60th anniversary commemorations help explain newspapers’ resilience

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Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

Some 60th anniversary commemorations this year help explain why newspapers will survive the internet the way they survived television 60 years ago and radio 30 years before that.

Mattel introduced two dolls in 1959. Chatty Cathy talked. Barbie didn’t. The more advanced technology doesn’t always prevail.

A talking doll was state of the art in 1959. Today a toy which talks has an external button or an internal button which is pushed to activate a digital recording. Chatty Cathy had a ring on her back which pulled an attached string, and when the string was pulled Chatty Cathy responded with one of several messages on a miniature record player.

Barbie is still being manufactured. Mattel discontinued Chatty Cathy in 1965. Internet news outlets might like to analyze why Barbie outlasted Chatty Cathy while newspapers might like to analyze the success of Barbie to figure out the key to resilience.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission was not created until 1972, so Chatty Cathy was not a victim of a regulatory agency which determined that some child could choke if she swallowed the ring or suffocate if she put the string around her neck. It was also before any regulatory agency ensured gender equity, so the free market determined the proportion of girls’ toys and boys’ toys. It is possible that Mattel consolidated the company’s doll production to put more resources into the Hot Wheels toys which were introduced in 1968 and became extremely popular with boys.

The preferences of boys might also have affected the popularity of girls’ dolls. Barbie had longer hair than Chatty Cathy, and by the mid-1960s boys tended to prefer girls with longer hair. It should also be noted that Telly Savalas had longer hair in 1963 than he did when he played Detective Kojak, and the role of Talky Tina should also be considered when analyzing the demise of Chatty Cathy.

This year is also the 60th anniversary of the first episode of the television show “The Twilight Zone.” An episode titled “Living Doll” aired in 1963. Telly Savalas played a stepfather who was abusive to his stepdaughter and to her Talky Tina doll. Talky Tina began doing more than talking and protected herself and the stepdaughter at the expense of the stepfather.

Talky Tina was likely modeled after Chatty Cathy. June Foray provided the voice of both Chatty Cathy and Talky Tina. The vindictiveness of Talky Tina may have had an effect on the image of Chatty Cathy.

In terms of demographics there was likely little overlap between those who played with Chatty Cathy dolls and those who watched “The Twilight Zone.” In terms of family demographics some fathers and older brothers may have begun associating Chatty Cathy with Talky Tina. What impact Talky Tina had on the image of Chatty Cathy is speculative, but the internet media outlets should be asking themselves what might be the internet version of Talky Tina.

In all likelihood newspapers will continue to coexist with rather than outlast Internet news. Whatever caused Barbie to outlast Chatty Cathy can be debated, but the continued existence of Barbie in the era of talking toys more sophisticated than Chatty Cathy will likely translate into the continued existence of newspapers even with more sophisticated electronic technology.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.