- It is tempting for us to sit here in the media-soaked
1990s and think back to the 1930s as a simpler time. People back then were
not savvy, we might tell ourselves. We could never fall for such a hoax
as Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
- Why do we think that? Is it because of our increased
awareness of media? The channel-surfing mentality which we take for granted
now but which fewer radio listeners would have understood? Contemporary
technology makes such hoaxes easier, not harder to perpetrate. CGI graphics,
digital retouching, sound effects -- how easily could such technology be
used to make an unsuspecting public believe in an alien invasion, as Welles
made his listeners believe?
- Of course, a modern hoax is unlikely to come from such
a distinguished source as CBS. After seeing the power of the media to create
a panic in 1938, the media of today have foresworn such applications of
technology through internal guidelines. Media outlets have acknowledged
more openly their responsibility to the public. After all, the media would
be the first to recognize that any question of their credibility undermines
their future effectiveness.
- And it might not be Martians. Today, any number of millennial
concerns ranging from the Y2K bug to biowarfare could take the place of
Welles' Martian invasion. Throughout the history of the War of the Worlds
story, the aliens have always taken the form of what we feared most.
- Watch the skies....