The documentary “The War of the Worlds” recalls the grim occurrences of Sunday October 30, 1938; the day on which CBS Broadcaster Orson Welles deceived the nation and caused an abrupt outcry of panic amongst society. In an attempt to shock listeners, Welles created a horror play hoax inspired by author H.G Wells’ novel in which a Martian invasion wages war on Europe; however, Welles’ tailored his script to be set in the United States. To enhance the realism, CBS employed ten actors and a large orchestra to play the various characters and generate sound effects. Upon the initial airing of the story, many listeners had yet to tune in and, as a result, they missed the introduction which informed that the program was only a dramatized play. News of the invasions spread so rapidly that Americans nationwide spiraled into immediate panic, packing their belongings and evacuating their homes. Bustling traffic consumed the cities, causing numerous fatal car accidents; meanwhile, other news reports aired of panic-related deaths and suicides, all due to the fiasco.
Rationally considering the facts, a story such as this would seem so implausible that almost every listener whom had tuned in would immediately recognize the absurdity and, without hesitation, determine the story of fictional basis. Although the public was greatly scrutinized for being so gullible, can we really blame them? The truth is, radio as a medium is one incredibly powerful tool that, when used correctly, can influence thoughts and behaviors on a world-wide scope. As this particular example occurred during the tragic plummet of the U.S. economy as well as World War II, Americans were already experiencing severely heightened anxiety and sensitivity to the negative media coverage airing so frequently. Therefore, when such a hyper-realistic and horrific news story was aired, it caused all thoughts of logic and rationale to be thrown out the window while the overwhelming sense of fear and survival consumed the minds of the people. Welles’ in fact managed to suspend the belief of his listeners. This is a true illustration of how the power of propaganda is not to be underestimated. Although Orson Welles’ did not intentionally mean harm, he did indeed provoke very extreme, chaotic, and impulsive reactions across an entire nation, simply by rehearsing a fictional horror story on air. With access to the masses, the radio holds a captivated audience and a superior influence to spread information and communicate to the public.