UBC Theses and Dissertations
The medium is the massacre : broadcasting from the apocalypse in The War of the Worlds De Santis, Michael
In this thesis, I discuss the 1938 radio play The War of the Worlds, analyzing the circumstances of its broadcast, its representation of apocalypse, and its manipulation of the medium of radio through its form of a simulated news program. I propose that the immediate hysteria it caused and the enduring anxieties it left were because of its medium more than any verisimilitude achieved in its tired and recycled narrative of Martian invasion. I consider qualities of radio as a telecommunicative and single-sensory medium, the demands of apocalyptic representation, and how the broadcast manipulated these qualities of radio to satisfy these representational demands, thus portraying an account of simulated apocalypse that was, on a formal and medial level, indistinguishable from a real one over the radio. Borrowing from the work of Richard Berger, I discuss how apocalyptic representation must occur immediately and immanently with the apocalypse itself; that is, the representation must be separated neither by time nor space with what it represents, right until the annihilating end. While many media cannot facilitate these demands of apocalyptic representation, instead reverting to prophetic or post-apocalyptic representation, I suggest that telecommunicative media are able to navigate the demands of truly apocalyptic representation through their overcoming of spatial separation and temporal delay. Working with the theory of Andrew Crisell, I consider the single-sensory nature of the medium of radio, and its propensity to render real and imaginary events indistinguishable. As a purely acoustic medium, radio necessarily incites an indexical process while simultaneously prohibiting its completion. Because radio prohibits the ability to index a sound with a particular source, and its specific temporal and spatial location, it creates a level playing field for reality and simulation where the two cannot be differentiated. As such, broadcast sounds become untethered from their particular source, ungrounded in time, space, and even reality. Thus, War was able to represent a simulated apocalypse indiscernible from a real one because of the single-sensory nature of radio, and satisfy the demands of apocalyptic representation with the immanency and immediacy inherent to the telecommunicative medium of its broadcast.
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