Intellects small and uncool but still unsympathetic…


Siberians allegedly mistake a tornado for the second coming of Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg:

People in the Khabarovsk region of Siberia jumped into their cars and fled their homes in panic when the freak wind arrived out of nowhere, flattening trees and destroying property.

They blamed the fear of an alien invasion on the recent showing of the Tom Cruise epic.

Natalia Lukash, spokesperson for Russia's Far-Eastern Emergency Situations Centre, said: "It was a strange phenomenon and many people jumped to the wrong conclusion and believed it had been caused by alien space ships landing in the area."

Much as I'd like to believe this one, I suspect it's either bogus or, like the story of the nationwide panic over Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, vastly exaggerated. Ms. Lukash, who I'm sure is in every other respect a credit to the Far-Eastern Emergency Situations Centre (doesn't that sound like the kind of place John Agar would have been working at in Invisible Invaders?), is the only source for the alien-panic interpretation. A garden variety tornado would provide incentive enough for most people to want to run away.

Why is The War of the Worlds such a reliable generator of false-panic stories? Orson Welles deserves some credit as a news-media parodist for hoodwinking people in 1938, but why is this the literary property people are willing to believe is true (or more accurately, believe other people believe is true), rather than Rosemary's Baby or Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers or, more to the point of today's story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? (I guess you'd also have to include the spate of "a real-life Home Alone!" stories that hit the news in the early '90s.)