WILMA!” and expect an absurd portion, like a huge rack of steaming hot brontosaurus ribs to be waiting on the dinner table. Though just a rank and file quarry worker and holding similar status in his Water Buffalo lodge, Fred was master—the Grand Poobah–of the house and family (incidentally, famulus is Latin for domestic slave). Meanwhile, Wilma, though noticeably assertive and opinionated, was at the end of the day a subservient wife in domestic toil, cooking, cleaning, raising Pebbles, cleaning up after Dino, etc.

The jingle introduced The Flintstones before each show as “the modern stone age family.” However, it’s more historically accurate, in regards to the social relations, namely their marriage, to label them as a modern family, circa 1960, including all the stereotypical, unsavory gender roles, which to a greater or lesser extent endure to this day.

If one were to make a more accurate exploration of the institution called married life, and thusly put it in its proper context, she would have to go back to prehistory, literally, the Stone Age and further. Here one would find what Frederick Engels in his Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, referred to as the consanguine family, the first stage of the family, which at a time immemorial became extinct. Engels describes the consanguine family thus: “Here the marriage groups are separated according to generations: all the grandfathers and grandmothers within the limits of the family are all husbands and wives of one another; so are also their children, the fathers and mothers; the latter’s children will form a third circle of common husbands and wives; and their children, the great-grandchildren of the first group, will form a fourth. In this form of marriage, therefore, only ancestors and progeny, and parents and children, are excluded from the rights and duties (as we should say) of marriage with one another. Brothers and sisters, male and female cousins of the first, second, and more remote degrees, are all brothers and sisters of one another, and precisely for that reason they are all husbands and wives of one another. At this stage the relationship of brother and sister also includes as a matter of course the practice of sexual intercourse with one another. In its typical form, such a family would consist of the descendants of a single pair, the descendants of these descendants in each generation being again brothers and sisters, and therefore husbands and wives, of one another.”

If Joseph Barbera, Flintstones creator, had adhered to a sounder anthropological viewpoint, cartoon buffs around the country would have seen a much different and colorful Flintstones, perhaps one in which Pebbles had a romantic relationship with her brother (had Fred and Wilma a son). But Barbera spared us this “shame” of human existence rather than stepping on the world stage of cartoon history—as Blacks, the Vietnam antiwar movement, Chicanos, women, etc. took to the world stage of social and political history during the hey day of The Flintstones—and made a mark by informing a wide audience that incestuous relations were a part of the original human condition (I am not advocating, just relating historical precedent).

Then, provincial siblings of Ohio and West Virginia would not have to endure ridicule and perhaps be invited to town more often to have a good, old fashioned more-some with their urban counterparts. A much bolder and Marxist Barbera may have slipped in Engels’ description of the prevailing anthropological viewpoint of the late 19th century, and spiced select episodes where the Flintstones and Rubbles go out on the town with a wild, yet perfectly natural orgy. This scenario could have presented rather seamlessly given the Flintstones and Rubbles already enjoyed a close relationship, and if puritanical viewers had objected to fornication, “group marriage” may have been sufficient explanation. Engels described this relationship as “a primitive stage when unrestricted sexual freedom prevailed within the tribe, every woman belonging equally to every man and every man to every woman.”

“Yabba dabba do me!”

“Who me?”

“No, Betty.”

Though, in exploring modern-day marriage through The Flinstones, we must consider contradictions exhibited in the show’s scenario that may explain why this stone-age family was further advanced in their familial ties than most anthropologists credit folks living around 10000 B.C. Mr. Slate was obviously a capitalist, owner of the quarry where Fred and Barney–genuine working class dudes—sold their labor power. His private property included the quarry and brontosaurs that Fred and Barney so skillfully operated to pick up large boulders on their heads. Of course, the only explanation could be that the Bedrock region was thousands of years in advance of the rest of the pre-historic world in achieving the necessary productive forces to create surplus value, requisite in the advent of private property.

With the ability to produce surplus, rises the material basis, within what Engels called a “pairing marriage” (not necessarily monogamous, but more stable and defined than the previous historical period’s “group marriage”), for eventual subordination of woman to man.

“According to the division of labor within the family at that time,” reads Origin, “it was the man’s part to obtain food and the instruments of labor necessary for the purpose. He therefore also owned the instruments of labor, and in the event of husband and wife separating, he took them with him, just as she retained her household goods. Therefore, according to the social custom of the time, the man was also the owner of the new source of subsistence, the cattle, and later of the new instruments of labor, the slaves. But according to the custom of the same society, his children could not inherit from him. For as regards inheritance, the position was as follows: At first, according to mother-right — so long, therefore, as descent was reckoned only in the female line– and according to the original custom of inheritance within the gens [clan, caste, or group of families that shared a common name], the gentile relatives inherited from a deceased fellow member of their gens. His property had to remain within the gens. His effects being insignificant, they probably always passed in practice to his nearest gentile relations — that is, to his blood relations on the mother’s side. The children of the dead man, however, did not belong to his gens, but to that of their mother; it was from her that they inherited, at first conjointly with her other blood relations, later perhaps with rights of priority; they could not inherit from their father, because they did not belong to his gens, within which his property had to remain. When the owner of the herds died, therefore, his herds would go first to his brothers and sisters and to his sister’s children, or to the issue of his mother’s sisters. But his own children were disinherited. Thus, on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased, it made the man’s position in the family more important than the woman’s, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance. This, however, was impossible so long as descent was reckoned according to mother-right. Mother-right, therefore, had to be overthrown, and overthrown it was. This was by no means so difficult as it looks to us today. For this revolution — one of the most decisive ever experienced by humanity — could take place without disturbing a single one of the living members of a gens. All could remain as they were. A simple decree sufficed that in the future the offspring of the male members should remain within the gens, but that of the female should be excluded by being transferred to the gens of their father. The reckoning of descent in the female line and the matriarchal law of inheritance were thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the paternal law of inheritance were substituted for them.”

Flintstones viewers were not seeing “a page right out of history” as the opening jingle would have them believe. If that were so, Wilma and Betty–genuine stone-age ladies–would have enjoyed “free and highly respected position[s]” of matrilineal status described in Origin. Then Wilma would have held some sway at 201 Cobblestone Way with Fred’s fat-ass running the baby wooly mammoth vacuum cleaner around the house on a regular basis, among other household tasks.

Otherwise, the following scenario witnessed by Ashur Wright, a missionary among the Iroquois whose experiences were described in Origin, would have validated Wilma never letting Fred back in the house after their pet saber-tooth tiger throws him out on the front stoop in the show’s closing credits: “Usually, the female portion ruled the house…. The stores were in common; but woe to the luckless husband or lover who was too shiftless to do his share of the providing. No matter how many children, or whatever goods he might have in the house, he might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge; and after such orders it would not be healthful for him to attempt to disobey. The house would be too hot for him; and … he must retreat to his own clan.”

Of course in some households, the woman does rule the house, but this is the exception to the rule of white male, dominated capitalist society. So ladies, if you want a real “page right out of history,” you’ll need to get a real man. For that, those sheik mod-styles are of no allure. Instead, dust off that old saber-tooth tiger dress that you haven’t touched since the Cenozoic Era and snag an old fashioned pre-historic boy to marry. Show him who’s boss and “have a gay old time!”