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Could a War of the Worlds Redux Scare Us Silly?


Once again on Halloween this week, when costumes were worn and spooky stories told, Americans were reminded of a Halloween eve 67 years ago, when a radio drama spread panic along the East Coast. On this performance of H. G. Wells's story, War of the Worlds, the brilliant actor and director Orson Welles reported: "Both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars."

As the actors all-too-skillfully performed, many listeners completely fell for the story that Martians were invading New Jersey. People hid in cellars and packed their cars to flee.

So we got to wondering: Could the same thing happen today? Not likely on radio, of course, which has a fragmented audience and airs few dramas these days.

But suppose a diabolical television producer assembled convincing actors, created believable video footage, and added the kind of breathless reporting that Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre troupe used to stunning effect way back when?

Today we'd no doubt laugh at the notion that Martians were coming. But what if the invaders were ruthless terrorists, and -- as in 1938 -- we tuned in a tad late and missed the announcement that this was all make-believe? Would we cower under our beds?

The consensus is, No. We're more worldly these days -- more skeptical. We've seen so many action thrillers that we would take it for granted this was merely another one. And we'd quickly switch the channel and see that nobody ELSE was bothering to cover this catastrophe.

Besides, terrorism is such a real menace in our world today that TV producers would never dare toy with our nerves on a subject so chilling. . . . . Would they?

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