The War of the Worlds That Wasn’t
Will a new PBS "American Experience" perpetuate the libel that millions were driven berserk by a Halloween radio play back in 1938?
October 29, 2013 - 8:48 am
Never mind that “apples-full-of-razor-blades” moral panic that was debunked way back in 1985.
The notion that [Orson Welles' October 30, 1938 radio production of] The War of the Worlds convulsed America in panic and mass hysteria.
Americans will get to relive the famous incident on Tuesday, October 29, when PBS airs its new “War of the Worlds” episode of American Experience.
Campbell, an expert on Welles’ infamous broadcast, expressed wariness as soon as PBS announced the project:
A description PBS has posted online signals that its documentary, as suspected, will buy into the panic myth. The description says, in part, that “perhaps a million or more” listeners that night in 1938 were “plunged into panic, convinced that America was under a deadly Martian attack.”
PBS also says The War of the Worlds program created “one of the biggest mass hysteria events in U.S. history.” As if there have been many such events.
As Campbell goes on to demonstrate in some detail, those reports of mass hysteria induced by a radio play on the eve of World War II have been greatly exaggerated.