WAR OF THE WORLDS
On the evening of 31 October 1938, radio producer Orson
Welles broadcast a version of the H. G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds. The novel tells of a Martian attack on London. It was published in 1897, at a time of enormous public interest in Mars, occasioned by recent close oppositions.
In preparing his radio play for an American audience 40 years later, Orson Welles had a stroke of genius and changed the locale and timing of the Martian attack. Instead of London, the Martians landed near Princeton, New Jersey. And instead of 1897, the show led listeners to believe that Martians were invading that very night.
The result was a broadcast production so realistic that many who heard it took it for an actual news flash from the scene of an extraterrestrial invasion. The radio show tapped directly into a mother lode of latent paranoia, brought to hypersensitivity by the gathering clouds of war over Europe, Panic ensued in some places and America's pre-war jitters edged up a notch. Sixty years later, it is easy to smile at those who fell for the ploy. But would we respond any more skeptically today if some TV network staged a modern version of the hoax?