Thursday, September 04, 2008

Charlottesville to watch for Martian invaders... again

This looks like fun -- and some "media convergence" to talk about in class.

PR students can see the fine job of "press agentry" by the University of Virginia Film Festival, bringing together the school's observatory, a major studio motion picture, and a series of underground films (described as "most hyperbolic alien invasion spectacles"), all to celebrate the most famous media hoax since the New York Sun's discovery of man-bats on the moon, from early days of network radio:
Virginia Film Festival
Special 70th Anniversary Broadcast of "War Of The Worlds"
"Just to be sure history doesn't repeat itself, we've asked the observatory to have telescopes at the ready to reassure our spectators that the skies are safe," the film festival director said, calling the Halloween show "a great way to honor one of the more bizarre evenings in Charlottesville history."
The UVa school paper's archives ("media history research") are cited as evidence that the 1938 "Martian invasion" panic over Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast brought people to the observatory, which used its big telescope to show Virginians that Mars was as arid and peaceful as ever.

If you want to get an early jump on Halloween, here's the 1938 radio broadcast that started it all (courtesy of the Internet Archive)...

Back in the spring, WNYC's Radio Lab did a terrific program on the panic over that 1938 broadcast -- and the fact that it wasn't the only incident like it. The full audio of the program is online, along with links to Orson Welles' 1938 script and more. I'll put that link in my official Media History class syllabus page later this semester, since we're not even up to the invention of printing yet...

As for the man-bats on the moon, I jumped ahead and mentioned in my Media History class that yesterday was the 105th anniversary of the founding of the original New York Sun -- I hope I didn't say "100th" the way I mistyped it here a minute ago!...

The Sun reportedly became the best-selling news sheet in this world by printing a hoax series about an entirely fictional telescopic exploration of the lunar surface. News writing students should note that story length and style have changed since then.

On Wednesday I didn't get around to mentioning that there's no connection to the current paper called the New York Sun, whose business troubles are, coincidentally, in the news today. Keep an eye out for circulation-building stories about man-bats or Martians in New Jersey!

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