Orson Welles’ ‘The War of the Worlds’ 75th AnniversaryBy: Mike Fossum - October 31, 2013
Seventy-five years ago, Orson Welles broadcasted his now infamous radio adaptation of “The War of the Worlds,” the H.G. Wells science fiction drama. When “The War of the Worlds” hit the Halloween airwaves on October 30, 1938, mass hysteria encompassed the nation, as millions of listeners across the country believed that marauding Martians had actually set down in Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
You can listen to the broadcast in its entirety here:
Beyond the program existing as a historically sensational piece of entertainment media, “The War of the Worlds” sits as a testament to the power news media can have over the fragile psyche of a given population. In 1938, some American listeners thought the Martians were actually Germans, and a rendition of the broadcast in Quito, Ecuador in 1949 had citizens running the streets in their pajamas, seeking sanctuary inside churches, convinced that the neighboring and hostile Peruvians were coming. The U.S. in 1938 was still reeling from the Great Depression, and was weary of German and Japanese militaries – perhaps today a confused listener might liken alien invaders to mobilizing Al-Qaeda operatives.
Watch Tom Cruise ask himself What Would Xenu Do?, in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film remake:
Still, with the advent of a more reality-based entertainment industry, Martian invaders, metaphorical or not, would be a hard sell. Welles’ 1938 line, “Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars,” just wouldn’t translate today, unless there was some verified smartphone footage and and a broad Twitter play-by-play, to back it up.
Today, in a society much more conditioned to the horrors of the world, we have mostly zombies in place of Martians, to symbolize things like random nukes, poverty, climate change/global warming, invasive piranhas and parakeets, rising sea levels, SARS, overpopulation, Miley Cyrus, kudzu, bird flu, mean sharks, ADHD, human rights violations, AIDS, oil, global economic collapses and terrorists, to name a few. Yet, Orson Welles’ 1938 Halloween closing is still relevant in 2013 – “So, goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian … it’s Halloween.” To me this means that I’m not actually going to contract a flesh-eating condition, no matter how popular this affliction has been in the news.
Image via YouTube.