And PBS’ “American Experience” documentary series will present an hourlong look at the radio “War” at 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday. (It might amuse some people staring along the line between the real and the contrived that “American Experience” includes re-enactments of reactions to the broadcast.)
Welles’ production is often held up as an example of art faking reality, a companion to the 19th-century Cardiff Giant, a stone statue passed off as an ancient and petrified man, and the viral video of a girl catching fire while twerking, which proved to be a Jimmy Kimmel prank.
To be sure, in the years since 1938, some have questioned whether what came to be known as “the panic broadcast” was really as widespread a sensation as it seemed. “The Invasion From Mars,” a 1940 “study in the psychology of panic” around the broadcast, has been criticized for its analysis and methods, the latter leaning heavily on interviews with people “selected because they were known to have been upset by the broadcast.”
Even with that tilt, the study found some skeptical listeners. And a 2011 analysis for the Radio Journal by Joy Elizabeth Hayes and Kathleen Battles argued forcefully that “War” provided a demonstration not of panic but of “a kind of social networking.”
Surprised and even frightened by the broadcast, people tapped into their “social networks” of families and friends, as well as “social authorities and mass media” for information — hence the calls to newspapers, radio stations and police, continuing a conversation begun by “War.”