The War Of The Worlds broadcast was interesting in that it was the first in mass media history to supposedly terrify the nation, and afterward became a legend, although I doubt anyone was fooled. How could they be? Mercury Theater On The Air was known for giving a new and creative take on literary classics, and the War Of The Worlds, a story derived from Great Britain, happened to be one of them. In addition, when considering the broadcast aired the night before Halloween, it makes it even more obvious that the play was a special meant to scare listeners in an entertaining way. My view could have something to due with the fact that in today’s modern media there are many falsified stories (e.g The End Of The World “prophets”), and that America generally seems to have evolved into a cynical society.
Again, in the broader scope of the situation, I do not understand how anyone would have been fooled by this broadcast, and in reading the articles my assumption is correct. There was no mass hysteria. Most people were not even listening to CBS Radio during the time War of the Worlds aired, and were instead tuned in to NBC’s ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who was quite popular at the time. Most households did not tune into Orson Welles’ program until Edgar Bergen’s episode ended, which means War of the Worlds listeners tuned in during mid-broadcast. In such a case, I can understand listeners having an initial curiosity as to what was going on on CBS, but as the broadcast continued, it should have been obvious that the martian invasion was just a play.
The day after War of the Worlds aired, CBS commissioned a nationwide phone survey that proved only a few people were tuned in. For those who had heard the play, they realized it was a prank in celebration of Halloween. If millions of people ran out of their homes in a panic, how were they able to answer the phone surveys? The nationwide hysteria is only a legend and an exaggerated myth that the newspaper’s dramatic coverage spurned on attempting to discredit radio as a legitimate news source, but the exaggerated headlines lasted for a fleeting two days. The entire occurrence is actually quite hilarious to think about.
The most tense part of the broadcast where the audience possibly went into panic started around 14:07, when a meteor or space ship, making a frightening sound, was found. A martian emerges from the UFO and everyone can be heard panicking. At 17:22 police are at the scene, sirens and alarms are going off, and soon there is a shrill scream when the creature shoots a beam at the crowd, and the audio shuts off abruptly as a result. Silence ensues for a few seconds before an announcement begins at 18:35 claiming that there have been deaths and bodies burned beyond recognition. As the broadcast went on, the military intervenes and we hear fighter planes battling the martians, which is sounds over the top and makes the events seem even less real.
I doubt this sort of panic will happen, because it never had in the first place. Even the 2k End Of The World scare did not affect most people going about their daily lives. What I find is that it is always the media hyping things, making mountains out of mole hills, in an attempt to control our emotions and what they think we should feel about a specific event. As for the media itself, there are plenty of tabloids online that print sensationalist headlines like Orson Welles broadcast, but hardly anyone is fooled. Such tabloids can also be found at the cash register of any grocery store, where I tend to roll my eyes and walk pass them.
All that said, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds is a prime example of media influence. Now can we dub Orson Welles as the original media “troll”?