War of the Words

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Hello my darlings!

When I was a kid, my parents would tell me the tale of the first radio broadcast of Orson Welle’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. The story went something like this: On October 30th, 1938, the radio program aired and was so believable, so terrifying, it sent the country, millions of people, into mass hysteria. People genuinely thought the planet was being attacked by aliens, and chaos ensued.

I didn’t just hear the story from my parents. All my older relatives told the harrowing tale. Our history classes taught about it. We learned about the power of fiction, the pull of a well told story.

Here’s the thing though; it’s a lie.

There was no mass hysteria. There weren’t people flailing in the streets ready to surrender to or do battle with their assumed alien overlords.

So where did the story come from? How has it been “common knowledge” for decades that the country fell to it’s knees in front of radios right before World War 2?

Somebody lied.

That’s it. Somebody lied. The general idea is this; newspapers were super pissy that this new fangled radio contraption was lowering the amount of adertisers buying space in their papers. And so, someone had the brilliant idea of discrediting this hateful electronic devilry by posting on front pages that the radio program had caused actual mass hysteria.

Surely no one would ever want to be fooled by such an untrustworthy medium and the radio would crumble, falling beneath the reliable feet of the trusted newspaper.

Seriously. Someone thought it would be a good way to solidify trust in the printed word by effectively lying to millions.

Check out this article from Slate.com. A lot of research went into discovering the root of this myth. Here’s a more detailed explanation fromt he authors:

“How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.””

There it is. Nearly 80 years of history turns out to be a big fat lie.

I brought this up to my parents today. They still believed the night of terror had been real. This information completely blew their minds.

It made me feel really bad for them that they’d been in a time of no Google or Snopes to set shit straight. There was what the world told you, and that’s what you had to go on.

But we do live in the land of Google and Snopes.

So why the hell is it so easy to pull some serious bullshit over on the masses?

The bottom line is that people lie. Assholes lie to further their agendas. Politicians. Businesses. Media. This isn’t a recent thing. There have always been a chosen few missing that moral compass that would tell them maybe they shouldn’t attempt to hoodwink unsuspecting persons because it benefits a handful of people. Almost exclusively over money.

I see it every day. People posting articles (mostly on Facebook, not gonna lie.) detailing something horrible that is so obviously inaccurate it breaks my brain. Obama is a Muslim! Ebola is in Indiana! Publishing is dead!

No, guys. Just, no. Sorry.

These are stories and articles written with the sole intent of manipulating people into thinking whatever will benefit a small group of people most. And it always preys on fears that are relevant so IT SURELY MUST BE TRUE.

Humans are a jumpy bunch of mofos. It’s in our nature to be skittish as fuck, ready to drag our knuckles back to our cave at the sound of a snapping twig that may or may not be a saber-toothed tiger coming to feast on our rattled bones.

And I get that it’s easier to be scared and believe the end is nigh than it is to stand up and say, “THIS IS SOME PUPPY POOPY AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR IT.” No one wants to be the person who stood up against the man and it turned out they were wrong. Even worse, no one wants to be standing there alone.

Plus, it’s inherently more fun to be outraged about shit.

Think about this: If someone posts a super happy blog or Tweet about something neat that happened, it might get some “Awww’s!” or similar, and a few Shares.

If someone posts something full of intrigue and outrage and scandal? LIGHT UP THE MOTHERFUCKING INTERWBEZ WITH THE SOULS OF THE DAMNED.

The reality is we are conditioned to feed on dissonance. We get off on it. We scroll right by the good, and click the ever-loving fuck out of the bad. We bond over our rage. We single out those who aren’t with us. We cling to those that are.

I can’t stop the douche-dragons of the world from being douche-dragons. What a mighty dragon that would be to slay. But I can patiently remind everyone to take a breath, and think things through. Sure. some post might totally back up all those hateful suspicions you had about that thing that one time, but that doesn’t make it real.

People spreading it like wildfire and chanting it into the stars doesn’t make it real.

But the repercussions are real. This changes elections. It changes careers. It changes actual lives of actual people. Maybe even yours.

There are plenty of real atrocities in the world to be pissed about. There are plenty of valid reasons to dislike a president, or a CEO, or an actor. Like, seriously, good, solid, based in reality reasons. There’s no need to buy into the made up nonsense to further the cause.

If you can’t find actual, fact-based reasons to hate someone, I’m remiss to break it to you, but maybe your hate is misdi-fucking-rected.

So, take a moment. Snopes that link. Google that topic. Stop the spread of stupidity with the strongest power you as a person posses: your brain.

Because if you don’t wield that mighty weapon, someone else is on the other end of a headline waiting to use it for you.

I hope you all are having the most fantastic of weeks!

Until next time,

Peace, Love, and Brain Swords

(I am now imagining all humans equipped with Brain Swords. Do with that what you will.)

 

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