In the 1930’s the radio show War of Worlds caused a huge stir as many listeners thought that the fictional story of aliens attacking was real! Ronni and Brittany talk about how this was the first example of “fake news” and how media is used to stir up fear in today’s world.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Ronni: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Ronni.
Ronni: Hey, so curious, did have you ever heard of this guy named Orson Welles?
Brittany: Yes, I have.
Ronni: He was this famous guy from the 1930s to 1950s, and he was an actor and he wrote a bunch of stuff and directed films, and he did radio shows. He was like super famous during that time period. So you have heard of him?
Brittany: Yes, absolutely. I watch a lot of, I Love Lucy. My favorite shows. And he’s, he’s come up a couple of times and there, I think there’s a, they go to like LA for a season and he’s there or something, but yes, so I’m very familiar. My grandpa liked him too.
Ronni: So, one of the things that he’s most famous for, that I always think of when I hear his name is this radio show that he did called The War of the World. Have you ever heard of lists?
Brittany: Yes, I have.
Ronni: Well, it’s a really kind of interesting story and you know when to talk about it and share it with our readers in case they haven’t heard about this. So, War of the Worlds, oh, before we talk about that. So back in the 1930s and 1940s, they didn’t have TVs and when people would be entertained, when they went to sit around with their family, they could either read a book or the newest thing was listening to radio shows, kind of like a very, very early version of what of podcasting. Right.
Brittany: It actually always feels like we came full circle. that’s so funny.
Ronni: But it was radio shows. And so at that time, there were people who just talked like we talked right now, or they would do shows, so they would act out this whole drama in front of the microphones, and then everyone would sit at home on the radio shows and listen. And so they would tell different kinds of stories. So the medium at the time was radio, that was the popular medium. And, the people who produced radio were coming up with all different ways of engaging their audience and doing different types of entertaining radio shows. So, Orson Welles was known as this fantastic voice actor. And so he wrote and produced all of these radio shows. And his most famous radio show is the one we’re talking about War of the Worlds Now, War of the Worlds was a book by HG Welles, about, aliens invading. And it had been written 40 years previously. And I guess Orson Welles, they’re not related. HG Welles and Orson Welles, by the way, Orson Welles,
Brittany: Which is very confusing, spelled differently, though.
Ronni: I know it’s spelled differently. I know, but as I say it, I believe they’re pronounced the same. So if I am, maybe it’s Orson Wellis, I don’t know. I apologize if I’m pronouncing it. It’s Welles.
Brittany: It’s Welles. Yep.
Ronni: So they had been, one of the things they had been experimenting with is taking books and, making them dramatic and, you know, kind of acting them out on the radio show. And they decided one week that they were going to do this book called War of the World about aliens invading sounds all good and normal. Right. It’s a normal thing. Nothing strange about it except they decided in being innovative that unlike usually when they just kind of read the story or they had actors’ voices reading the words of the story, that they were gonna do something really unique. They were going to make the book sound as though it was a real event happening. Right now at the beginning of the show, for anyone who happened to have been listening at the beginning of the show, they did say, this is a dramatization. These events are not really happening. We are just acting them out. But then they started their whole little show, and the whole show was, there’s an emergency Aliens of Landed, they’re destroying all of this stuff. And then they had what sounded like official news broadcasters coming in saying, this is the radio station and everyone needs to be worried about all of this that’s happening. And then they cut to, you know, some government’s, position, government office also saying emergency. So for anyone who happened to click into the show after the original announcement, they had no idea that this was not real. And to them at that time. Now, for us now, if we were to turn on the TV, like Brittany, if you said if you turned on the TV and there was, what looked like a new show, but it looked like it was some overdramatic new show, would your first thought be like, oh, that must be true, or would your first thought be, oh, maybe I turned it onto a movie and they’re showing newscasters?
Brittany: Well, these days it reminds me like, of Facebook having the like, fact-checkers, right? These days I’m shocked we don’t have fact-checking on anything we watch. But I think if I were to see something being that over, you know, drama dramatized, I would think it was a movie.
Ronni: Yeah. Well, yeah, if you turn on the TV and newscasters are saying aliens just landed.
Brittany: I don’t know though, Ronni, there were murder hornets in 2020. There were supposed to be.
Ronni: That’s right.
Brittany: So yes, I would definitely think I was watching a movie.
Ronni: But back then, so now we are so much more aware that, you know, we could be being fooled at any given moment. And so, you know, our we’re thinking a little bit more, hopefully, some people are, not everyone is, but back then, this was brand new. No one even thought of the idea that this could be fake, that what they’re hearing could be fake news. I mean, that was not a term or concept to them. So people started freaking out because they thought that for real, there were newscasters saying that aliens were landing and things were being destroyed. They thought there was really a government office giving emergency, information to people. They thought it was real and they flipped out. They went, they panicked, and it caused this huge big panic. And so anyways, kind of to follow up on the story is that the next day or some Welles got into a lot of trouble because he like incited panic.
Brittany: I have heard this story. This is funny to me because, like what part did you just say about him getting in trouble? Because nowadays, you know, there were parody sites, Babylon Bee, and things like that, getting in trouble for satire is what it’s called. When you do something, it’s called like a spoof. Like you take something and, I’m trying to think of an example of it. Basically, you take something that’s kind of true and you make it into a silly, outrageous story. But then Facebook and places where it’s saying like, no, people are gonna believe it. You have to tell them it’s not real. But part of the funny humor part of it is you look at it and you’re like, oh, you know, it’s not, it’s so outrageous. This couldn’t be real. So it kind of reminds me of that, you know, like where people are like, oh, how, you know, you’re responsible for this person thinking it’s real. So I think there’s some parallels to today.
Ronni: That’s a really interesting point. I hadn’t even thought about that, but you’re right. So I guess it just depends on trying to figure out what people at one certain time are going to take as true and not take as true.
Brittany: And we never know, right? Because people, it kind of reminds me too, there’s like a joke on the internet where it’s like, you look at the title, but you don’t click on an article you just look at the title and then you, you try to guess what the article’s about and then you get something wrong. It’s like that, right? If they just tuned in for some of it and heard that, they wouldn’t know ’cause they didn’t listen to the whole thing. But there’s also no playback. You can’t rewind an old-school radio that didn’t exist. Oh yeah. So that’s, yeah. So it’s just really interesting. But I also feel like I would’ve loved to have been around when that happened. As somebody who likes overdramatic things, I think it would’ve been really fun.
Ronni: Do you think that, you know, if you can imagine putting yourself back into, you know, 90 years ago and you’d heard that broadcast, how do you think you would’ve responded?
Brittany: That is a really good question. I had to stop and think about it. Cause, of course, I like to think of myself as, you know, an intellectual who would never fall for that of course. But, I think you have to put yourself into the mindset of the people. Yeah. Living back then what they were used to, what they weren’t used to. I tend to be a, doesn’t trust anything in the beginning person. So I think I would’ve been skeptical just because that’s in my mind in my, you know, core. I like to question everything. So I think my first thing would’ve been like, what’s going on here? But that doesn’t mean I might not have gotten a little panicky. I don’t know. What about you?
Ronni: Yeah, I feel like I’m the same. If this was the first time I’d ever been in that experience, I may have. Yeah, maybe I would’ve believed it. But then at the same time, it’s really fascinating because as you mentioned with Babylon Bee and people not knowing, it was satire and, you know, getting upset about it. The methods that are used to reach people or entertain people are going to continue changing and they’re always going to be something new. So as we go into the future, who knows how information will be presented to us and it’s entirely possible that something else could come out. And because we haven’t seen it presented in that way, we want to believe it. So it makes me wonder, how do we know what is fake news?
Brittany: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think the best thing would be, you know, you’ve gotta do your own research, but the unfortunate part of that that people don’t wanna do is that takes a lot of time. I called it, I think I’ve told our listeners this before, I call it going on like a treasure hunt, right? You have to look, you have to Google everything, or research every little thing. And that takes a long time. And people don’t wanna do that, right? They just wanna get their news quickly and then go about their day. And that’s how we get fake news, you know?
Ronni: Yeah. So I guess the only thing I can think is that if we can work on developing a questioning mind, so anytime we hear news and it sounds plausible or it sounds as though it’s being told to us in an official manner, that inside of ourselves, the first thought is, this sounds strange, let me think about it. So regardless of if you’re in the 1930s and you hear, oh, aliens are landing, you could go, this sounds strange, lemme go outside and check. Let me like run down the street and see what I see. Or even now, if we read something that we’re not sure if it’s satire or real, just be like I dunno. I think that’s really the best way. Wouldn’t you say just developing a questioning mind?
Brittany: Yes, exactly. Cause that’s why you would research, right? Like, so you just have to question everything. Now that does sometimes mean you become that person who’s questioning everything. But I think it’s better to do that than to believe anything. We have so many people, the pandemic showed us that we’re willing to just believe whatever anybody told them on the news. And I get it, it was scary, right? I get it. It was a really scary time. We didn’t know in the beginning everything COVID was gonna be or what it was, but people were so quick to just take everything they heard as truth. So yeah, have a questioning mind. I think that’s a great way to put it.
Ronni: Yeah. Cause who knows what we’re gonna be told to get in the future and to believe or not to believe.
Brittany: Or, what, you know, what’s gonna change? Because that’s the thing with back to COVID, like the trust, the science. Science is changing. Science evolves. Science by its nature isn’t settled. Right? It keeps changing. So you’ve gotta keep questioning. I like you said, questioning mind. I think that’s a great way to put it. But, I dunno, Ronni, we can end it there unless you have anything else to add.
Ronni: No, I think that I’m good with ending it there. I think, yeah, just kind of developing a questioning mind is really, it seems to be maybe the key.
Brittany: Right? Absolutely. That’s true. And maybe practice that, you know, when you hear something on the news or you hear something on a podcast, you know, go, don’t even trust us. Right? Go google it. Go find out if it’s real. Call us out if we get something wrong. We’d love to have that. Well guys, thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to like and subscribe and tell your friends about us. And Ronni, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Ronni: All right, see you soon.