We live in time when exponential progress in the fields of informational technology, biology, medicine, and political science continues to render more and more socio-political and ethical notions hopelessly outdated. For example; whereas, as recent as thirty years ago, the concept of a nation-state was thought to be central to the idea of international law – nowadays, this is no longer the case.1 The ongoing process of Globalization, which is being aimed at elimination of national borders, and the rise of Internet as a form of virtual reality, which makes possible to instantly transmit huge amounts of information from one corner of the globe to another, had created additional preconditions for people to begin assessing the relevance of classical socio-political notions from essentially post-industrial perspective. In its turn, this explains why as time goes by, the cinematographic adaptations of classical works of literature/comics seem to be affected by contemporary socio-political and scientific realities to ever-increasing extent.
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One would only need to watch such films as Romeo + Juliet (1996), Batman Begins (2005) and X-Men (2000), with these movies’ plots unraveling amidst distinctively post-industrial urban settings, to realize the full soundness of such a suggestion. And, it is only logical for cinematographic adaptations of classical sci-fi novels to be affected by the same trend. As of today, there is a number of recently produced movies that, despite being based upon classical sci-fi narratives, written prior to the rise of Globalization, deal with subject matters of unmistakably post-modernist essence – Starship Troopers (1997), Hollow Man (2000), Minority Report (2002), and I, Robot (2004). And, one of the main features of post-modernism/post-industrialism, as historically predetermined set of economic, demographic, scientific and cultural variables that define the realities of today’s Western living, is that it prompts citizens to grow increasingly deprived of psychological qualities that allowed their ancestors to create and maintain Western civilization – perceptional idealism, scientific inquisitiveness, racial solidarity and the sense of existential superiority.
Thus, the fact that earlier mentioned films were able to win instant favor with audiences makes perfectly good sense – apparently, viewers were able to relate to the adapted storylines on emotional level. This was because these storylines appealed to movie-goers’ deep-seated psychological anxieties as to the fact that, even though being a part of ‘brave borderless world’ provides people with an access to some previously unheard-of domestic comforts, it simultaneously deprives them of their existential sovereignty. While referring to Spielberg’s Minority Report, Sarkar and Adshead (2002) stated: “The film shows things we are facing now: retinal scanning, facial recognition, and the ever-growing intrusiveness that allows everyone who matters to know everything about buying habits, our fantasies, and us” (568).
In its turn, this provides us with the insight on the apparent dichotomy between the motifs of euro-centric assertiveness and progress, contained in the works of classical sci-fi writers, such as H.G. Wells and Jules Vernes, and clearly dystopian motifs of Western societies becoming increasingly atomized, contained in most recent film adaptations of these authors’ sci-fi novels. Moreover, it also provides us with the clue as why sci-fi movies produced in fifties, are being marked by the feeling of some sort of cold-war-related impending apocalypse, on the part of their creators – apparently, every historical era prompts creative people to proceed with promoting their agenda solely within the boundaries of currently predominant political/cultural discourse, as defined by Foucault.2
The earlier articulated thesis allows us to formulate methodological framework for discussing one of the most famous Wells’s novels The War of the Worlds, in relation to its 1953 and 2005 film adaptations, as we believe that the particulars of plot composition, narrative style and explored themes, associated with the original novel and both movies, do not only reflect the workings of Wells, Haskin and Spielberg’s psyches, but are also being spatially correlative with what were socio-political realities at the time of novel and movies’ creation. Thus, the foremost hypothesis that we will aim to explore throughout this paper’s entirety can be articulated as follows: Whereas; the foremost motifs of Wells’s original novel are being concerned with author’s intention to promote the concept of Darwinian evolution and with his resolution to theorize on what might pose danger to Western civilization’s undisputed geopolitical dominance in the world3, the motifs of Haskin’s film are being essentially concerned with producer’s unconscious fear of a nuclear holocaust and the process of America’s ‘mongrelization’4, and the motifs of Spielberg’s movie are being concerned with his neo-Liberal view on society as such that should consist of individuals utterly alienated from each other. 5
H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds – Complexity of the Novel
For those who strive to gain a better understanding of the metaphysical spirit, emanated by Wells’s original novel, it represents the matter of crucial importance to familiarize themselves with what were world’s social and political actualities at the time when Wells wrote The War of the Worlds. At the turn of 20th century, when White people constituted 30% of world’s population, when it seemed that nothing could prevent Europe’s imperialist nations from growing ever more powerful, and when the absence of politically correct censorship had created objective preconditions for the pace of scientific progress in many fields to attain a truly exponential momentum, many European prominent intellectuals came to realize the full validity of Darwinian concept of evolution, as such that applied to humans as much as it applied to animals and plants.6
Apparently, H.G. Wells was one of these intellectuals, which explains his clearly Social Darwinist stance on the issues of socio-political importance, revealed in many of his works. The Unsigned Review Mankind in the Making, Academy and Literature, which can be found in Parrinder’s (2002) collection of critical articles, describes Wells as the son of its era – someone who believed in the ‘survival of the fittest’ concept and who never ceased being fascinated with eugenics: “Having studied biology, Mr. Wells must needs begin with the conception of evolution, and he pays his respects to Darwin. He then applies the ‘Darwinian’ theory to the current problems of society…” (92). In his article, Partington (2004) have come to essentially the same conclusion: “Wells professed a belief in human advancement being governed by evolutionary law.
Progress was not inevitable but required conscious effort through the direction of science” (49). This is the reason why Wells begins his novel with Darwinist premise that, it is not only that the higher complexity of a particular living organism increases the extent of its biological competitiveness, but that more biologically advanced creatures would be naturally inclined to consider the exploitation or even the complete elimination of less advanced ones: “Yet across the gulf of space… intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us” (2). Even the initial lines of Wells’s novel reveal the particulars of author’s writing style – namely, his tendency to substantiate contained claims scientifically, his acute sense of narrative finesse, and his reliance on logos, as the foremost instrument of convincing readers to adopt author’s point of view onto discussed subject matter.
However, these characteristics of Wells’s writing style did not alone account for author’s popularity with the readers. Apparently, Wells was able to sense the workings of collective unconscious, which allowed him to address readers’ latent anxieties with perfect exactness. In her article, Cornils (2003) had made a good point while stating: “Wells had combined a number of elements already in the public psyche at the time… Darwin’s theory of evolution, changing methods of warfare, and the theory that man might not be alone in the universe” (26). In 1887, Italian astronomer Schiaparelli had discovered on Mars what appeared as intelligently designed channels, which in its turn, had prompted many people to consider the possibility for the life to exist on this planet.
And, while holding a degree in biology, Wells was well aware of the fact that the fundamental principle of evolution (the continuously increasing complexity of non-organic and organic forms), as being predetermined by objectively existing laws of physics, is applicable throughout the universe, just as it is the case with physical laws: “The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds upon Mars” (4). Given the fact that the purpose of organic evolution is expansion, there can be few doubts as to the fact that the hypothetical encounter of two mutually alien civilizations would inevitably result in the enslavement or the physical elimination of one of them.
In his article, Matyszczyk (2010) quoted one of the most prominent scientists of modernity Steven Hawking, who believes that humans should be avoiding contacts with representatives of technically superior extraterrestrial civilizations: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans” (Cnet News). Thus, even though The War of the Worlds was written in time when the genre of science fiction was only acquiring a legitimate literary status, in this novel Wells was able to foresee what would be the actual outcome of ‘close encounters’ with extraterrestrials with much more accuracy, as compared to predictions of well-established sci-fi authors who wrote in later years, while hypothesizing on the mutual beneficence of such contacts.
Wells’s novel begins with narrator expounding on what were the signs of Martian impeding invasion (unexplained flashes of light on Mars) and what had prompted Martians to decide in favor of invading the Earth (the depletion of their planet’s natural recourses and the cooling of its climate): “The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts” (3). It is worthy of noticing that Wells does not refer to Martians’ intention to conquer the Earth from a moralistic point of view – after all, White earthlings themselves have proven capable of exterminating less-developed indigenous populations en masse, so that they would not have to compete with them in the same environmental niche: “The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants” (4). In the eyes of nature, there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but only ‘weak’ and ‘strong’. And, it is namely one’s possession of an advanced intellect, which allows us to define him as ‘strong’ and, therefore – more worthy then numerous but feeble-minded ‘weaklings’. It appears that, while working on this particular novel, Wells remained deeply impressed by Britain’s colonial wars in Africa, when one British soldier, armed with Maxim machine-gun, was often able to mow down thousands and thousands of advancing Zulu warriors, armed with spears.7
There is a memorable scene in Wells’s novel when Martians make their first appearance out of the cylinder, inside of which they have traveled through the space. Narrator never ceased stressing out their apparent physical weakness, dramatized by Earth’s gravitation: “A big grayish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder” (23). After having observed Martians for a while, narrator concluded that their physical condition makes them utterly unfit to oppose humans.
Even after Martians have vaporized the members of a Delegation with a heat ray, he continued clinging to the hope that invaders’ physical weakness will not allow them to proceed with wrecking havoc, especially when being faced by British Army. Nevertheless, it did not take too long for him to realize that this hope was illusionary: “We all overlooked the fact that such mechanical intelligence as the Martian possessed was quite able to dispense with muscular exertion at a pinch” (41). Thus, there can be little doubt as to the fact that Wells’s depiction of Martians extrapolated his belief in science as the only true source of power, as opposed to the sheer size of one’s muscles, vaguely defined ‘spirituality’ or some tribal religion.
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The earlier expressed idea brings us to discuss another striking characteristic of Wells’s original novel – its clearly defined atheistic overtones. Partially, these overtones reflect that particulars of author’s biography. In his book, Bells (2002) states: “He (Wells) was largely self-taught, and early in life he turned away from religion and became an atheist” (384). However, the close reading of The War of the Worlds, points out to the fact that, while working on this particular novel, Wells was the least concerned with trying to promote his atheistic agenda as ‘thing in itself’. He did not simply want to emphasize the doctrinal fallaciousness of Christianity, but to expose this religion as such that negatively affects even those that have nothing to do with it. This is why Wells had made a point in ridiculing the only character in the novel, who besides narrator himself and the artilleryman, is being shown as rather three-dimensional individual – the curate.
From the very first time we meet curate in the novel, we cannot help but to experience a growing dislike towards this ‘man of God’, who never ceased whining and uttering Bible-related nonsense, instead of facing the perils of Martian invasion like a man. In the novel, Wells had spend a great deal of time describing curate’s mental inadequateness as such that had always remained an integral part of this man’s psyche – the encounter with Martians had simply intensified it: “At Halliford I had already come to hate the curate’s trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and intensified, almost to the verge of craziness” (185).
Just as Martians symbolize the great menace that had descended upon humanity from out of space, curate symbolizes the great menace, faced by humanity from within. As Kelleghan (2002) had put it: “The curate is the most pathetic character in the book. Weak and cowardly, he clings to the Scriptures, which offer neither explanation nor solace for humanity’s plight” (559). In sci-fi movie Aliens (1986) by James Cameron, we get to encounter the character, whose psychological qualities closely match that of curate’s, despite his non-affiliation with religion – Carter Burke. Just as it was the case with curate, Burke’s unwillingness to face the truth about surrounding reality ‘as it is’, had endangered his very own life and the life of his affiliates.
Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to point out at well-defined psychologism as Wells novel’s another remarkable feature. In the original The War of the Worlds, characters are represented in utterly realistic manner. In its turn, this explains why very often, throughout the novel, characters act in a way that makes little rational sense, especially in the light of a given circumstances. Yet, this is exactly what makes this novel believable – whatever the illogical it might sound. For example, after having found themselves one on one with Martians in the cellar of a destroyed house, narrator and curate could not help but to constantly experience a throbbing sensation of curiosity, despite the fact that their very proximity to the Martians posed a grave danger to their lives: “Yet terrible as was the danger we incurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible” (185). Apparently, Wells was well aware of the fact that the prolonged subjection to a mental stress alters people’s behavior rather drastically.
The way in which author had depicted the character of artilleryman serves as an additional proof to the full validity of earlier statement. Initially, artilleryman’s ideas sound perfectly legitimate. For example, while hypothesizing that a lot of people would actually be quite contented with Martians’ intention to ‘harvest’ them, artilleryman supports such his suggestion by making reference to the weaknesses of human psychology, extrapolated in these people’s tendency to seek some ‘divine purpose’ even where there can be no purpose, by definition: “Now whenever things are so that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak, and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit to persecution and the will of the Lord” (222). Artilleryman also rightly points out to the fact that, when it comes to ensuring specie’s physical survival, the considerations of ethics become utterly irrelevant. As popular saying goes – desperate times call for desperate measures: “We can’t have any weak or silly. Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It’s a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race” (224). It is needless to mention, of course, that these artilleryman’s suggestions resonate with what was Wells’s own attitude towards the organized religion and the idea that the biological quality of humanity can be improved by the means of eugenics.
As it was rightly noted by Batchelor (1985): “Artilleryman’s attitudes are clearly identifiable with Wells’s own; contempt for religion in The Island of Dr Moreau and for the decadent upper class in The Time Machine, a bullying enthusiasm for eugenics and the rule of the practical man in Anticipations, A Modern Utopia and The Food of the Gods” (29). Nevertheless, as novel’s plot unravels, readers get to realize that artilleryman’s apparent sober-mindedness and decidedness is nothing but just the elements of his self-adopted narcissistic posture – artilleryman simply never puts money where his mouth is. He spends valuable time drinking, playing cards, and fantasizing on the subject of his own greatness.
In a similar manner, today’s far-rights activists in Western countries get together for their little secret meetings, where they conspire to reclaim their countries back from the hordes of newly arrived illegal immigrants, while being utterly afraid to take a leisurely stroll in their own neighborhoods, especially after it gets dark, due to the very presence of these immigrants, endowed with a strong sense of ethnic solidarity.8 Thus, the episodes with artilleryman in the novel indicate author’s acute understanding of a simple fact that the talks about reclamation of existential vitality do not necessarily account for a vitality as ‘thing in itself’. On the contrary – just as it is the case with dogs that loudly bark but rarely bite, people known for their tendency to indulge in lengthy philosophizing about vitality-related subjects, usually expose themselves being just as decadent as those decadents they criticize.
Just as it was the case with Jules Verne, H.G. Wells had often been referred to as the prophetic sci-fi writer. However, it is only now that more and more people get to realize that Wells’s prophetic theorizing onto the ways of the future (sublimated in his portrayal of Martian technological civilization) had proven much more insightful, as compared to the theorizing of his French counterpart. The reason for this is simple – Wells’s description of Martian machines bears clearly recognizable post-industrial connotations.
In late 19th century and throughout the first half of 20th century, sci-fi writers used to predict that the realities of a future would be closely associated with mechanically functioning robots being manufactured on industrial scale. Yet, as we are now well aware of, the idea of manufacturing mechanical robots, as the pathway into the ‘brave new world’, has yielded to the idea of producing cyborgs – that is, part-humans and part-machines.9
In 30-50 years from now, it will become possible to instantly learn new languages by installing integrated microchips into one’s brain, to alter one’s physical appearance and to create new life forms by the mean of genetic engineering and cloning, and to even attain practical immortality, by saving one’s consciousness (soul) onto computer’s hard drive.10 As Haraway (1991) had put it: “A cyborg world… about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). In hundred millions of years after the Big Bang11, there were only two elements in the expanding universe – hydrogen and helium.
As of today, there are 118 elements listed in Mendeleev’s periodic table. What it means is that the evolutionary theory does not only apply to organic but also to non-organic matter, which allows us to conclude that biological life is only the intermediary stage of universe’s matter becoming increasingly complex – during the course of the next stage, life will rid of its biological constraints, while attaining the form of a pure intelligence. This is why, it is namely the extent of people’s ability to operate with abstract categories that defines their place on evolutionary ladder, and this is why it is utterly naïve to expect that people in Third World countries would ever be able to get out of poverty – in such African countries as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, the genetically predetermined average rate of citizens’ Intellectual Quotidian (IQ) is measured below 50.12
Thus, it is not by a pure accident that in The War of the Worlds, Martians are being shown as essentially huge brains: “The greater part of the structure was the brain, sending enormous nerves to the eyes, ear, and tactile tentacles… They were heads—merely heads” (175). Apparently, Wells was aware of the fact that creatures who had mastered space travel and who were well ahead of humans, in terms of technological development, simply could not look otherwise but possessing disproportionally hypertrophied brains. In addition, Wells appears to have been aware that the course of technological progress, initiated by intelligent specie, would inevitably result in representatives of such specie becoming increasingly debiologized, and in their mechanical gadgets becoming increasingly creature-like.
In its turn, this explains the particulars of how Wells expounds on the principles behind alien machinery’s functioning: “They (Martians)… wearing different bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet… the long leverages of their machines are in most cases actuated by a sort of sham musculature of the disks in an elastic sheath” (181-182). Nowadays, when American army considers providing soldiers with powered exoskeletons, in order to drastically increase the rate of their survivability in combat, Wells’s hypothetical insight on what would superior civilization’s machinery look like, appears particularly prophetic. In his article, Manlove (1993) states: “In Wells’s romances the machine is no longer a tool of society: it has taken on a life of its own… It has become in a sense renegade” (233). We can only agree – Wells’s prophetic insightfulness allowed him to outline the ways of the future, well before people in Western countries had grown to understand that author’s sci-fi-related unconventionality was not simply a byproduct of his rather wild imagination, but the mark of a genius.
As we have illustrated earlier, it is not only that The War of the Worlds represents a high literary, but also scientific and psychological value. However, there is one more aspect to Wells’s novel, which allows us to refer to the motifs, contained in it, as being particularly relevant to the realities of post-industrial living in the West – the fact that author was able to expose what represents Western civilization’s innate weakness – namely, such civilization’s vulnerability to alien invasions that originate from within its boundaries.
In the novel, Martians make a landfall in Britain with Britons remaining utterly unaware as to Martians’ hostile intentions, right until the moment when aliens begin incinerating them with a heat ray. Even after the rumors of what had really happened in Horsell Common started to reach citizens, they preferred to brush them aside as ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘exaggerated’: “Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people were inert… All over the district people were dining and supping; working men were gardening after the labours of the day, children were being put to bed, young people were wandering through the lanes love- making, students sat over their books” (44). Similarly, citizens in today’s Western countries prefer not to pay a particular attention to the fact that, slowly but surely, their countries are being taken over by legal and illegal aliens from Third World, endowed with essentially primeval mentality, which makes it only the matter of short time before native-born Westerners will realize themselves a minority in their own countries, especially given the unwelcomed guests’ particular talent in making babies.13
Even today, in such cities as Paris, London and Berlin, not a single year goes by without these people initiating racial riots, during the course of which cars are being set on fire, stores looted, and women gang-raped.14 Yet, Western governments prove themselves utterly incapable of dealing with a situation, except for trying to appease newcomers from another world by providing them with more and more special rights and privileges and by downplaying dangers, associated with nothing short of an alien invasion.
In exactly the same way, British government had dealt the problem of Martian invasion in Wells’s novel – it simply strived to keep citizens ignorant as to the full scope of dangers, associated with it: “And so, with reiterated assurances of the safety of London and the ability of the authorities to cope with the difficulty, this (governmental) quasi-proclamation closed” (107). However, by the time members of the government had realized that nothing could be done to prevent Martians from advancing on London, they simply escaped the capital, while conveying to residents ‘you are on your own’ message: “Before dawn the black vapor was pouring through the streets of Richmond, and the disintegrating organism of government was, with a last expiring effort, rousing the population of London to the necessity of flight” (127). One cannot help but drawing parallels between how British government handled the crisis of Martian invasion in Wells’s novel, and how American government handled the crisis, associated with 2005 hurricane Katrina, in reality. In both cases, the governments had simply lost control of what was happening, which resulted in citizens’ realization of the fact that it was up to them to go about trying to save their lives.
The following passage from Wells’s novel could have been used to describe of what was happening in hurricane-affected New Orleans in 2005, although on much lesser scale: “The whole population of the great six-million city was stirring, slipping, running; presently it would be pouring EN MASSE northward” (113). Thus, besides having provided readers with a glimpse into post-industrial future, Wells also succeeded in revealing the mechanics of how technological Western civilization can succumb to a social chaos within a matter of a day or two – this will happen as the result of the legal foundation of civil society being undermined from within by a variety of different social, demographic, and economic factors.
For example, as of today, American army is considered world’s strongest. USS Ronald Reagan alone can easily reduce any middle-sized country into a Stone Age, within a matter of half an hour. Yet, as the events following hurricane Katrina have shown – it only takes large and ethnically diverse American city to be affected by an electrical blackout for some time, before it turns into the battleground of everybody against everybody.15 Similar thesis applies to just about any other Western country. For example, Switzerland has traditionally been taking pride in having one of the strongest armies. Yet, as of today, the population of Muslims in Switzerland accounts for 600 thousands, even though as recent as in 2005, there were only 311 thousands of them there16 – in other words, the invading army of foreigners, which continues to grow ever-larger, is already inside the Switzerland, while Swiss military continues to remain on lookout for the enemy from outside.
Apparently, there is a striking similarity between how British government in Wells’s novel assessed danger, posed by Martians: “No doubt the Martians were strange and terrible in the extreme, but at the outside there could not be more than twenty of them against our millions” (107), and how today’s Western policy makers assess the dangers of a subtle Islamic invasion – in both cases, authorities have proven themselves utterly ignorant as to the fact that Western armies can only be effective when it comes to engaging enemy at great distance. However, when it comes to engaging the enemy at close range, on its own soil, while being required to play by enemy’s rules, this can no longer be the case.
Thus, the reading of The War of the Worlds leaves very little doubt as to the fact that Wells’s prophetic talent had also revealed itself in the field of sociology. The author was able to show that the external strength of Western civilization is just the opposite of its internal fragility, which in its turn reveals him as someone who knew that physical laws could also be applied to a particular society, in order to expose the essence of its inner dynamics. Even though hard (dense) materials can hardly be penetrated from outside, they can nevertheless be easily shattered in small pieces, when subjected to pressures from within.
Such our observation can serve as an additional proof to the full validity of Foucault’s suggestion that every historical era defines the qualitative subtleties of its dominant socio-political discourse. As French philosopher had put it: “Discursive practices are characterized by a delimitation of a field of objects, the definition of a legitimate perspective for the agent of knowledge and the fixing of norms for the elaboration of concepts and theories” (1977, 199). At the turn of 20th century, the legitimate perspective for the agent of knowledge was essentially anthropomorphic. The intellectuals of the era believed that in this world, everything has to do with everything.
For example, it was considered a fully legitimate practice to draw parallels between the qualitative essence of chemical reactions in metals and the essence of processes within a particular society. The eugenicists of the time used to compare the contamination of racially pure individuals’ blood to the contamination of noble metals with foreign elements. As they would often point out to – it does not present much of a challenge to mix molten gold with lead, which results in gold being deprived of its noble-metallic characteristics; however, it is practically impossible to separate two metals, afterwards. Nowadays, of course, these kinds of suggestions would be deemed utterly inappropriate, especially if articulated publicly, simply because socio-political discourse in today’s Western countries is being concerned with the process of these countries becoming increasingly multicultural.
Nevertheless, throughout the fifties, when Cold War was at the peak of its intensity, and when the concept of multiculturalism was simply unheard of, the exploitation of theme of ‘otherness’ in Hollywood sci-fi movies, continued to radiate clearly defined xenophobic, sexist and anti-Communist undertones, even though these undertones were rather of Bible-thumping then of purely scientific essence. In the next part of this paper, we will aim to explore this suggestion at lengths by analyzing motifs, contained in 1953 cinematographic adaptation of Wells’s novel by Byron Haskin, and by comparing and contrasting them with motifs, contained in the original The War of the Worlds.
Haskin’s First Screen Depiction (1953)
It does not represent much of a challenge to define the foremost difference between Wells’s original novel and Haskin’s film – whereas; the plot of the novel unravels in Victorian Britain, the plot of Haskin’s film unravels in Linda Rosa, California, during the course of fifties. And, as one proceeds with watching the movie, these differences continue to multiply rather exponentially. Even the initial part of the film, where narrator articulates reasons as to why Martians have chosen to conquer the Earth, as opposed to taking over such planets as Neptune, Jupiter and Saturn, sets movie in opposition to the scientific spirit of the novel. At the onset of Martian landing, movie’s main character Dr. Forrester is shown having picnic in the mountains near the Pacific Coast. After strange meteor makes nearby landing, Forrester decides to come and have a better look at what had fallen from out of the sky. Purely ‘accidentally’, he happened to have a bulky radioactivity-measuring device with him in the woods, which he immediately puts into action, after having stumbled upon Martian landing pod that in the movie, appears being anything but cylinder-shaped. The device gives out ominously sounding crackling noise, which prompts Forrester to suggest to the police officers, presented at the site, that it might be a good idea to keep spectators away from the ‘meteor’.
It is important to understand that the ‘radiation scene’ in Haskin’s film served the purpose of establishing the mood of ominous uncertainty with the viewers – in fifties, the exposal to radiation was thought to be rather undesirable. However, at that time, the effects of such an exposal have not been thoroughly studied yet, which is why, even after having been told about the radiation, spectators continue to remain in suspense on whether their reaction to the sight of the ‘meteor’ should be negative or positive. Thus, the watching of a ‘radiation scene’ alone leaves no doubt as to the fact that Haskin’s The War of the World has been filmed in fifties, when nuclear-related thematics were integrally incorporated in the core of predominant socio-political discourse.17
In the consequential scene, viewers get to see the actual effects of Martian technology being put to action – the delegation, consisting of three men that sought a cheap fame of being declared the first humans who had established contacts with extraterrestrials, had approached the ‘meteor’ when something started to unscrew on its side. Immediately, out of the opening, emerged something reminding a cobra head and had instantly incinerated self-appointed ‘representatives of Earth’ with a heat ray. Later in the movie, these ‘cobra heads’ were revealed as parts of Martian fighting machines, which also looked anything but tripod-like.
Given the fact that at the time of movie’s creation, American society remained utterly patriarchic, when women were commonly perceived as nothing but housewives that could only have the ‘voice of authority’ in the kitchen, Haskin’s choice for having parts of Martian machines snake-like shaped appears being indicative of producer’s deep-seated sense of sexism. In her article, Fortier (1975) states: “The belief that sex is evil… is a part of the Judeo- Christian myth of Eve and Adam. Eve, a disguised goddess of fertility – for “she was the mother of all things” – was seduced by a snake (a very phallic symbol)” (279).
The validity of this suggestion appears especially evident in relation to the only female character in the film Sylvia van Buren, which was constantly finding herself in places, swarmed with Martian snake-like shaped machines and gadgets. While referring to Haskin’s The War of the Worlds, Wood (2003) came up with interesting observation: “The film is crudely sexist… The topical fear of Communist invasion in its turn covers the fear of the release of repressed sexuality. The Martian machines are blatantly phallic, with their snakelike probing and penetrating devices… the heroine (van Buren) being supplied with an M.A. in technological science, but once that’s been established, her only function is to scream every time a Martian phallus pokes in through her window” (133). And, it does not take a genius to figure out why the motifs of repressed sexuality are being so prominently explored in Haskin’s film – throughout movie’s entirety, producer had made a point in glorifying Protestant version of Christianity, whenever opportunity presented itself.
It all begins when the character of Pastor Collins makes his first appearance at the movie’s very beginning. Unlike the rest of people that came to look at the fallen ‘meteor’, Pastor Collins never ceases to maintain a dignified posture. He also appears very knowledgeable not only about things like immaculate conception, but also about radiation and about what might account for the best way to communicate with aliens. After Martians had proven their hostile intentions, and after American army was called in to beat the unwelcomed guess off, Pastor Collins decides to establish peace and mutual understanding between humans and Martians, while articulating the rationale behind such his intention in the following manner: “I think we should try to make them understand we mean them no harm… they are living creatures out there… if they are more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator for that reason” (32.44.05).
With the Bible raised in his hand, Pastor steps out of the shelter and begins to walk towards the Martians. Predictably enough, Pastor’s foolishness (denoted by Haskin as some form of sacrificial courageousness) had cost him dearly – the ‘servant of God’ was instantly vaporized when the heat ray hit him. There are good reasons to refer to this particular scene as being indicative of film creators’ strongly defined euro-centric intolerance – it is namely on the account of American Natives’ refusal to recognize Bible as the ‘holy book’ that European colonists used to embark on these people’s wholesale slaughter. Therefore, the fact that Martians did not seem to be particularly thrilled with the idea of Jesus saving them from their sins, subtly implies that American Natives were not much better then Martians – after all, these people were also initially refusing to hold Bible in any high regard.18
Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Wells and Haskins’ depictions of clergymen being affected by the ‘war of the worlds’, appear not only different, but diametrically opposite. Whereas; in Wells’s novel, curate is shown as someone completely out of his mind, in Haskin’s film, Pastor Collins is shown as some sort of a moral authority. It might very well be the case that in the movie, the character of Pastor Collins serves as a ‘surrogate Jesus’, who had offered salvation to evil Martians. However, just as it was the case with Biblical Jesus offering salvation to Jews, this offer was rejected, which eventually had led to Martians being damned by God himself in movie’s final scene.
As we have mentioned earlier, there are many clearly anti-Communist motifs and themes in Haskin’s The War of the Worlds. However, given the fact that these motifs are rather subtle, unlike what it is the case with other American sci-fi movies, produced in fifties, such as the Invasion of Body Snatchers, the viewer would have to remain particularly attentive, in order to be able to pin point them. One of the clearest indications that movie’s creators strived to predispose viewing audiences to think that there was some kind of connection between evil Martians and evil Commies, is that throughout film’s duration, not a single mentioning has been made about Soviet Union being affected by alien invasion, as well. This seems particularly bizarre; given the fact that USSR was the largest country on Earth (Martian cylinders could not have possibly missed it), and that narrator had simultaneously made a few references to such ‘important’ nations as India, Turkey and Bolivia actively contributing to the common struggle against Martians.
In his book, Matthews (2007) quoted film historian John Brosnan, who also thought that the absence of referrals to Russians in Haskin’s film was intentional: “Are we to assume from this omission that the Russians and the Martians were somehow in league with each other? If so, the term ‘red planet Mars’ takes on a whole new meaning” (27). Nevertheless, producer’s intention to draw parallels between Martians and Communists might not be quite as paranoid as it seems – after all, until the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, this country’s coat of arms featured the emblem of hammer and a sickle in the foreground of the whole planet, with Soviet Constitution clearly stating that it was only the matter of time, before all world’s nations would become a part of USSR.19
Another subtle anti-Communist motif in Haskin’s movie is that it promotes an idea that enemy cannot be reasoned with, but only exterminated. In his book, from which we have already quoted, Matthews states: “The great lesson promoted by The Thing and The War of the Worlds (1953) is that alien invaders can’t be appeased, only destroyed. This wasn’t the 1980s, when E.T. charmed everyone, but the ’50s, when the Russians were said to be planning to attack the United States. Instead of directly confronting the Russian threat, Hollywood substituted extraterrestrial invaders” (31). Of course, such film’s idea resonated perfectly well, with what was American political establishment’s ideological agenda at the time – namely, preparing citizens to accept the idea that beginning of a war with Soviet Union was just a matter of time. In its turn, this confirms the validity of Foucault’s suggestion that the concept of a discourse should not be thought of within the framework of linear continuity, which implies qualitative progress, but rather within the framework of circumstantial spatiality.
In their book, McHoul and Grace (2002) argue that Foucault tended to think of a discourse from essentially utilitarian perspective: “Instead of thinking of discourse (in the singular) as a global language’ pertaining to a global history, so that everything (even silence) refers back to a hidden ‘meaning’ which the historian must find and interpret. Foucault argues that discourses (in the plural) are limited practical domains” (50).
Apparently, the extent of objectiveness, on the part of power-related public discourse, does not reflect the particulars of such discourse’s association with a particular historical era. This partially explains why, despite the fact that Haskin’s film was produced in more than fifty years, after Wells had written an original novel, it is not only that many of movie’s themes and motifs appear less intellectually refined, but very often they seem to directly contradict those of the original novel. For example; whereas in Wells’s novel, religion is being shown as humanity’s burden, with readers being prompted to think that science alone can provide people with the answers of practical significance: “We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science—learn more” (225), in Haskin’s film, science is being subtly ridiculed.
The validity of this suggestion becomes evident in relation to movie’s scene, in which Dr. Forrester and his colleagues decide to study the sample of Martian blood, in order to figure out if there was any other way to defeat the invaders, besides subjecting them to nuclear bombardment, which was proven ineffective, due to Martian fighting machines being surrounded with electromagnetic defense fields: “We will take all our instruments and establish a base laboratory in Rocky Mountains. We give us time to search out some weakness in Martians… We know now that we can’t beat their machines, we’ve got to beat them” (65.22.05). Nevertheless, after having conducted their research, scientists came to realize their apparent helplessness.
The consequential scenes show Los Angeles being thoroughly destroyed by evil Martians. These scenes’ apocalyptical overtones must have appeared particularly frightening to movie-going audiences in 1953. As Mathews had put it: “Undoubtedly, The War of the Worlds is the most frightening alien invasion film of the 1950s. It was to its time what Independence Day was to the 1990s” (28). Apparently, by exposing viewers to these scenes, director had intentionally strived to make them think that, without some sort of divine intervention, the fate of humanity would be effectively sealed. Predictably enough, film’s final scenes feature scientists and ordinary people gathering in some church, where priest rises his hands up, while delivering a passionate prayer to the God, so that God would save the humanity: “O Lord, we pray thee — grant us the miracle of Thy divine intervention” (74.31.00). And, of course, it did not take too long for the prayer to start having effect – almost immediately, after it has been spoken, Martian machines began crushing into the buildings.
It is interesting to note that, even though in his last speech film’s narrator does admit the fact that Martians were killed by bacteria: “The Martians had no resistance to the bacteria in our atmosphere to which we have long since become immune” (81.10.02), he nevertheless does not skip the opportunity to praise God for having put bacteria on Earth: “After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things which God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth” (81.36. 00). Thus, Haskin had made a point in diverging from novel’s original atheist spirit, as there we no objectively existing social and political preconditions for him to even consider acting otherwise.
Throughout the fifties, the spirit of Protestantism-related religiosity had marked the mainstream discourses in American society.20 In his book, McKenna (2007) states: “During fifties, a certain kind of generic Protestantism had been woven into a durable fabric of patriotism, one whose contours still reappear whenever Americans are moved to honor their nation” (259). Given the fact that American Protestantism has traditionally been associated with a so-called ‘nativist’ movement, it comes as no surprise that, along with sexist and anti-Communist, there are also subtly defined xenophobic motifs can be clearly seen in Haskin’s movie.
Today’s critics have a few doubts as to the fact that Haskin’s The War of the Worlds, is being concerned with exploring the theme of ‘otherness’, even though they do not necessarily agree onto how producers perceived such ‘otherness’. For example, in her book Cartmell (1999) suggests that cinematographic representation of Martians in film was meant to serve the purpose of strengthening American society’s unity: “Instead of metaphors for invading Communists and the dangers of conformism, they (Martians) are simply and conveniently ‘other’ – all-purpose outsiders against which the warring chaos of American identities can muster and unite” (2). We do not quite agree with this suggestion, because in Haskin’s adaptation, the whole scope of American identities is not being represented. One does not have to be an attentive critic, in order to realize that all of movie’s characters are White. If we take into account these characters’ Southern accents and the location where movie was shot, it will become apparent that there is a xenophobic aspect to how directors thought of ‘otherness’.
In her article, to which we have already referred, Kann (2004) states: “In the postwar era and beyond, California has been a particularly loaded cultural sign with regard to race relations and white hegemony” (54). Therefore, there are good reasons to believe that the virtual absence of people of color in Haskin’s film, sublimated director’s racial prejudices. This partially explains why in Haskin’s adaptation, Martians do not ‘harvest’ humans, unlike what it was the case in Wells’s novel – the very idea that White people could be treated as ‘ants’, was quite incompatible with the working of chauvinistic Protestant mentality.
The fact that the color of Martian’s skin was distinctively brown can be seen as an additional indication as to director’s deep-seated racialist anxieties. In the scene where scientists do research onto the sample of Martian blood, the character of Dr. Bilderbeck comes up with the following remark: “They (Martians) can be mental giants, but by all standards, physically they must be very primitive” (57.07. 20). In the consequential scene, where scientists get to see how they appear in Martian eyes, the qualitative essence of director’s perception of ‘otherness’ becomes perfectly clear – it is namely when people’s skin seems anything but white, that Haskin thought was particularly horrifying.
Nevertheless, even though there are many more differences between Haskin’s movie and Wells’s original novel then there are similarities, it would be wrong to refrain from mentioning these similarities altogether. For example, just as Wells, Haskin succeeded with portraying how social order falls apart, while being replaced by the state of anarchy. In his article, Valentin (2010) says: “The War of the Worlds doesn’t shy away from depicting the worst in human nature (e.g., a late-film riot and attack on school buses and trucks carrying scientific equipment)” (Cinematical). Yet; whereas, in the original novel the portrayal of a social chaos served the purpose of validating author’s view of people as essentially beasts endowed with intelligence, whose layer of cultural refinement is being only skin-deep, in Haskin’s film the depictions of an ensued social anarchy were meant to simply scarify viewers, as these depictions undermine film’s ideological premise that Homo Sapiens is a divine specie, which is being constantly looked after by God.
Also, there is a similarity between how novel and film explore the theme of army’s ineffectiveness, when being challenged by a superior technology. Just as it was the case with Wells, who had spend a great deal of time describing the techniques, employed by British army to contain Martian invasion – by exposing viewers to the sight of a military moving in to confront alien invasion, Haskin wanted to instill viewers with the unconscious sensation of a relief. The reason for this is obvious – viewers needed to be given some initial hope that everything remains under control, so that this hope could be taken away from them drastically, hence intensifying horror.
Still, the earlier articulated arguments leave us very little choice but to refer to Haskin’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds as grossly misrepresentative. It is not only that director had actively strived to downplay the scientific sounding of Wells’s original novel, but he even attempted to turn his cinematographic adaptation into the tool of promoting clearly religious agenda. In its turn, such our conclusion correlates well with Foucault’s idea that the linear course of cultural and scientific progress does not defines the essence of a particular socio-political discourse. Even though Haskin’s The War of the Worlds was produced in fifties, which should have implied this adaptation being more scientifically refined, as compared to the original novel, the viewing of Haskin’s ‘masterpiece’ points out to something entirely different – this movie had very little to do with promotion of science. Given the fact that in fifties there were no computer-based special effects technologies, movie’s scenes that feature Martian machines in the middle of wrecking havoc, appear utterly unrealistic. The dubious quality of actors’ performance made things even worse, which is why, as of today, the growing number of people who had watched Haskin’s film, often find it hard to believe that this movie belongs to the genre of sci-fi horror, and not to the genre of comedy.
Spielberg, Cruise and Special Effects (2005)
As we have stated earlier, the themes and motifs, contained in the works of literature and movies, are best discussed within the context of currently predominant socio-political discourse. Because we were able to reaffirm the validity of this thesis, while assessing the significance of Haskin’s film from discursive perspective, it would only be logical to assume that we would be able to do the same, in regards to Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of Wellss’s novel, especially given the fact that, unlike Haskin’s The War of the Worlds, Spielberg’s movie is being reflective of psychological realities of post-industrialism. What it means that, it is not only that we should be able to define qualitative subtleties of this particular film, but also to relate to film’s themes and motifs emotionally.
As it was pointed out by Foucault (1997), for researcher who aims at assessing the actual significance of a contemporary discourse, it represents the matter of crucial importance to never skip the opportunity of ‘feeling’ such discourse’s quintessence, as opposed to simply analyzing it rationally: “The historico-critical attitude must be an experimental one. It must open up a realm of historical inquiry, and… put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality” (316). Given the fact Spielberg’s War of the Worlds was produced comparatively recently, it will not represent much of a challenge to define the foremost reasons why director had proceed with his cinematographic agenda (in regards to Wells’s novel) in the way he did – we have been affected by currently dominant discourse to the same extent with Spielberg.
And, the realities of living in post-industrial urban society are being defined by an increased feeling of social alienation, on the part of its members, and by hypertrophied anxieties of insecurity, due to the rise of Islamic terrorism, sublimated in people’s tendency to think of ensuring their personal security as their foremost existential agenda.21 As it was rightly suggested by Gunn (2008): “Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, constitutive of anxieties generated by Nine-eleven, tacitly cultivates an affective response of desperation in order to promulgate an ideology of paternal sovereignty… The film is about sovereignty because it re-stages a state of nature as a “state of emergency” (1). Whereas; Wells’s novel was about hypothesizing on what might account for threats to Western civilization’s dominance, and Haskin’s adaptation was about director extrapolating his cold-war-related anxieties, Spielberg’s movie is about exposing the process of people growing increasingly less gender-differentiated as such that contradicts the laws of nature.
The movie begins with the scene of a main character Ray Ferrier being shown on the line of executing his professional duties at the dock. When being asked to put in some extra work by one of his superiors, Ray replies: “I wish I could help you, Sal. It’s the godamned union regulations”. (00.04.06). Thus, even at movie’s very beginning, Ray is being established as self-centered individual, who simply refuses to consider adjusting his personal agenda to be correlative with the interests of others. In its turn, this exposes him as a true post-industrial urbanite, whose act is not being affected by his affiliation with a particular social strata and who thinks of ensuring his personal well-being as his foremost priority.
Ray has two children: Robbie and Rachel, who live with his estranged wife Mary. Spielberg had made a point in exposing the essence of Ferrier’s relationship with his estranged wife and his children throughout the duration of movie’s first ten minutes, so that viewers would be able to establish emotional links with presented characters and to gain three-dimensional insight onto characters’ psyches. In their critical article, Brussats (2006) argue that: “Whereas other directors would downplay character development and maximize special effects in a thriller of this magnitude, Steven Spielberg keeps the story by Josh Friedman and David Koepp focused on Ray and his children. They are people we can identify with, and so we find ourselves pulled into their situation” (SpiritualityPractice.Com). This, of course, sets Spielberg’s War of the Worlds apart from Haskin’s film; in which most of the characters act in the way their physical appearance suggest they should act.
The ‘alien action’ in Spielberg’s movie begins anything but what it was like in Wells’s novel or in Haskin’s film – people in Ray’s neighborhood came out of their houses to observe a strange phenomenon in the sky, when thunder clouds started to rotate around the center of what appeared as some form of storm activity. Yet, unlike what it is the case with regular storms, the wind was blowing towards the storm. Then, ominous lightning bolts started to strike the earth from out of the cloud, while hitting a single spot close to where Ray’s house was located – later, it will be revealed that aliens ‘rode the lightning’ to get inside the tripods, which remained buried in Earth’s soil for an unspecified period of time. This is the most unusual aspect of how Spielberg proceeded with interpreting Wells’s novel – in the movie, Martian machines of destruction do not fall out of the sky but emerge from under the ground.
Moreover, there are no good reasons to even believe that the alien pilots have come from Mars. In his review of the movie, Ebert (2005) says: “We learn that countless years ago, invaders presumably but not necessarily from Mars buried huge machines all over the Earth. Now they activate them with lightning bolts, each one containing an alien (in what form, it is hard to say)” (RogerEbert.Com). Nevertheless, the tripods themselves appeared as if they had stepped out of Wells’s novel – huge, alien-looking, ominously flexible, and deadly. Apparently, Spielberg had familiarized himself with how Wells had described tripods in the novel: “Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body” (62). In the movie, after having emerged from under the ground, tripods begin obliterating just about anything around them with rays that turn people into ashes, although these are definitely not Wells’s heat-rays – the clothing of vanished people remained intact.
As we remember from reading Wells’s The War of the Worlds, the narrator and simultaneously novel’s main character acted mostly in a lone mode. He leaves his wife at the end of Chapter 7 and only reunites with her after Martian ordeal is over. Moreover, while leading rootles existence of a bum in English countryside, and while trying to save his life in the cellar of a destroyed house, he never mentions that he ever missed her. Partially, narrator’s emotional disattachment from family-related matters could be explained by his rather philosophical mindset: “In the days before the invasion no one would have questioned my intellectual superiority to his—I, a professed and recognized writer on philosophical themes” (223). Nevertheless, it is also the fact that narrator lived in Victorian times, when open and passionate expression of warm feelings towards family members was considered an indication of one’s lessened association with manly virtues22, which explains why one of Wells novel’s foremost trademarks is the fact that it does not contain emotionally sappy parts.
In Spielberg’s movie, on the other hand, it is not only that the main character is shown being deeply attached to his estranged wife and children, but also in many cases, the strength of such an attachment clearly appears to impede his ability to think rationally. Apparently, Ray is quite incapable of existing other then within the boundaries of his familiar little world, which in its turn; he associates with the comforts of being able to spend time with children. There is a notable scene in the movie when, after having brought Robbie and Rachel to his former wife’s house, and while hiding in the basement, Ray tries to act as if nothing had happened. By doing it, Ray had once again proven himself a post-industrial individual, who deals with life’s crisis by erecting a mental wall between himself that the crisis – just as it being recommended by psychological counselors.
The same can be said about Ray’s teenage son Robbie, who in the scene where Rachel begins to scream, while in the car, acts as if he was a certified psychologist: “Okay, put them up, Rach. Make the arms. This space right here is yours. This belongs to you, right? You are safe in your space” (00.31.35). In Spielberg’s film, the psychology had effectively replaced religion, just as it is being the case in today’s life, when the process of Western societies’ ongoing secularization had established objective preconditions for more and more citizens to become increasingly non-religious. Nowadays, even many of so-called Christian counselors act as surrogate psychologists. In his book, Miller (1995) states: “If a woman struggles with depression or lacks sexual desire for her husband because of past sexual abuse, the immediate response is to send the woman to a professional counselor. The underlying assumption is that spiritual resources aren’t sufficient to deal with what’s going on” (16). The fact that many male characters in Spielberg’s film appear emotionally fragile sets this movie apart from both: Wells’s original novel and Haskin’s adaptation, where most characters adopt a stoic attitude, while facing Martians.
Apparently, despite the fact that on the outside, Ray appeared perfectly masculine, his psyche never ceased being feminized. In their book, Leathwood and Read (2009) point out to the fact that an ongoing process of post-industrial Western societies growing increasingly feminized should be discussed from discursive perspective, as defined by Foucault: “We are concerned with the discourses of feminization, conceptualizing discourse in the Foucauldian sense as a system of statements, thoughts, rules and practices imbued with power… feminization signifies cultural change or transformation, whereby ‘feminine’ values, concerns and practices are seen to be changing the culture of an organization, a ﬁeld of practice or society as a whole” (9-10). There are many indications, as to validity of our perception of Ray as utterly feminized individual, can be found throughout film’s entirety. For example, at movie’s beginning, there is a scene where Ray’s estranged wife, impregnated by another man, keeps on supplying him with instructions as to how he should act, in case of an ‘emergency’: “I’ll be at my parent’s house in Boston, but don’t call a house line… I’ve got my cell phone, so if anything comes up or if you have any questions, just call” (00.07.33). In return, Ray just nods – he appears being fully taken over by his former wife’s female charms.
Another example – in the scene where Ferrier pulls over the car, so that kids could go about their business, despite the fact that he continues to ask them to behave, they simply ignore their father’s pleads. After having realized himself quite powerless to do anything to improve children’s behavior, Ferrier could not have come up with anything better than just telling them: “Ok listen, every time you guys don’t listen to me… I’m telling your mother, I’m making a list, I’m making a list” (00.46.29). There could be little doubt as to the fact that, before divorcing Ferrier, it was Mary Ann who wore pants in the family.
Nevertheless, even though Ray was able to conceal his deep-seated femininity from his friends and coworkers, he could not hide it from his own children – unlike what it is the case with adults, kids are able to acutely sense the emanations of existential inadequacy, regardless of the form these emanations assume. This is why, throughout most of the movie, Ray’s relationship with his son Robbie is being marked by the feeling of mutual misunderstanding. In the scene where Robbie tries to join passing-by soldiers, in order to fight aliens, his dislike of his father prompts him to openly confront Ray, by throwing the accusations of parental irresponsibility right into his dad’s face: “You wanna come up with whines and shit? You only chose Boston because mom is there, and if she is there, you can dump us on her” (00.48.17).
Thus, it will not be an exaggeration to suggest that one of foremost motifs in Spielberg’s film has to do with what director think undermines the very concept of parental authority – the fact that the qualitative essence of relationship between parents and children within a particular family had become utterly formalized. It is perfectly obvious from watching 2005 War of the Worlds that the duration of a time, for which Ray was allowed to socialize with his children, has been specified by a legal agreement between him and his divorced wife. Yet, as it was shown in the film, in time of crisis, legal concepts become utterly irrelevant within the matter of a split of a second.
Apparently, Ferrier and his children were perfectly aware of this fact, although rather on unconscious level. Such their awareness sublimated itself into the irrational fear of terrorism. There is a memorable scene in the movie, when upon being exposed to the sight of bridge being blown up and houses and cars destroyed, Rachel begins screaming ‘terrorists!’.
Given the fact that Rachel could not have possibly gained understanding of the term ‘terrorism’ from experience, her apparent awareness of what this concept stands for came as a result of Rachel’s psyche being affected by terrorism-related public discourse, which nowadays affects the realities of American living rather significantly. While referring to post-9/11 fear of terrorism, which continues to be experienced by many Americans even today, Vertigans (2009) states: “The fear (of terrorism) has become a dominant perspective in social life but, in contrast to the past, it represents not a fear of tangible things or events within themselves but a specific kind of discourse that engages individual identity and participation within social life” (128).
In today’s America, the accidentally forgotten briefcase at the airport represents a major threat to country’s national security. The fact that most powerful country on Earth has been waging war upon single individual Osama bin Laden for nine years with no end in sight (it had only taken four years for America to defeat Germany and Japan, during the time of WW2), causes more and more Americans to live in the state of constant fear.23 And, because the fear of death is the most powerful unconscious instinct, experienced by people, it comes as no surprise that movie directors have traditionally strived to exploit their awareness of this fact, in order to increase the emotional appeal of their cinematographic works, especially while producing movies associated with the genre of sci-fi horror. Nevertheless, whereas; in Haskin’s movie viewers’ fear of death has been exploited in regards to evil Commies, in Spielberg’s film, this fear is being exploited in regards to Islamic terrorists, even though film’s semantic content appears absolutely unrelated to the issue of terrorism per se.
In the book that we have already mentioned, Matthews quotes Steven Spielberg, who was asked about what had inspired him to proceed with adapting Wells’s novel in the way he did: “My movie is more about the American refugee experience – something that you never hear – American and refugee – in the same sentence because my movie is what happens when Americans are put on the run and we all are migrating away from the danger zones where the aliens are attacking — heading away from the Eastern Seaboard. That’s an image that is evocative for me and my generation post 9/ll” (149-150). Thus, Ray appears a typical representative of Generation-X (we will elaborate on this idea later) – individualistically minded, cognitively feminized and intelligent individual – someone who would never subscribe to Kennedy’s suggestion that one can never ask what its country can do for him but only vice versa.
There is another memorable scene in the movie when, after presumably having lost Robbie to Martians, Ray is singing to Rachel in Ogilvy’s basement. At this particular moment, Ray is being shown in the state of an extreme emotional distress, with his tears running down his cheeks – yet, it is absolutely clear that Ray’s grief is of personal nature. When the whole humanity stood on the brink of extinction, Ray could not find anything better to do but grieving his personal losses. Partially, this explains Ray’s unwillingness to put up any kind of active resistance against aliens, when being offered to by Ogilvy, which appears clearly reminiscent of the character of artilleryman from Wells’s novel. In her article, Schlussel (2005) had made a good point while referring to the message, conveyed by Spielberg’s movie, as being essentially pacifist: “But the message (of film) is: Don’t fight terrorism. It will miraculously go away if you leave it alone and it breaths our air and culture. Puh-leeze” (DebbieSchlussel.Com). As representative of America’s left-winged cultural elite, Spielberg strived to do his best so that film’s message would not be perceived as ‘suggestive’.
This; however, did not prevent him from ridiculing the concept of civilian militia, embodied by the character of Ogilvy. Unlike Wells’s artilleryman, Ogilvy exhibits the psychological traits of clearly pathological essence. This can be especially noticed in the scene where Ogilvy tells Ray about his experiences of working as an ambulance driver: “I’ve been around death plenty. I’m driving ambulance in the city… You know, the people that make it, Ray…are the ones that keep their eyes open, that keep looking at you, thinking. They are the ones that survive” (01.13.46). While pronouncing this little monologue, Ogilvy kept on smirking ominously and helping himself with the shots of schnapps.
One does not have to be a particularly bright to realize that the character of Ogilvy in Spielberg’s film serves the purpose of promoting an idea that American militia consists of drunken red-necks, who should not even be allowed to own guns. The subtle implications of such an idea are perfectly clear – the notion of freedom of speech and the idea that citizens have the right to indulge in armed resistance against governmentally sponsored oppression, are socially dangerous. According to what Spielberg tried to promote in War of the World and in his other movies, it is namely some anonymous ‘experts’, preferably consisting of ‘chosen people’, such as the director himself, which should be put in position of telling ordinary citizens how to live their lives. This explains Spielberg’s criticism of free-market economy, his Socialist leanings and his admiration of such notorious political figures as Fidel Castro.
In their book, Breitbart and Ebner (2004) state: “Spielberg, a man who has made hundreds of millions of dollars exploiting America’s constitutionally protected freedoms… Reportedly described his November 2002 tete-a-tete with the murderous Castro as “the eight most important hours of my life” (221). Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, even though it might not be obvious at the first glance, Spielberg’s adaptation of Wells’s novel is being just as politically engaged, as it was the case with Haskin’s movie. This is exactly the reason why there are no characters in this film, representing organized religion – in neo-Liberal society; the outright criticism of religion is not permitted.
In today’s Western countries, even the most ardent atheists prefer referring to themselves as ‘agnostics’, especially if they happened to be socially prominent individuals. For some unknown reason, the hawks of political correctness try to convince people that in civil society all religions should be equality respected, even though the very concept of religion stands in striking opposition to the concept of civil society. In their book, Audi and Wolterstorff (1997) were able to expose the sheer fallaciousness of an idea that people should not be allowed to criticize self-appointed ‘representatives of God’: “Nobody who is at all reflective believes that all religions and comprehensive perspectives in contemporary American society are equally correct and beneficial. How could they be, since on many points they flagrantly contradict each other?
But if we each believe that there are religions and perspectives present in society that are false and deleterious, it is remarkable that we should nonetheless advocate granting equal freedom to all” (72). Being an atheist himself, Spielberg nevertheless decided to make his adaptation of Wells’s novel religiously neutral. Apparently, it is so much safer and politically beneficial to expose a low-class White redneck Ogilvy as someone capable of molesting children: “Ogilvy to Rachel: You miss your mommy? You know.. if anything happens to your daddy, I’ll take care of you” (01.16.47), then implying that some crazed priest is capable of doing the same, especially in the light of recent scandals that involved Catholic priests being caught red-handed, while sexually abusing children.24
Nevertheless, the very fact that the subtle motifs of child molestation are being clearly present in Spielberg’s film (Ray always gets very nervous when Rachel talks to strangers), points out to this movie being deeply associated with the realities of contemporary multicultural living. In today’s America, there is a good chance for a child to become physically of sexually abused, if he or she is being left unattended in public place for even as little as few minutes. At the same time, in countries where promoters of multiculturalism (such as Spielberg) were kept at bay, such as Iceland or Poland, parents leave their children playing in public parks for hours, with the thought that anyone would be willing to abuse their kids never even occurring to them.
Thus, the earlier provided review of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds once again points out at the validity of Foucault’s conception of a discourse. According to Foucalt (1978): “Discourse can be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy. Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines it and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it” (101). As we have pointed out, the variety of themes and motifs, exploited in Spielberg’s film, reflect the particulars of director’s own worldview. In its turn, this worldview has been formed by the specifics of director’s genetic makeup, by different aspects of his upbringing, and by the qualitative essence of dominant public discourses that affected the process of Spielberg growing up. While rightly considering himself an utterly sophisticated individual, and while projecting his intellectual sophistication onto semantic content of his movie, Spielberg nevertheless remained quite unaware of his neo-Liberal view’s limitations.
Nevertheless, when compared to Haskin’s The War of the Worlds, Spielberg’s film appears much more reflective of Wells novel’s authentic sounding. First of all, Spielberg’s special effects specialists was able to design Martian tripods in the way Wells himself had probably envisioned them, as tripods’ appearance matches Wells’s description of how they looked like with amazing exactness. Second of all, Spielberg succeeded in portraying the mechanics of an escalating social chaos – just as it was the case with the novel, 2005 film promotes an idea that it does not take too much to reduce civilized populace into the herd of panicking animals, completely incapable of rationalizing their behavior. In its turn, this subtly popularizes Darwinian outlook onto the specie of Homo Sapiens as nothing but primates with the ability to indulge in morality-related philosophizing, even though their existential drives remain the same with that of primates. Third of all, in this particular movie, Spielberg had proven himself a ‘master of authentication’ – despite the fact that Wells’s novel was written in Victorian era, Spielberg was nevertheless able to adapt its content to match the realities of post-industrial urban living in contemporary America.
In the earlier parts of this paper, we have attempted to outline and to explain the specifics of how the theme of Martian invasion of Earth has been explored in Wells’s original novel and in its 1953 and 2005 cinematographic adaptations by Haskin and Spielberg. We have shown that the apparent thematic, stylistic and semiotic differences, found to differentiate Wells’s novel from both films, are best described as discourse-related, in Foucaultian sense of this word. That is, the way in which Wells, Haskin and Spielberg had gone about investigating essentially the same theme of alien invasion, reflected the varying degree of author’s and both directors’ association with spatially predominated socio-political discourses of corresponding historical periods.
Nevertheless, it also represents an interest to define the psychological origins of these discourses, so that we would be able to relate novel and its adaptations not only to an abstract philosophical concept, but also to a real people, whose worldviews have traditionally been affected by their affiliation with different generations. As Kohli (2005) had put it: “Human generations lie at the root of social dynamics in all spheres of social life – not only in politics but also in the economy and the family. The sequence of generations is about continuity and conflict” (520). Let us begin from afar.
The history of Western civilization can be thought of as the sequential succession of three generations, representatives of which posses specific psychological traits.25 The essence of socio-political and economic dynamics, associated with every major historical era, such as Antiquity, Medieval ages and Modernity, is being reflected by proportional presence of representatives of these generations in ruling elites. The same can be said about what defines the qualitative essence of socio-political realities within the spatial boundaries of affiliative ‘sub-eras’ (Modernity’s sub-eras can be referred to as pre-Industrial, Industrial, and post-Industrial). Individuals affiliated with ‘first generation’ have traditionally been known for possession of plenty of biological vitality, sublimated in these people’s acute sense of existential idealism, their scientific inquisitiveness, their resolution to ensure their dominance in different parts of the world, and their virtual invulnerability to depression.
Within the context of 20th century Europe’s history, the representatives of ‘first generation’ are now being commonly referred to as representatives of ‘Lost generation’ (those who have fought in WW1), and representatives of the ‘Greatest generation (those born through 1900-1914, who have participated in WW2). Even though H.G. Wells did not take part in WW1 and WW2, due to his advanced age, he nevertheless possessed the psychological qualities of someone closely associated with mentioned above generations. This is the reason why in the original The War of the Worlds, the motifs of scientific inquisitiveness clearly dominate all others – throughout the course of his life, Wells never ceased believing that, even though science does not provide answers to all questions, the answers it does provide are undisputable.
At the same time, Wells continued to profess an idealistic belief that it is namely one’s ability to actively contribute to the well-being of a society, which defines his or her worth as an individual. In his book, Salter (1947) provides us with the insight onto Wells’s psyche as that of the typical European intellectual of the time: “He (Wells) became obsessed with the thought that scientific invention was putting into the hands of mankind the power which, with suitable direction, could make an ordered society with a life of happiness… He therefore devoted himself to the task of educating the public, and to this task he subordinated every other purpose in life” (121-122). Nowadays, critics never skip an opportunity to highlight Wells’s association with the Socialist movement. At the same time, they also point out to the fact that Wells’s political leanings never prevented him from remaining an ardent supporter of British Empire.
In previously referenced article, Earle (1950) states: “He (Wells) loved England and affirmed that he had always been ‘intensely, affectionately, and profoundly English’… He believed that the British Empire was something ‘to be rescued, not destroyed” (184). Thus, Wells’s affiliation with Socialism and his well-defined sense of a national pride suggests that, if there was a political movement, towards which Wells’s had felt an innate attraction, that would have been National-Socialism. In its turn, this explains why in years preceding the outbreak of WW2, Wells maintained personal correspondence with the leader of British Nazis Oswald Mosley.
Nowadays, Nazism is being commonly regarded as utterly irrational worldview, based upon race-related prejudices. However, the truth is, this political philosophy is the only one that can be referred to as thoroughly scientific – the recent breakthroughs in the fields of genetics, psychology and sociology, confirm the full validity of many theorizations, on the part of early 20th century’s race scientists and eugenicists. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, while being one of its era’s most prominent intellectuals, while possessing a plenty of biological vitality (Wells died at the age of 80), and while never having to deal with ideological oppression of political correctness, Wells was naturally predisposed towards assessing surrounding realities from Social-Darwinist perspective – just as it was commonly the case with representatives of ‘Lost’ and ‘Greatest’ generations, who participated in trench warfare.
Apparently, Wells was well aware of the fact that, from Darwinian theory’s point of view, Homo Sapiens is nothing but simply an intermediary link between the race of apes and the race of superman. Friedrich Nietzsche (1891), of whom Wells was a great admirer, had put it in the following manner: “What is the ape to men? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman – a laughing stock or a painful embarrassment” (75). There can very little doubt that Wells did fully support such Nietzsche’s semi-biological insight.
This is why, unlike what it is the case with film adaptations of the original The War of the World, Wells’s novel is not as much about people trying to find refuge from evil Martians, as much as it is about people trying to gain an insight onto Martians’ invincibility, in order to become just as powerful: “If the Martians can reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose that the thing is impossible for men, and when the slow cooling of the Sun makes this Earth uninhabitable, as at last it must do, it may be that the thread of life that has begun here will have streamed out and caught our sister planet within its toils” (256).
Wells wrote his novel in time when it seemed that, with the exception of alien invasion, nothing could prevent Whites from taking their biological destiny firmly into their own hands. This is why; novel’s narrator is being shown as someone who never loses his sense of optimism, even in supposedly hopeless situations – the most striking psychological trait of those who belonged to ‘Greatest’ generation. Despite the fact that many people that survived both wars had witnessed their closest friends being blown into pieces before their very eyes, they would never succumb to depression – the phenomenon of so-called ‘combat fatigue’ was virtually unknown to soldiers in time of both world wars. Unfortunately, during the course of WW1 and WW2, it were not scientists but plutocratic moneybags who had prevailed.
The years, following the end of WW2 in America, are now being commonly referred to as the ‘time of baby-boomers’. The war-related decimation of male population in Western countries and the fact that war provided a powerful boost to American economy – hence, drastically increasing the levels of material prosperity among Americans, resulted in creating objective preconditions for citizens to indulge in baby-making on ever-progressive scale. The psychological traits of baby-boomers (or representatives of ‘second’ generation) have been outlined in the study by Egri and Ralston (2004): “The Baby Boomer generation grew up during the period of unprecedented prosperity and affluence that followed World War II… Baby Boomers have been described as very individualistic, competitive free agents with high interest in self-fulfillment through enrichment” (213). In other words, unlike what it was the case with representatives of ‘Greatest’ generation, along with possessing plenty of intelligence, baby-boomers also possessed a taste for material enrichment, as the foremost goal of their lives.
Despite the fact that Byron Haskin did not formally belong to the generation of baby-boomers, and neither did most of the characters in his adaptation of Wells’s novel, the motifs contained in 1953 The War of the Worlds did appeal to the collective unconscious of baby-booming generation, which explains why this movie remained popular with the audiences well into the late fifties. Nowadays, critics often point out at inconsistency between physical appearance and the extent of intellectual refinement, on the part of such movie’s characters as Dr. Forrester and Sylvia van Buren, and the fact that film refers to them as the ‘people of science’, as one of film’s most serious drawbacks. It goes without saying, of course, that every time Forrester had put on his glasses, he looked more ‘scientific’ then without them. Nevertheless, the way in which Forrester engaged in conversations, his physical constitution and his apparent action-mindedness suggests that being a soldier would have suited him so much more than being a professor.
The same can be said about the character of van Buren, whose Barbie-doll looks and intellectual naiveté prevented viewers from perceiving her as anyone but a potential ‘trophy wife’. In her review of Haskin’s film, Boeder (2003) had made a perfectly legitimate point while stating: “Ann Robinson (Sylvia van Buren) has a thankless role as the typical, wasp-waisted 1950s decorative chick. The plot gives her a library science degree, but she winds up serving coffee and donuts” (About.Com). Nevertheless, not many critics realize that these film’s inconsistencies resonated rather well with baby-boomers’ unconscious anxieties.
Given the fact that throughout fifties and sixties, American society continued to remain utterly stratified along class lines, many young people thought of obtaining university diplomas not so much from professional but from social perspective. That is, they perceived these diplomas as the key to attaining social prominence and financial security, rather than legal confirmations of their professional excellence in a particular field. Get a degree, get married, get a loan, and start making babies – that was baby-boomers’ generational motto. It is not by coincidence that, after having met Forrester for the first time in his life, Pastor Collins had suggestively offered him to take his daughter Sylvia to a community dance in the evening.
Whereas; at the time of Great Depression, there was a substantial number of impoverished citizens that felt sympathy towards Soviet Union as ‘workers’ paradise’, this was no longer the case in fifties, when the growing might of American economy created objective preconditions for citizens’ living standards to continue improving in exponential progression to the flow of time. It is namely the fact that the generation of baby-boomers had gotten a taste of material riches, which resulted in many of its representatives becoming ardent anti-Communists. And, since there was no alternative way for them to explore their ant-Communist leanings, other than affiliating themselves with conservative Bible-thumpers, it comes as no surprise that, along with containing clearly defined individualistic motifs, baby-boomers-oriented movies often contained the motifs of Protestant religiosity – just as it appears to be the case in Haskin’s The War of the Worlds.
In 1964, Deverson and Hamblett had conducted a series of interviews with British youth, which revealed that interviewed teenagers possessed a few psychological characteristics that had not been found in young people one generation ago: “They sleep together before they are married, don’t believe in God, dislike the Queen and don’t respect parents” (5). As more studies were conducted on the subject matter, those born between 1965 and 1980 began to be referred to as representatives of Generation X, and those born between 1980 and 2000, as representatives of Generation Y. The most striking psychological trait, on the part of these people, is that – even though most of them are best described as intellectually sophisticate, they nevertheless do not possess even a fraction of their parents’ existential vitality, which causes them to indulge in social withdrawal, as an integral parts of their lives.
According to Coupland (1991), unlike what it is usually the case with baby-boomers, when it comes expressing their views on the matters of socio-political importance, Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers refrain from adopting an active stance, while assuming the role of passive observers. It is namely on the account of Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers’ lack of existential vitality and their tendency to indulge in social withdrawal that, as time goes by, more and more cities in Western countries are beginning to look like Third World slums – the representatives of two latest generations simply do not have what it takes to be able to prevent their countries from being taken over by barbarians. While expounding on the benefices of multiculturalism, in the attempt to prove their ‘progressiveness’, these people nevertheless prefer to reside in racially secluded White suburbia, while being utterly afraid to enter their cities’ ethnic ghettos, after it gets dark. Just as it was shown in Wells’s another novel Time Machine, overly effeminate and existentially decadent descendants of those who had created Western civilization (Eloi) might eventually be reduced to simply serve as a food for ape-like Morlocks from Third World, which continue to flood Western countries, thanks to institutialization of ‘celebration of diversity’ policy.
In Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, main characters are being shown as typical representatives of two latest generations. For example, Ray is presented as someone who simply does not care about what is going on in the world, for as long as the well-being of his kids is ensured. He takes his estranged wife’s advices as to how he should treat kids close to the heart, even though there are no good reasons to believe that women can raise children better than men can. On the contrary – women’s emotional softness often prevents them from aquatinting children with the notion of discipline, which results in these children growing up into whiny, self-indulgent and socially irresponsible individuals. The ease, with which Robbie takes Ray’s car for a ‘spin’, without having driver license and without asking for his dad’s permission, suggests that he had done the same to his mother’s car before.
Whereas; in Haskin’s film, the character of Dr. Forrester tries to look older and more responsible than he is by wearing a suit, every time opportunity presents itself, Spielberg’s character of Ray Ferrier makes a point in trying to act and to look particularly boyish. There are women, of course, that are being attracted to this type of men. However, in general, women are more attracted to those men, who despite lacking boyish charms have proven themselves manly enough to act as potential family providers. The fact that, after having divorced Mary Ann, Ray proceeded with the lifestyle of a bachelor, evidently enough – without giving it a thought to getting married again, can serve as another proof as to this character’s deep affiliation with Generation X. The same thesis applies to Ray’s children – instead of taking care of his homework, as Mary Ann had told him, Robbie just prefers to lay on the couch, while giving mean looks to his dad.
And, there is a good reason to believe that, had his mother saw him being in such a mood, she would have concluded that Robbie must have succumbed to depression. The next step would be taking him to see a psychologist, who gets paid as much as $50 per hour for simply yapping away, even though the best way to get Robbie out of depression would be giving him a good kick in the rear and forcing him to do some push-ups, for a change. Yet, it is namely the character of Rachel that illustrates the qualitative essence of ‘third’ generation’s psycho-type. There can be few doubts as to the fact that, despite her tender age and despite her physical healthiness, this little girl must have been taken to a psychologist on numerous occasions, which explains why Rachel addresses life’s crisis by pretending that it does not exist. In time when there is no real psychologist around, Robbie acts as a surrogate one. And, Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers’ unhealthy reliance on psychological counseling, as the foremost mean of dealing with existential challenges, is a well-known fact.26
This paper’s ultimate conclusion can be articulated as following: The particulars of how the theme of Martian invasion has been explored in the novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and in its 1953 and 2005 film adaptations by Byron Haskin and Steven Spielberg, are reflective of socio-political discourses, associated with corresponding historical eras. At the beginning of 20th century, European intellectuals were at liberty to theorize on the issues political and philosophical importance in just about any way they considered appropriate. In its turn, this explains why the ideas, promoted by Wells’s original novel, do not correlate with realities of today’s living, when introduction of ‘hate laws’ in Western countries had effectively prevented citizens from being able to openly express their views.
The similar thesis applies to 1953 Haskin’s film – ever since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, it became quite impossible to prompt people in free world to associate Communism with horror, especially given the fact that neo-Marxists had now found themselves in governmental offices of many Western countries. Thus, it is namely Spielberg’s movie, which can be referred as the most accurate and the most relevant cinematographic adaptation of Wells’s novel. Despite the fact that in this movie, director clearly strived to promote his own political agenda, he nevertheless succeeded in authenticating novel’s motifs in regards to the realities of post-industrial urban living. We believe that such our conclusion confirms the validity of this work’s initial hypothesis.
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