In case you haven’t had enough scary stories for the Halloween season, maybe it’s time to check out War of the Worlds. The adaptation for radio broadcast was directed and narrated by Orson Welles, and performed by The Mercury Theater on the Air on this date in 1938, and supposedly inspired a nation-wide panic that actual Martians were actually invading Earth and actually taking over. Sources disagree on exactly how much panic occurred, but apparently some did happen – the city of Concrete, Washington, for example, coincidentally experienced a phone and electrical power outage right around the time of the broadcast, and in other areas, tensions from World War II led to more than a little alarm about invaders from beyond. Subsequent productions and remakes also caused alarm, such as in Quito, Ecuador, in 1949, and Lisbon, Portugal, in 1958. (How did this happen? How were listeners not completely clear that this was just a performance? Check out this article). But then again, maybe little or no panic actually happened, and it was all media hype. Given what appears to be a shocking amount of gullibility regarding news, fake news, science, and infotainment on all ends of the political spectrum today, I have to believe a whole lot of people were fooled by Welles’s broadcast, if not actually induced to “panic”.
War of the Worlds shaped the direction of science fiction as well as popular media in general. The radio broadcast demonstrated how easy it is for the media to present “alternative facts” while discrediting “fake news” in ways that viewers and readers will believe.
Haven’t read War of the Worlds yet? Read it for free in any one of several formats! Want to know more about what you’re reading, about was going on in the world, what influenced Wells’ writing? Check out this study guide.
Let me know what you think, eh?
(And while we’re at it – want to understand “fake news” better? Try some of these books)