Monday, December 27, 2010

War of the Worlds

This is one of those stories I need to write down for posterity.  You might know of the War of the Worlds movie with Tom Cruise.  I recall an earlier version, watching it on my mom's (well, my grandparents', but they moved out of their house so my mom, brother, and I could live there) old 8-foot-long tv.  The TV was set in the middle, and cloth-and-wood covered speakers were built-in at either side.  The green animated laser beams were just slightly less frightening than my mom's tale of people jumping to their deaths in fear that this story was real.

Gi-gi remembers this time.  It was 1938, according to Wikipedia.  The story was broadcast on radio, and there were those that didn't realize it was just a story.  I asked Gi-gi how that could be, and she said that there was always a lot of static, things weren't near as clear as they are nowadays, and when you only caught the gist, well, I guess it sounded pretty real.

Gi-gi was 11.  She had an older sister married, two older brothers at home, 2 younger brothers, the baby sister, plus mom and dad.  They lived along the river where they farmed a little, and her dad might've been in the state legislature at this time, or had already served a term or two.  I don't know if the family was gathered around the radio for the evening's entertainment, or if suddenly their ears were tuned to the broadcast, but  at whatever point, Grandma Great came to believe that martians were truly invading the earth.

This is where my modern sense starts to balk (seriously, you didn't know it was just a story??), but there is something to be learned here.

My great grandma Betty, who was 41, did not jump out a window.  Not that they had a window tall enough to jump to your death, but still.  She quietly gathered her six children and walked them out to the riverbank to await The End.  She was a Scotch Presbyterian and had great faith.  If this was it, then she was ready; she encouraged her children to be brave, and to meet the Lord with gladness.

I pause here with tears in my eyes.  My comfortable existence has a hard time imagining this.  Would I be as calm, as prepared, as willing to gather my children and gracefully meet our expected demise?  At the hands of invading aliens, no less?!?

I'm not sure how long they waited, or if it was daylight or nighttime, but at some point my great-grandfather said, "Betty, get back in this house! and bring the kids!" or something to that effect.  :)  I don't know if Grandma Great woke up the next day ashamed of her actions, or with a greater gratitude for her family and life, but the memory has stuck with her children at least.

What do you think YOU would do, at such a time?


MamaJ said...

Wow, that's pretty crazy! I'm not sure what I would *actually* do, but it would probably be something like gathering all the kids and hiding in a closet.... The thought of your great-grandfather hollering, "Betty get back in this house!" made me laugh! Thanks for sharing!

Monica said...

I've listened to the original radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" in its entirety. Before doing so, I also wondered how people didn't realize it was just a show, but after listening to it, I understood. The broadcast is *not* a dramatized version of the original story, acting out each scene as in the book. Rather, it was written as a realistic, continuous *news* broadcast - meaning a reporter is supposedly in the middle of a standard news report when he is handed papers saying that Martians are invading the earth. From there on, the reporter "experiences" the story, reporting each scene as though it's actually happening. Apparently, the actor playing the reporter was a dead ringer for the real thing, able to fool just about everyone.

However, it wasn't just that the producers did a dern good job imitating a news broadcast, *there were no commercials*, either, throughout the entire show. So, someone who missed the introduction by even a few seconds wouldn't have the commercials or announcers of the time to break things up periodically and say, "And now, back to the show!" This actually inspired regulation stating that radio shows *had* to have commercials, to keep something like this from happening again.

Understanding that the people of the 1930s were not as jaded and cynical as people nowadays, I'm not surprised so many fell for it. =)

Monica said...

Oops, according to Wikipedia, the program didn't inspire regulation, but, rather, a promise never to use the words "We interrupt this program..." within a radio broadcast again (a promise that has since been quite regularly broken).

EllaJac said...

Wow, thanks Monica! Very interesting. I wonder what the programming execs were thinking???