Even though it scared half to death thousands of radio listeners at the time of broadcast, would you believe that the now iconic Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast is not considered a “cruel hoax”?
By: Ringo Bones
Back in 193, thousands of American radio listeners from coast to coast went into a panic when actor Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells managed to convince listeners that Martians who looked like octopuses had landed near Princeton, New Jersey in rocket ships. In spite of the radio broadcast’s nationwide success, however, Orson Welles’ men from Mars were not technically a hoax precisely because Orson Welles had no intention of hoaxing anyone. The main intention of Orson Welles was to present a radio play based on what was at the time of the iconic broadcast – a 40-year-old novel.
The fact that people accepted the drama as factual radio news broadcast was purely accidental.
Psychologists who have studied the affair suggest that the reasons for the widespread public acceptance of so preposterous a tale were due to the widespread public anxiety over the troubled international situation at the time – i.e. Adolf Hitler’s military adventurism in the Sudetenland, not to mention the already widespread acceptance of the radio as a trustworthy medium of information. And another factor for the public’s widespread readiness to believe that Martians actually landed in Princeton, New Jersey as a prelude to a planet-wide invasion was largely due to the recent demonstration of incredible scientific advances of feats once thought too impossible to be achieved witnessed by the public in recent world’s fair expositions. So if one asks when is a hoax not a hoax, the Orson Welles’ War of the Wolds radio broadcast of 1938 is an excellent example.