Media in the War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds Analysis
Media is one of the most powerful tools in American society. Nowadays, culture is dominated by several different types of media including television, magazines, and social media. In the past, radio and newspapers were media powerhouses. Working men would buy the papers on the way home from work and listen to the radio after dinner with their families. The papers were equivalent to the internet in that all the worlds stories were written for everyone to read. The radio was the main source of entertainment, providing dramas and performances for everyone to listen to. During a time when war was on the horizon, the War of the Worlds drama caused widespread panic. The War of the Worlds radio drama exemplifies just how influential and powerful the radio was in 1938.
After the first world war, the United States was gripped with fear of another World War. Many fathers and husbands had died fighting overseas. The Great Depression had wreaked its havoc on the nation, leaving many people in poverty. People had lost The American people were in low spirits. One of the few things that people still had to rely on was radio. After a hard day of work or school, the radio was always there to entertain them. Dramas and news played all evening for anyone to listen. The radio captivated the country in a time when the American people were in need of escape.
One of the most popular radio personalities at the time was Orson Welles. As well as working in theatre, Welles was a writer, actor, director, and producer in the radio industry at age twenty-three. He was a young, ambitious entrepreneur. His most ambitious and infamous work on the radio was his own adaptation of the War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Welles took on this project by approaching it in a style that would completely envelop the listener. Unfortunately, Welles’ approach was far too effective.
When Welles adapted the story, he changed the story to make it more applicable to his audience. Instead of the story being set in Britain, Welles set the story in New Jersey and the tri-state area. The story was also formatted like a news broadcast so that the story would feel more realistic. Authors voiced reporters and civilians as if everything was happening live. To listeners, the world was being invaded by aliens and the the state of New Jersey was being completely destroyed.
During the beginning of the broadcast, another highly anticipated radio show was just finishing up. After the show was over, listeners tuned in to Welles’ drama on CBS radio. To their surprise, the United States was under attack. Every listener who was tuning in late had missed the announcement that informed people that the broadcast was just a drama. Those who heeded the words of Welles’ news correspondent had several different reactions. A few simply ignored what they heard. Some people assumed that the invaders were the Germans back to seek revenge. Others were completely captivated and were terrified that extra terrestrials were walking the earth. Many of those who were duped by the broadcast’s description of invaders headed for the hills. People packed up everything they had and drove to the country to hide from danger. People died in traffic accidents and were trampled in the streets. Welles’ broadcast cause widespread panic throughout the United States.
War of the Worlds was broadcasted at the perfect time to grasp the country’s nerves. After the first World War, the entire country was full of fear of an invasion by enemies the United States had made. Hitler was gaining power in Germany, promising the people a new, greater Germany. As far as most U.S. citizens were concerned, it was only a matter of time before Hitler went on the offensive. When the people heard Welles’ broadcast, they were already emotionally prepared for news of an invasion. Some people had already packed up and were just waiting for the queue to leave.
People had faith in the radio, which provided listeners with another reason to believe the nightmare they were hearing. To most listeners, the broadcast was a real news report. The same people who provided them with traffic reports and stock market updates were warning them of the impending doom. In context of the world of 1938, it was only logical to heed the news and flee from danger. This massive exodus from the metropolitan area caused most of the damage that the broadcast had set in motion.
Orson Welles orchestrated his broadcast of War of the Worlds with the perfect formula to convince people of its authenticity. Multiple factors contributed to the broadcasts “success”. The misunderstanding was created when listeners missed the beginning of the broadcast. To add to the confusion, the fact that war was on the mind of the people drastically influenced the population’s reaction. Dependence on the radio for live news also contributed to the spread of chaos. Of course when it was announced that the broadcast was a dramatization, the frightened citizens were furious. CBS officials blamed Welles for the incident in order to avoid unwanted attention. Welles later went on television to apologize for the confusion he had caused, but he was secretly pleased with the outcome of the broadcast. The incident created a large amount of publicity for Welles’ career. The radio industry saw that Welles could really create captivating dramas which would prove to provide opportunities for him in the future, both in radio and in film. The confusion that War of the Worlds caused forced the world of radio was changed forever. After the scare the nation endured, radio listeners were provoked to truly evaluate the influence of the radio.
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