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'War of the Worlds'

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'War of the Worlds'

As Presented by Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre on the Air

Orson Welles

The ability to confuse audiences en masse may have first become obvious as a result of one of the most infamous mistakes in history. It happened the day before Halloween, on Oct. 30, 1938, when millions of Americans tuned in to a popular radio program that featured plays directed by, and often starring, Orson Welles. The performance that evening was an adaptation of the science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, about a Martian invasion of the earth. But in adapting the book for a radio play, Welles made an important change: under his direction the play was written and performed so it would sound like a news broadcast about an invasion from Mars, a technique that, presumably, was intended to heighten the dramatic effect.

As the play unfolded, dance music was interrupted a number of times by fake news bulletins reporting that a "huge flaming object" had dropped on a farm near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. As members of the audience sat on the edge of their collective seat, actors playing news announcers, officials and other roles one would expect to hear in a news report, described the landing of an invasion force from Mars and the destruction of the United States. The broadcast also contained a number of explanations that it was all a radio play, but if members of the audience missed a brief explanation at the beginning, the next one didn't arrive until 40 minutes into the program.

As it listened to this simulation of a news broadcast, created with voice acting and sound effects, a portion of the audience concluded that it was hearing an actual news account of an invasion from Mars. People packed the roads, hid in cellars, loaded guns, even wrapped their heads in wet towels as protection from Martian poison gas, in an attempt to defend themselves against aliens, oblivious to the fact that they were acting out the role of the panic-stricken public that actually belonged in a radio play. Not unlike Stanislaw Lem's deluded populace, people were stuck in a kind of virtual world in which fiction was confused for fact.

Here are a few links I found for you to learn more about the 'War of the Worlds' broadcast;
The Mercury Theatre on the Air - You can hear the broadcast here.
Transparency Now - I used excerpts from their article for mine. Their article deals with mass hysteria and mass deceit.
War of the Worlds invasion: - The complete War of the Worlds website.
Wikipedia - The War of the Worlds (radio).



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