A Historical Perspective in the Post-Nuclear Age
It's time for the pre-Christmas marketing push of 1961,
and Mattel is ready to introduce what is probably the
world's first "electronic" game.
The U.S.A. and The Soviet Union are the two lone nuclear powers, and
each is living in fear that the other will "push the button"
in a pre-emptive strike. There is no technology available that
can provide any hope of defense, so the only alternative is
MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction.
Nuclear arsenals are expanded, better and more powerful bombs
are researched, tested, built and deployed. Fear and
paranoia grow while the world holds its collective breath
hoping that cooler heads will prevail.
The McCarthy era "Red Scare" and Communist witch hunts have passed,
but strong fear and suspicion are still alive and well.
John F. Kennedy is president, and his strong anti-Communist
stance brings US-Soviet relations to a boiling point.
In less than a year, Soviet nuclear missiles will be deployed
on the island of Cuba, creating a direct threat to 98% of the
In the ensuing game of political poker Kennedy will use a combination of
strong-arm tactics and bluff, and will thankfully come
away as the winner.
U.S. families were canceling summer vacation plans and instead
using the money to build bomb shelters in the backyard. Meanwhile,
the US government was producing black and white films
and TV ads with snappy music jingles in order to show
classrooms of kids how to
"Duck and Cover". The whole ritual
was treated as if it were a some type of game to be enjoyed.
The entire population seemed to be living in a world of
fear coupled with ignorant belief that you could survive a nuclear detonation
just down the street from your house; few bomb shelters had filters
to eliminate radioactive air and dust, and a cheap public school
desk is not going to last very long against the shock wave and fervent
heat of an atomic bomb blast.
To this day I still remember believing that a Russian
attack was certain. My 6 year old response was to pray each night, "God
please, just don't let them attack us tomorrow." I thought that if every
day God could just delay the attack for another 24 hours, our destruction
could be put off indefinitely.
Kids of the time were still kids; we played, laughed and enjoyed life
much like the kids of any generation. Play was different, though. The
advent of Television and the freshness of World War II brought us programs
like "Combat!", while patriotic Hollywood war films were broadcast for the
masses. Toymakers found a ready market for every type of toy
weapon imaginable, and most parents, with war against Nazi and Japanese
threats still recent in their memories,
had little objection to childhood re-enactments of battle.
Seven years would see changes that no one of the time would have ever dreamed.
Our long ordeal in Vietnam and the nightly news reports of daily casualties
would cause a tremendous shift in public
opinion. College campus anti-war protests would become almost daily events,
culminating in the tragedy at Kent State University. By the end of the decade
politcal lobbying organizations would be protesting for "No More War Toys".
But kids in the fall of 1961 were thinking of the beginning of the
school year, the new TV shows, and the long ride into Halloween,
Thanksgiving, and finally, Christmas.
Mattel was one of the first toy companies to exploit the child TV
viewing market, and so brought us
"Matty Mattel's Funday Funnies".
Single company sponsorship of a program was very common in those days,
and Mattel was savvy enough to run cartoons for kids in the early
evening hours of Sunday. The schedule was to eat dinner, get ready
for bed, and then watch Mattel Toy commercials which were occasionally
interrupted by Casper the Friendly Ghost, other Harveytoons and later
Beanie and Cecil. The show would
later be moved to Friday night and finally to Saturday morning.
"Walt Disney's Wonderful World
of Color" would become the Sunday night staple.
So was the platform for the advertising push of Sonar Sub Hunt. In the
background of fear, ignorance, and perhaps a slightly dimmed view of our
future, we would blissfully go on, grow older, and hope for a better world.
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Sonar Sub Hunt 1961