Martians take over campus

Students at the "Martians on Campus" conference watch and listen to a performance on alien encounters on Friday, April 15, 2011 on the SFSU campus. Jasmine Beaghler / staff photographer

Break out the tinfoil hats—SF State is under an alien attack.

In order to fight alien anxiety, graduate student David Daw and renowned SF State metaphysics professor Dr. Richard Pearson held the campus’ first Martian Life and Visitation Conference last Friday. The conference discussed the strange occurrences at the University with documents, firsthand accounts and other “evidence.”

The only problem with the conference: It was a hoax.

Daw, a broadcast and electronic communication arts student, organized the convention as part of his creative project required to receive his degree. His plan was to organize an interactive, multimedia re-creation of Orson Wells’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

“It says something about people’s relationship with media that they were kind of so willing to go along with this, even in the face of it being so patently ridiculous, so I wanted to do a project that would explore that idea,” Daw said. “When you actually listen to the broadcast, there’s a lot about it that is absolutely brilliant. … But it’s also kind of pathetic because, in a weird sort of way, it’s like so obvious that it’s fake and yet people had such a visceral reaction to it.”

As a part of his project, Daw worked with students from the BECA class Writing for Electronic Media throughout the semester. The students served as actors for the convention and also helped create a reliable background for the event. The students created a Facebook group titled “Explosions on Mars,” a reference to “War of the Worlds,” and posted videos, evidence and personal testimonies of weird occurrences around campus to build an unfailing suspicion of extraterrestrial activity.

On the night of the event, Daw and his team led several dozen participants from room to room in the Creative Arts building to experience individual presentations, from informative speeches to faux broadcasts and special effects.  Daw said he wanted to create an entertaining experience without being too frightening.

“Unlike Orson Wells, I’m trying to get a degree out of this so I can’t create mass panic throughout the entire state, and I’m actually trying to avoid that a little,” Daw said. “I don’t think it’s going to have that kind of viral effect but I would be shocked if there weren’t at least a couple of people who thought it was real when they arrived.”

Several attendants found out about the event from friends and were not sure of what to expect.

“I was hanging out with my pals and they said ‘hey do you wanna go see some Martians?’ said Mike Bush, a freshman BECA major. “And I thought to myself that I would go because it sounded like a lot of fun.”

Pearson, an “expert” in metaphysics, was actually former Associated Students Inc., Vice President Travis Northup, who is also the leader of SF State’s Improv Nation. He gave a speech about paranoia leading to a physical manifestation of Alien life. From there the lights shut off and a glowing red alien eye appeared. Then a faux radio broadcast reported attacks on San Francisco by Martians.

The project used multiple forms of media such as radio, PowerPoint and even a silhouetted scene on a projector made with an Xbox Kinect.

All of the characters were humorous references to science fiction classics.  BECA student Ashley Lindnere’s character, Kim Robinson, was a reference to Kim Stanley Robinson, author of “The Mars Trilogy;” Pearson was a character directly from the original Orson Wells broadcast in 1938.

After each group had experienced all of the presentations, Daw gave a director’s commentary on how the organizers had created the special effects.

“I thought that the whole thing was great,” said conference attendee Riley Bright. “It was very immersive and did an excellent job at creating an environment that used all of our imaginations.”

The BECA students had to develop their own characters and do a lot of work on their Facebook group page, but Lindnere, a BECA senior, said the work was part of the reward.

“It’s been a great time working with David and we’ve done a lot of interesting projects,” Lindnere said. “In a sense it’s not that I don’t believe, but it’s the fact that we’re going with this and playing all this up and it’s brought forth a lot of information out in the world.”

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