The pop cultural moment that most typifies the social psychology of invasion for many of us is Orson Welles's 1938 coast to coast CBS radio broadcast of Invaders from Mars, a narration based on H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. News bulletins and scene broadcasts followed Welles's introduction, featuring, in contemporary journalistic style, reports of a "meteor" landing near Princeton, N.J., which "killed" 1500 people, and the discovery that it was in fact a "metal cylinder" containing strange creatures from Mars armed with "death rays" which would reduce all the inhabitants of the earth to space dust. Welles's broadcast caused thousands to believe that Martians were wreaking widespread havoc in New York and Jersey. New York streets were filled with families rushing to open spaces protecting their faces from the "gas raids", clutching sacred possessions and each other. Lines of communication were clogged, massive traffic jams ensued, and people evacuated their homes in a state of abject terror while armouries in neighbouring districts prepared to join in the "battle". Some felt it was a very cruel prank, especially after the recent war scare in Europe that featured constant interruption of regular radio programming. Many of the thousands of questions directed at police in the hours following the broadcast reflected the concerns of the residents of London and Paris during the tense days before the Munich agreement. The media had undergone that strange metamorphosis that occurs when people depend on it for information that affects themselves directly.
But it was not a prank. Three separate announcements made during the broadcast stressed its fictional nature. The introduction to the program stated "the Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells", as did the newspaper listing of the program "Today: 8:00-9:00 -- Play: H.G. Wells's 'War of the Worlds' -- WABC". Welles, rather innocently, wanted to play with the conventions of broadcasting and grant his audience a bit of legitimately unsettling, though obviously fictitious, verisimilitude.
There are not too many instances in modern history where we can look objectively at such incredible reactions to media soundbytes. That evening is a prototype for the impact media culture can have on an audience whose minds are prepped for impending disaster. The interruption of scheduled radio invoked in the audience a knee-jerk response that dramatically illustrated the susceptibility of people to the discourse of invasion, as well as the depth of the relationship between the audience and media during tense times. These days, the media itself are often regarded as the invaders. The endless procession of information that grows alongside technology's ability to present it is feared as much as it is loved.
In the current climate of information and technological overload, invasion has swum from the depths of our unconscious paranoia and lurks impatiently in the shallows. There is so much invasion and so much to feel invaded about: the war in Kosovo (one of over sixty being fought today) is getting worse with the benevolence and force of the UN dwindling in a cloud of bureaucracy and failed talks, Ethiopia and Eritrea are going at it again, the ideology of the Olympic Games in Sydney has gone from a positive celebration of the millennium to a revenue-generating boys club of back scratchers, Internet smut is still everywhere, and most horrifically, Baywatch came dangerously close to being shot on location on the East Coast of Australia. In this issue of M/C we take a look at literal and allegorical invasions from a variety of cleverly examined aspects of our culture.
Firstly, Axel Bruns takes a look a subtle invasion that is occurring on the Web in "Invading the Ivory Tower: Hypertext and the New Dilettante Scholars". He points to the way the Internet's function as a research tool is changing the nature of academic writing due to its interactivity and potential to be manipulated in a way that conventional written material cannot. Axel investigates the web browser's ability to invade the text and the elite world of academic publishing via the format of hypertext itself rather than merely through ideas.
Felicity Meakins's article Shooting Baywatch: Resisting Cultural Invasion examines media and community reactions to the threat of having the television series Baywatch shot on Australian beaches. Felicity looks at the cultural cringe that has surrounded the relationship between Australia and America over the years and is manifested by our response to American accents in the media. American cultural imperialism has come to signify a great deal in the dwindling face of Aussie institutions like mateship and egalitarianism.
In a similarly driven piece called "A Decolonising Doctor? British SF Invasion Narratives", Nick Caldwell investigates some of the implications of the "Britishness" of the cult television series Doctor Who, where insularity and cultural authority are taken to extremes during the ubiquitous intergalactic invasions.
Paul Mc Cormack's article "Screen II: The Invasion of the Attention Snatchers" turns from technologically superior invaders to an invasion by technology itself -- he considers how the television has irreversibly invaded our lives and claimed a dominant place in the domestic sphere. Recently, the (Internet-connected) personal computer has begun a similar invasion: what space will it eventually claim?
Sandra Brunet's "Is Sustainable Tourism Really Sustainable? Protecting the Icon in the Commodity at Sites of Invasion" explores the often forgotten Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. She looks at ways in which the image of the island is constructed by the government and media for eco-tourism and how faithful this representation is to the farmers, fishermen and other inhabitants of the island.
Paul Starr's article "Special Effects and the Invasive Camera: Enemy of the State and The Conversation" rounds off the issue with a look at the troubled relationship between cutting-edge special effects in Hollywood action movies and the surveillance technologies that recent movies such as Enemy of the State show as tools in government conspiracies. The depiction of high-tech gadgetry as 'cool' and 'evil' at the same time, he writes, leads to a collapse of meaning.
This issue of M/C succeeds in pointing out sites of invasion in unusual places, continuing the journal's tradition of perception in the face of new media culture. I hope you enjoy this second issue of the second volume: 'invasion'.
'Invasion' Issue Editor