Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mass hysteria and other ramblings

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Mercury Theatre on the Air's radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, perhaps the most infamous entertainment radio show in American history.

We all know the folklore surrounding the hysteria that occured during the broadcast. There's been a lot of research done and many historians now believe that the newspaper reports of widespread panic were exgaggerated. I don't find this hard to believe. But, regardless of how many people reacted to it, there were enough to sear the memory forever into our folk history.

There were many issues that led to the panic. The fact that this was the first time a radio drama was presented in news-flash format threw some people off. The fact that the working script only had three statements about the fictional nature of the broadcast meant some listeners might not have heard Orson Well's reassuring voice tell them that it was all a play for some time into the show. On top of this, there was mounting pressures about what Hitler was doing in Europe.

I think, for most of my life, I didn't quite understand the panic that this show caused. Logically, yes, but I had never felt it. That is, until Sept. 11. That event caused such uproar through America as a collective, that I now understand mass panic. I realize how the misunderstood becomes blown out of proportion. The horror of 9-11 spawned a lot of misinformation and true (albeit justified) panic.

Hitler even commented on the newspaper articles that talked about the reaction to War of the Worlds and said that is was "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy."

That kind of language sounds pretty familiar to most of us today, I think.

Well it is through this changed perspective that I can now look back on this humble radio show with a greater appreciation for the terror is caused some folks so long ago.

You can visit the Mercury Theatre on the Air where many of their radio programs, including War of the Worlds, are available for download.

Sheila, of course, has a fantastic post up about the whole affair.

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