War of the Worlds
In the 1930’s and 1940’s radio was the main source of home entertainment for many people. Television had been invented in the 20’s, but it didn’t come into the home until the late 40’s. Competing radio networks broadcast comedies and dramas that kept the country amused—and occasionally frightened. Radio was also a major source of news.
Interactivity was primitive—There were no remote controls—so listeners actually had to get up and twist the dial to tune in a station. Since people could not see the actors, Imagination took a leading role in their lives.
In this assignment you will first follow a link to listen to a show broadcast originally on October 30, 1938 by Orson Welles’ “Mercury Theatre on the Air.” It was based on a novel by H.G. Wells called The War of the Worlds. Although it was clearly labeled as a fictional story, this broadcast caused widespread panic, mostly in the Eastern United States.
Some background to keep in mind:
October 30, 1938 was less than a year before the start of World War II in Europe. People’s minds were on the arming for war, as well as the encroachment into Austria and Czechoslovakia, being carried out by Nazi Germany. Fears of invasion and war were building.
The Great Depression was still going on, so many people had already lost hope for a decent future.
Obvious signs that the story was fictional:
–The company called Intercontinental Radio News did not exist.
–Simply twisting the dial to another station would have revealed
that no one else was “covering” a Martian invasion.
–Even today it would not be possible to evacuate 2 million people
from New York in 2 hours.
–Orson Welles’ introduction made it clear that he and his
company were just telling a story.
War of the Worlds Writing Assignment:
* Step 1: First listen to the Mercury Theatre broadcast at http://www.mercurytheatre.info/Links to an external site.. Just click on the “Real Audio” link for “The War of the Worlds (October 30,1938). If that site is not functioning, try this one: http://archive.org/details/OrsonWelles-MercuryThea… to an external site.. Just find “The War of the Worlds” in the list of programs on the right of the website and click on it.
* Step 2: After listening to the broadcast, pick one of the topics below and write a full-length (around 3-4 pages) essay on it.
Important: Use all the techniques: Paraphrasing, Quoting, Summarizing. You must also useparenthetical references for all borrowed material (quoted or paraphrased). You must have a bibliography (not annotated).
Choose one topic:
1) Discuss the public reaction to Welles’ broadcast. Was the basis for it totally irrational–or was it partially understandable? Use some of the resources listed in the Bibliography to support your thoughts.
2) Some reactions to this broadcast called for strict government censorship of the radio. What do you think of this outcry? Does this problem have any contemporary applications, such as television, or . . . ? Should certain parts of the broadcast have been censored? Which ones??
3) When I originally created this topic (January 2010), many movies about a post-apocalyptic world were coming out. There were “2012,” “The Road,” and “The Book of Eli,” all of which dealt with events happening after the world as we know it ends. Now it is past 2013, and the Mayan calendar was wrong about the end of the world. The trend continues this year with “San Andreas”–which focuses on wiping out California.
Why is Hollywood seemingly obsessed with the end of the world (or at least civilization)? Should we be worried? Are there any similarities to the time of the “Martian invasion?” Use details from the 1938 broadcast to support your ideas.
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