War of the Worlds – did Orson Welles really convince the USA the Martians had landed?
It’s 75 years since aliens from the Planet Mars landed in an American field on Hallowe’en, causing a mass exodus of the Eastern seaboard. That’s how convincing the Mercury on the Air radio drama was in a war-paranoid USA. Or so legend has it.
In those days, radio was the voice of authority. Compared to other media in the UK today, to some extent it still is. Radio 4 certainly still thinks it is. But could this kind of hoax happen today, asks Catherine Adams?
“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.”
― H.G. Wells.
It’s not hard to imagine falling victim to pranksters announcing a total power shutdown, nuclear missile launch, or massive storm ripping through the country (no, I didn’t see it either). Radio still has the power to convince us, because it is such an intimate medium, (from one voice through the ear directly to the nervous system.) To understand a radio story, we have to collude with it, by using our imagination.
Have a listen to the documentary below. See if the snippets of crackly recording send a shiver down your spine. Settle down with Orson Welles on Hallowe’en night. Then tell me that dripping monsters merging from their slimy pod don’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck.