The Man Who Scared the Nation

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” 
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles did the unthinkable – he convinced a radio audience of approximately 6 million, that the earth had been invaded by alien Martians.  The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network had arranged a special Halloween episode of H.G. Wells’s 1898 novel, The World of the Worlds.  Orson Welles directed and narrated the 62 minute broadcast, which appeared to be authentic news bulletins.  Panic ensued; callers to the radio station were not reassured. CBS arranged a press conference for Orson Welles in an attempt to quell public fears.   Yet 75 years later, there are still some that remember that fateful evening.

The power of media has not diminished.  Perhaps the “Halloween lesson” from this event is best given by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451: “The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half-second clips in it, or one-third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.” 

 

12 thoughts on “The Man Who Scared the Nation

  1. I think the power of the mainstream media has diminished, thanks to the internet and alternative, independent media. However, could a War of the Worlds still happen today? Possibly. I think it could be debunked much quicker, though.

    Like

    • I was thinking along the same lines as I was writing this post. I agree – this story would have been debunked much quicker today, simply because we have learned to ask for confirmation. Seventy-five years ago, all people had to do was to switch to another radio station. To be fair, there were some interesting things happening at the time of the broadcast. It was 1938 and people were afraid of what was happening in Europe. Some even believed it was a German, rather than a Martian invasion. Some studies (and there have been many) suggest that newspapers may have over-embellished the response. It seems that the newspapers were concerned that radio would make them irrelevant. Ah…if they could only see us now!

      “We are in the same tent as the clowns and the freaks-that’s show business.”
      ― Edward R. Murrow

      Like

  2. When I read your title, I *thought* you were going to tell us about something like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”! For some reason I associate this Martian invasion hoax with April Fool’s Day. Silly me. Either way, I suppose the stories around Halloween, the celebration of Halloween, were, originally, our attempts to exert some control over the sensation of fear and the unknown.

    Like

Comments are closed.