War of the Worlds Documentary

The PBS special “War of the Worlds,” about a radio drama by the same name that caused mass hysteria in the 1930’s was really interesting and showed how powerful a medium the radio was during the Great Depression. The documentary showed the issue from many angles to show precisely why the idea of Martians landing in New Jersey and terrorizing people was able to inspire so much panic in America.

One of the things that I really liked was the fact that they had televised interviews with some of the people who went through the events, as well as dramatizations of what the interviewees were talking about. They had visuals of people ironing and children playing around the radio, which helps with understanding, since people watching today might not know what an old radio might look like or what a cherished object it was for the families that owned them. The black and white visuals help to make the documentary more realistic, because it looks like everything is happening in the 1930’s and the dramatizations makes it feel more like a current documentary, so it feels more like something that people of today already enjoy and relate to.

Another thing that the documentary did that I liked was that it explained the events that showed why the hysteria was possible and how it got as widespread as it did during the Great Depression. It showed both the fear and uncertainty that the Great Depression and threat of a new world war inspired and the importance of the radio in Depression era America. The explanation of how people were unwilling to give up their radios or not buy new ones showed how people felt a need to be connected to the rest of the world that could not be satisfied by newspapers alone. People did not just want to read the news, they wanted to be able to hear the newscasters and president talk about what was going on. They wanted to have the entertainment of the comedies and dramas that radio provided and they were willing to still buy radios at a time when many Americans were struggling to feed themselves.

The documentary also talked about how the Depression and threat of World War 2 made people fearful and more willing to believe in terrifying things. The documentary showed snippets of speeches by Adolf Hitler and talked about the uncertainty of the Depression to really bring home the fact that people were willing to believe that aliens had landed in a field in New Jersey because they had already heard and seen some unbelievable and horrible things. This was not just that people were gullible back then. It was the fact that the country had entered an era where people were not just reading what was going in the world through the paper. They were experiencing it through radio. The great thing that the documentary did was that it took this event of mass hysteria and framed it in such a way that viewers could see the different angles of the issue. It was not just gullible people listening to the radio and panicking. It was the result of a climate of fear and new forms of mass communication.


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