Sunday, March 14, 2010

Georgian TV Tries Out "War of the Worlds"

You've all heard the story.  On October 30, 1938, CBS Radio aired an adaptation of H.G.Wells' classic "The War of the Worlds," narrated and directed by Orson Welles.  It caused widespread panic, because listeners thought it was real.  The first chunk of the show was in the format of news bulletins and there were no commercials, and people freaked out.

I bring this up because Imedi TV in the country of Georgia broadcast a "simulation" of a Russian invasion of Georgia last night.  They used actual clips of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and footage shot during the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008.  They, too, used simulated "news bulletins" to further the story.  They didn't announce it was fictional beforehand, and nothing at all on the screen let viewers know it wasn't real.  They noted it was simulated at the end of the broadcast.  People freaked out.

It's probably fairly tempting to think that there is no harm done here.  I mean, yes, they scared people, but now that people know it wasn't real everything's fine, right?  Wrong.  Fake trauma can be truly traumatic.  People can and are traumatized by the belief that they are in serious danger.  If you think you're about to die and then don't, you are (at least most people would agree) better off than if you think you are going to die and then do.  But you aren't necessarily OK. 

People who have experienced situations where they truly believed they were in danger exhibit all the same symptoms as people who actually have been in danger.  They have trouble sleeping, intrusive thoughts about the incident, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, irritability, and on and on.  They have increased fear of whatever the situation was that scared them (e.g. getting in the car if they thought they had a close call in the car).  What's more, because whatever scared them turned out to be fake, they are less likely to use the resources that help people in such situations, like talking to a friend or even writing their feelings in a journal.

So, given the history of "War of the Worlds," which I can't imagine they didn't know about, and the possible ill effects of scaring the pants off of people, why would Imedi TV do this?  Of course I don't know for sure.  The station is referred to as being "pro-government," which I guess is as opposed to "pro-Russian."  One can imagine the government doing this intentionally to stir up fear of a Russian invasion, and cause people to look to the government to protect them.  One can also imagine someone just being really stupid in making a programming decision.  Whatever it was, this shouldn't have happened.  It wasn't harmless.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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