When viewers panic

olympusThe FCC—the Federal Communications Commission—says it will fine media production companies $1.9 million dollars for airing a movie trailer last year for the film Olympus has Fallen.

I just caught a news report announcing the FCC said the trailer broadcasts the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System.

And you can’t do that.

The FCC thinks audiences seeing the trailer will get confused and think a terrorist attack is real.

The emergency signal used in the trailer—which sounds like the tone of a landline phone left off the hook—was aired on the film’s advertisement that portends a terrorist takeover of the United States.

According to news this week fines will be levied against Viacom, NBC-Universal and ESPN for carrying the trailer.

For those of us who study mass media effects, I suggest the FCC—which says the trailer can cause alarm—is overreacting.

The New York Times drew a parallel with the Mercury Theatre’s airing of War of the Worlds on Halloween in 1938 when some listeners thought the radio program of Martians invading might be real.

As researchers who interviewed New Jersey residents later reported, most citizens caught on to the radio play.

The so-called frenzy that ensued after airing the play—based on H.G. Wells story–was highly exaggerated but the urban legend continues that East Coasters panicked.

Look at the trailer and judge for yourself: does it suggest a true terrorist takeover?

I can understand the FCC wanting to keep the emergency warning system sounds off-limits to advertisers and movie-makers so that the sound remains sacrosanct.

But to suggest Americans will panic watching a trailer seems dumb.

Here’s the trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5bF5Q_i_ngs


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in film, framing, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When viewers panic

  1. Russ L says:

    The FCC is definitely over-reacting.


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