The Ripple Effect of Orson Welles Radio Play: War of the Worlds.
What could be the biggest story in the history of broadcasting since Orson Wells initially announced that we, the planet, had company. That happened in 1938. Yes, you heard that correctly. But the difference is now it is not entertainment and it is coming from sources in the pentagon.
Eighty-two years ago, today, the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds starring Orson Wells and his Mercury Theater players led by John Houseman, made broadcast history. It is unrefutably the most famous and historic radio show ever. Listeners who happened to tune in late that day to the program because they had to pee did not hear the legal disclaimer that it was a mere radio play. Instead, a panicked and easily led populace freaked the fuck out thinking the Martians had landed and they are coming for us. “Mabel! Grab your shit and run for the hills!”
A twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles and his writers juiced up the script a little I would say. Rumored to be done intentionally as a prank. By changing the locations of the story to New York and New Jersey landmarks and locales. Made things more believable or relevant to the day. The radio play, based on the popular science fiction novel written by (one of my favorite authors since I was a kid), H.G. Wells. From that moment forward that story would be forever ingrained in generations of minds to come. That is what I call a great opening! They certainly got a reaction. One that certain parties were defiantly interested in. Some not happy with.
The broadcast raised concerns in the Government and private sector as to Americans’ psychological weakness to completely buy into what they were led to believe. No proof needed. Just fear and repetition. You bet your ass that was noted by the authorities and the powers that be. I mean the church has benefitted from this formula since its early days. Same shit, different year.
This situation as odd as it may seem today was replicated in several countries in the following years and receiving the same reaction, even in different language. That is one hell of a data set.
High tech for its day, an experiment run by its own mad scientists in the form of playwrights and thespians looking to make their mark in a world on the brink of war. Fear mongering headlines of the day were already prepping the planet for another major dust up. Manipulation using a science fiction story of an alien invasion may have had a larger affect then most would think. Their findings would be something they would use to our detriment many times over, in diverse ways and many avenues yet to be discovered at the time. They had found their doorway to a means of controlling the masses in broad strokes invisibly across state lines. The theory they had finally had evidence in real time that they needed to take things to the next level. Science was now in the mix including the darkened minds of our world at war.
A fluke of entertainment pointed out to them that the broadcast band can now be weaponized within a consumer-based delivery system, found in peoples living rooms. They knew the power of advertising already. Now they could get the in between and those who skipped the commercials
At the time of broadcast, more people had a radio in their homes than a telephone. For the day, the radio was “the shit.” Imaginations of future artists and writers born out of a glowing dial, tweed speaker, and a lightning bolts for added flair. Now they just had to figure out how to make it all inclusive and completely encompassing everyone's daily life.
Three times throughout the broadcast that night, a legal disclaimer appeared. The forty- minute, fifty-five-minute mark and again at the end of the show. People ignored the shit out of that as they lit up the phone lines of the radio station asking what the FUCK was going on.
Orson Welles was quoted as saying, “I’m terribly shocked by the effect that it’s had. Radio is new and we’re just starting to learn what effect it has on people. We are deeply shocked and deeply regretful about the results of last night’s broadcast.”
My ass! Brilliant marketing. Risky as it gets. Deniability in play. Brilliant. It also had something to do with plain dumb luck and that oldie, right place at the right time. It made Orson Welles a household name. Orson went on after this episode in his life to make one of the greatest films ever made (and RKO studios lost $150,000 at the box office. Deemed a failure at the time). Citizen Cane. Strangely it was about an expert in message. A mogul of media and manipulation. It seems the effect on him from various things messed with Welles psyche. I often wondered if he tried drinking away being known for something not of his making, being unable to hide from the alien horde he introduced to a modern audience. An actor doing a job within a job. Maybe he found out he was set up as part of an information campaign at first being ok with it for the war effort and then seeing what it was becoming. Fun to think abou.t That would make for a relevant story, but what type of fiction would it live in? Science? Non? Maybe I am just high and need to finish this article.
As opportunity would have it, just days after Orson Welles broadcast, social scientist Hadley Cantril embarked on a research program that was eventually published as a study aptly named, “The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic.” For the first time, researchers had a significant data sample to measure reactions to a media event by various demographic categories. The study also showed how mass media can be used for propaganda purposes. Imagine what they have perfected and put into use in the eighty-two years since this boondoggle of information and experience was laid on their laps and that was before they could hear and see you while following every key stroke on your device. Kinda freaky right?
What did journalists of the day have to say that reported on it? Dorothy Thompson, a New York Herald Tribune columnist, said that “Orson Welles’ broadcast did the country a favor. Far from blaming Mr. Orson Welles, he ought to be given a Congressional medal and a national prize for having made the most amazing and important contribution to the social sciences. For Mr. Orson Welles and his theater have made a greater contribution to an understanding of Hitlerism, Mussolinism, Stalinism, anti-Semitism and all other terrorisms of our times than all the words about them that have been written by reasonable men.”
Overseas the Nazi war machine and Stalin's communist party had the propaganda machine in high gear, seeping into everything it touched. Not like America was unfamiliar with these tactics used abroad and at home here in the states. It was just a unique way of pointing manipulation at ourselves. Truth be damned. Do not forget and buy your war bonds today!
In correspondence sent to Welles at the time seemed to have a dubious effect. The reactions to the radio play world invasion repeated a major concern. “If Americans are that gullible to this, America could go down the road to fascism as well. There had been this belief that American exceptionalism, that as democracies failed worldwide, America would somehow be different. For a lot of people, ‘War of the Worlds’ shattered that in that we could be misled just as easily.”
Interesting how the past can reflect the current situation at any given time. While looking up a few facts about this event I found the above quotes to be remarkably interesting as this subject matter has always been of interest to me since I was a kid. Manipulation was scalable from my experience. Seemed there was a common thread to all the manipulation. The hook to get you in had to be a powerful story, after that you can tell them whatever you would like, and they will follow you. Good storytellers keep it coming to positive affect hopefully. People do use that power to achieve a negative outcome. It is why it is all about the narrative. But only to the people that listen.
To Narrate means to have spoken commentary. Commentary doesn't have to be truthful. Always keep your eye out for the unreliable narrator. Some keep you reeled in with hate and trips to negative nelly land. Our version of the hive mind set the aliens invade us with brought forth from Wells imagination live from 1897 when his book was first released.
For decades, the so-called grown-ups in the room (professionals) have said that humankind is not ready for alien contact or for the admission that there is life elsewhere. I always thought that was some pompous bullshit if you ask me. A lot of us already think that there is something else out there in one way or another. From a logical point of view, I have always thought; how can there not be?
Wells gave H.G. Wells legendary status, especially as War of the Worlds would go on to be remade into Films, TV shows, musicals, stage plays, animation countless times. Even twists on it became popular with Mars Attacks and Independence Day. There was even a remake of War of The Worlds starring Tom Cruise that was directed by H.G. Wells Great-Grandson, Simon Wells. That is pretty cool. Video games like Space Invaders or Galaga for instance played off that one night in a radio studio decades later from a book already over forty years old at the time.
The invaded and the invaders story will always do well with us humans as a species. It's our story. It seems that is what we do over and over again. Not us, we are just the ones caught up in the battle of what they say is going on.
Here we are in the middle of societal uproar and a pandemic. Then they drop a story right in the middle of it that no one really addressed, and it fell silent. The information that was said would cause mass panic and religion could die over it and like a silent fart it wafted through the room without as so much as a reaction from the popular kids.
In case you missed it, the pentagon, and multiple officials as well as physicist's have gone on record saying that the government as well as private industry does indeed have “Off world vehicles not made on this Earth” with materials not found on this planet. Front page and major article in the July 26, 2020 edition of the long published Popular Science.
It was like being in an empty stadium yelling "YES!" Then nada, nothing, naught, zero!
No one freaked out, there was unrest already happening in the streets with no connection to this revelation people seemed to be so scared of unleashing on the world. It came and went without destroying a single religion. How about that. Just crickets from the side of a dirt road with a car you ran out of gas with and your phone died. Yes, a modern-day country song. There is always next year.
Too bad our friends from Mercury Theater did not get to report on it. Can you imagine the chaos Orson Welles, Houseman and company could have had this Halloween? Wouldn’t THAT be fun?! I mean that is one way to cap off the year.
P.S. Don’t look behind you. (enjoy the day)
If you'd like to listen to the original radio play. Follow this link. I do not own the rights to the following content : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q7tN7MhQ4I *for commentary use only.