Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Day the Martians Invaded - October 30, 1938

Americans were sent into a panic today when news reports of a Martian invasion hit the airwaves of a CBS radio station.

Although the reports were later proved to be a retelling of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, roughly 1.7 million people, especially in the New York/New Jersey area, believed the invasion was actually occurring.

Written by Howard Koch and performed mostly by Orson Welles, the show featured dance music periodically interrupted by news bulletins documenting the landing of a Martian spacecraft in Grovers Mill, N.J. The population dissolved into hysterics as events escalated from sightings of Martians to humans being obliterated by ray guns.

“Reporter” Carl Philips described entities “wriggling out of the shadow like a great snake,” prompting people to pack roads trying to escape from the area, hide in their basements, acquire and locate guns and even wrap wet towels around their heads in an effort to protect themselves from poisonous Martian gasses.

In his defense, Welles argued that it was explicitly stated that the broadcast was a hoax; however, if one missed the beginning of the program, the next indication that the news reported was not real did not come until 40 minutes into the show.

The baseless panic infuriated many. Some even used the show as an example how mass media may one day be used to brainwash the American people. “They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond a question of a doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery,” wrote columnist Dorothy Thompson of the New York Tribune.

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