Some folks are wise and some are otherwise. -Tobias Smollett
Question #79308 posted on 10/14/2014 9:38 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Were people (I guess as a product of the society of the time) more gullible in the early twentieth century than they are now as might be concluded by the extent to which there was quite extensive panic about an alien invasion in response to the War of the Worlds radio broadcast?

Yes, you may say, radio was new, and yes, the storytelling style was newscast-like, and maybe tuners-in missed the explicit introduction that it was fiction, but aliens? And if there really were aliens from another planet, still having musical interludes?

For example, if you turned on the NBC nightly news and Brian Williams said with a straight face "Aliens have invaded planet Earth." would you actually take it and start panicking? I don't think I'd buy it, but maybe I'm more skeptical than the average person (maybe...I wouldn't conclude that I were so without more data).

-Norm

A:

Dear Norman,

Reports of the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast of 1938 causing a lot of panic are extremely exaggerated and actually go to show how gullible people are TODAY that we believe the story about people in the past flipping out so much. Read here for a well-informed takedown of the popular myth. 

–Concealocanth

A:

Dear Slitheen,

That being said, I'd be much more likely to believe something I was only hearing. If it was on TV, I'd expect to be seeing footage, so I'd be more likely to believe it. You know, seeing is believing and all that.

-Tally M.

A:

Dear Evil Genie and/or Giant Metal Businessman,

Have you ever listened to the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast? It's pretty convincing. Just imagine that one day you turn on the TV and there's a realistic-looking news program that interrupts a realistic-seeming regular TV show. Then imagine that this news program shows you realistic-looking footage and coverage of an alien invasion on the other side of the country. Then imagine that you have BYU cable so there are only two other TV stations and you can't really verify what's going on. It could potentially be pretty scary, especially if you don't realize that this is airing on the night before Halloween. Look at how many people mistakenly believe ridiculous satirical articles from The Onion when they show up on their Facebook news feeds. I once convinced a friend of mine (who is a college student) that Star Wars is a true story. I think people are just as gullible these days as they were in the 30s, just about different things.

-Inverse Insomniac

PS - I really love old radio plays. You'd be surprised how realistic they can seem, especially since you're free to imagine the scenes that they present. War of the Worlds is definitely worth an hour of your time. Try listening to it in a darkened room and try not to be at least a little spooked. The old Twilight Zone plays are also good. There's a channel on Spotify that has a bunch of them.