SPOOKED!: HOW A RADIO BROADCAST AND THE WAR OF THE WORLDS SPARKED THE 1938 INVASION OF AMERICA

 

Educator's Guide

Spooked! tells the story of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air creative team as they broadcast a radio play based on H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. It was an amazing program that still resonates eighty years later. Despite on-air announcements that the show was a theatrical presentation, the format and actors were so convincing that some listeners believed the events were actually happening. Terrified, they flooded police stations with phone calls and fled in cars to escape the Martians. A few people believed Germans, not Martians, had invaded. The next morning, national headlines described the hysterical reaction to the “Panic Broadcast.” Welles, his associates, and most of the public were shocked that people had been so easily fooled. The event raised questions about Americans’ susceptibility  to propaganda and about the increasing influence—and irresponsibility--of radio.

The  book places the broadcast in the context of the Depression, Hitler’s rise in Europe, and pre-war anxiety. It discusses the role of radio as a source of entertainment and information. Topics covered include: 20th-century American and world history, radio, literature, performance arts, journalism, communications, psychology, the creative process. The focus on fake news and audience gullibility makes Spooked! relevant today as rumors and hoaxes spread unchecked through the Internet.

Primary sources include hundreds of listener letters written after the broadcast to the Federal Trade Commission, Welles, and CBS radio. Also described are the creators' recollections of the program and its aftermath. The book contains archival photographs and drawings; quotations from the original novel and the broadcast;  a history of famous hoaxes; glossary; timeline; source notes; bibliography; author’s note; and further resources.

 

MORE TO EXPLORE

Online:

“‘War of the Worlds’ 1938 Radio Broadcast.” YouTube. youtube.com/watch?v=OzC3Fg_rRJM

“Orson Welles—Mercury Theater-1938 recordings.”  Internet Archive.  archive.org/details/OrsonWelles-MercuryTheater-1938Recordings

American Experience: War of the Worlds” (website).  PBS and WGBH Educational Foundation.  pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/worlds/

“War of the Worlds Radio Documentary from October 30, 1988, Parts 1 and 2.” YouTube.  youtube.com/watch?v=ol3NRuMOEGk AND  youtube.com/watch?v=s7811lx10y4

The Museum of Hoaxes. Hoaxes.org

"The Smell Test: Educators can counter fake news with information literacy. Here's how," by Linda Jacobson. School Library Journal, January 1, 2017. (This article contains Media Literacy resources for teachers and librarians)   slj.com/?detailStory=the-smell-test-educators-can-counter-fake-news-with-information-literacy-heres-how

 

Books:

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. New York: Harper, 1898   available online: catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/012293655

 A Colorful History of Popular Delusions by Robert E. Bartholomew and Peter Hassall. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2015.

Media Hoaxes by Fred Fedler. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989.

Real or Fake?: Far-Out Fibs, Fishy Facts, and Phony Photos to Test for the Truth by Emily Krieger. Washington, DC: National Geographic Kids, 2016.

The Tripods series by John Christopher. New York: Aladdin, 1967–1988.