Friday, July 18, 2014

War of the Worlds

In our 20th century studies we took a look at science fiction through the lens of War of the Worlds, by HG Wells, published in 1898. We opened our introduction of this story when my kids were studying at the Dialectic level four years ago by listening to the original Merury Theater broadcast from October 31, 1938 with Orson Welles. We had listened to a recording from audible but I have since found them on you tube.  I've always been fascinated by this story of how America panicked, thinking the radio show was actually a news report of a Martian invasion. I remember asking my grandmother years ago if she had heard the radio broadcast, however I don't remember her answer. This was before my mom was born but I don't think she had listened to it.

In the last year I found a copy of the 1958 movie version at a used bookstore.  I thought that would be an interesting take on it. The 1958 interpretation of the book took on interesting points for discussion. Being the age of rockets and the beginnings of space exploration caused the audience to have a different background of experience than the 1938 radio audience, much less the 1898 reading audience. The space race was during the Cold War years, when people feared attack and annihilation anyway from the Soviets. On top of all of that, the McCarthiism paranoia was sweeping the nation. The context of the 1958 movie audience built along the underlying fears.

My personal introduction to War of the Worlds when I was little was a 1975 television movie called, The Night that Panicked America. The movie reproduces the makings of the 1938 radio show and the people who listened to their radios that evening. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the threatening overtones of Adolf Hitler, is it any wonder that listeners panicked, having missed  introductory remarks about it merely being a play. At the beginning of the movie the radio show played newsclips of Hitler's speeches, bringing a foreboding sense of future fear. Throughout the movie references are made to Hitler.. One farmer predicts Hitler will invade surrounding countries and he fully intends to defend his nation. He sees the writing on the wall. Little does he know his father would expect him to protect them from the martians later that night.  To lighten the fear, we are shown the behind the scenes inner workings of producting a radio show, complete with the manufacture of foley (sound) effects. One of the scariest noises of the spaceship opening was achieved by a mayonaise jar being opened inside a toilet. I found this movie on-line and showed it to my kids.

We all agreed the 1975 version was the least scary and the most interesting. Yet how much of the storyline affected us subconsciously? A few days after watching these productions my kids had tb tests done. As the doctor inserted the needle into the skin, my son watched in horror as his skin bubbled up.  Later he told me all he could think of was those martians in the movie that had bubbles on their bodies. It didn't help that he assumed the tb test would be like a shot. He had no idea what to expect. 

It's amazing how the unknown can affect us, especially when combined with subconscious fears that are currently being dealt with.

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