Ministry of Truth! Just like in that TV show with the cats.


Diary of a Spectator
2001-09-12 13:40:43

Jabber Streams
In 20 years we'll all be driving around in electric flying cars anyway.
-- Tjames Madison


We know now that in the early years of the twenty-first century this nation was being watched closely by groups more vicious than ours and yet as mortal as our own. Organizations vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this country with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. In the first year of the twenty-first century came the great disillusionment.

I woke up this morning to the radio, not because of any noise, but because the frightened tone of the NPR anchors reached my inner paranoid. I came to right as the voice said "Ohh-okay... s-so, just to explain again, two passenger jets have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. It's-it... I'm sorry ..."

The thing's raising up. The crowd falls back now. They've seen plenty. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words . . . I'll pull this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the description until I can take a new position. Hold on, will you please, I'll be right back in a minute.

I called my girlfriend, who had been trying to call and wake me up all morning. I agreed to stay away from tunnels and tall buildings for a while, and we agreed that the bridges weren't such a hot idea either. I pretty much resigned myself then and there to bunker up in my own neighborhood for a while.

San Francisco didn't get off so easy, though. SFO, which normally has about eight or nine planes just waiting to LAND at any given moment, has been eerily quiet what with the state of emergency. The local news said that muni was working fine on surface streets, apart from the places where it had to route around Willie's tomb (our gilded city hall, rennovated by Willie Brown, our so-called mayor). The school closing announcements made the whole thing sound like there had been a snow storm.

I have been requested by the governor of New Jersey to place the counties of Mercer and Middlesex as far west as Princeton, and east to Jamesburg, under martial law. No one will be permitted to enter this area except by special pass issued by state or military authorities. Four companies of state militia are proceeding from Trenton to Grovers Mill, and will aid in the evacuation of homes within the range of military operations. Thank you.

When my girlfriend called me later in the afternoon, she still had the frightened edge that we both shared this morning. She had been cut off from all news about the event, while I had done what any red-blooded American would do: I plonked my laptop in front of the TV and worked to the tune of CNN.

She's movin'! Look, the darn thing's unscrewing! Keep back, there! Keep back, I tell you! Maybe there's men in it trying to escape! It's red hot, they'll burn to a cinder! Keep back there. Keep those idiots back!

The whole situation is so unreal. The last time this many Merkins died in a single battle was our civil war some 150 years ago. The last time we lost a major institution to it was 1812 when the British burned down our capitol. Merkins aren't used to having bombs dropped from above -- just planted in our back yard.

The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.

So what better way to deal with it than to make it more unreal? Just keep looping the footage, like hitler's fabricated looney-dance. Eventually, you file the collapse of both your nation's administrative center and focus of commerce alongside the Rodney King videos, Clinton sex scandal interviews, and car commercials. Been there, done that.

Now a tune that never loses favor, the ever-popular "Star Dust." Ramo'n Raquello and his orchestra . . .

So I watched the 9AM of New York safely from the 9AM of San Francisco. Three hours of catastrophe divided up into easily inserted digestible bits. Overlay that with interviews and tired reporters having to make noises of shock and disapproval for the umpteenth time and you've got a spectacle to last all day.

We have dispatched a special mobile unit to the scene, and will have our commentator, Carl Phillips, give you a word description as soon as he can reach there from Princeton. In the meantime, we take you to the Hotel Martinet in Brooklyn, where Bobby Millette and his orchestra are offering a program of dance music.

The disaster was spread out over an hour or so, so people had time from the first strike to get out their camcorders and start filming. One doctor fellow had a running commentary going as the plume of dust engulfed him. He wandered the streets, borrowing oxygen from firemen and joining paramedic teams in the rescue effort. The whole scene looked like Portland after Mt. St. Helens erupted, or some sort of nuclear ash winter, or snow day.

As I set down these notes on paper, I'm obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on Earth. I have been hiding in this empty house near Grovers Mill -- a small island of daylight cut off by the black smoke from the rest of the world. All that happened before the arrival of these monstrous creatures in the world now seems part of another life. . . a life that has no continuity with the present, furtive existence of the lonely derelict who pencils these words on the back of some astronomical notes bearing the signature of Richard Pierson.

George Bush's speech was without his usual stutters, likely due to his heavy use of a teleprompter. We picked out the quotables, such as "quiet, unyielding anger". It's no "day which will live in infamy", but then again this *isn't* Pearl Harbor. The enemy flew no flags, and we have not yet heard any demands.

Citizens of the nation: I shall not try to conceal the gravity of the situation that confronts the country, nor the concern of your government in protecting the lives and property of its people. However, I wish to impress upon you -- private citizens and public officials, all of you -- the urgent need of calm and resourceful action. Fortunately, this formidable enemy is still confined to a comparatively small area, and we may place our faith in the military forces to keep them there. In the meantime placing our faith in God we must continue the performance of our duties each and every one of us, so that we may confront this destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. I thank you.

Of course, this doesn't stop people from speculating wildly on the perpetrator. I think I heard the phrase "It was Osama Bin Laden" danced around in more ways than I can count.

"Sources suggest..."
"Confidence is rising that the perpetrator was..."
"Few groups have the sophistication to pull this off, such as..."

Add to the confusion that we chose this day to begin reporting in earnest about Israeli tanks rolling into Palestine (which, given my tendency to listen to the BBC World Service radio, is not really news to me) and the civil war in Afghanistan. The way the hams up at CNN told it, we were bombing them already for giving OBL a place to crash.

Here's a bulletin from Winston Field, Long Island: Fleet of army bombers carrying heavy explosives flying north in pursuit of enemy. Scouting planes act as guides. They keep speeding enemy in sight. Just a moment please. Ladies and gentlemen, we've run special wires to the artillery line in adjacent villages to give you direct reports in the zone of the advancing enemy. First we take you to the battery of the 22nd Field Artillery, located in the Watchtung Mountains.

It wasn't until I found the BBC America TV station that I caught their Wednesday Morning coverage of the event. They weren't afraid to talk about the collateral damage, economic effects of the stock market closing, insurance claims on the companies and lives lost to the event, etc. They said it plain and simple. Our economy was being propped up by consumer confidence. This shatters that.

The last thing I noticed was that this event had turned the BBC morning TV program into NY-1. NY1 is often referred to as "the station where they read the paper to you". Issues of the Guardian, the Times, and the Star ("END OF THE WORLD?") were held up. All of them had the cinematic footage of the exploding second plane, save the Star, which had a shot of a jumper.

Like the economic effects, jumpers were also somewhat taboo on the merkin stations. I saw dozens of falls over on Univision before I realized that I really should change channels. People would talk about it on the US networks, but the footage was solely the domain of foreign newsmedia.

So I'm sitting here in my relatively safe outer mission flat. The US Dollar is in the tank, everyone's going for gold, and we're likely to see our civil rights eroded even further by overzealous legislators who want to put their names in this chapter of the history books. Looters, all of them.

PIERSON: In the meantime, you and I and others like us. . . where are we to live when the Martians own the earth?

STRANGER: I've got it all figured out. We'll live underground. I've been thinking about the sewers. Under New York are miles and miles of 'em. The main ones are big enough for anybody. Then there's cellars, vaults, underground storerooms, railway tunnels, subways. You begin to see, eh? And we'll get a bunch of strong men together. No weak ones; that rubbish -- out.

PIERSON: And you meant me to go?

STRANGER: Well, I gave you a chance, didn't I?

PIERSON: We won't quarrel about that. Go on.

STRANGER: And we've got to make safe places for us to stay in, see, and get all the books we can -- science books. That's where men like you come in, see? We'll raid the museums, we'll even spy on the Martians. It may not be so much we have to learn before -- just imagine this: four or five of their own fighting machines suddenly start off -- heat rays right and left and not a Martian in 'em. Not a Martian in 'em! But MEN -- men who have learned the way how. It may even be in our time. Gee! Imagine having one of them lovely things with its heat ray wide and free! We'd turn it on Martians, we'd turn it on men. We'd bring everybody down to their knees.

PIERSON: That's your plan?

STRANGER: You, and me, and a few more of us we'd own the world.

PIERSON: I see. . .

STRANGER: (FADING OUT) Say, what's the matter? . . . Where are you going?

PIERSON: Not to your world. . . Goodbye, stranger. . .

Russia feels our pain, England stands in solidarity (Blair and Bush, the Ronnie and Maggie of the 21st Century?), Afghanistan even feels our pain. But me, I don't feel it any more. I just watch until I'm too tired to worry any more, flip off the TV set, and crawl into bed.

This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian. . .it's Hallowe'en.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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