Subliminal messages have always been a uncanny phenomenon and often subject to scientific and public debate. A subliminal message is a signal in the form of a picture or sound that is designed to pass the normal limits of perception. That means that people perceive it with their subconscious while not perceiving it consciously. This technique is sometimes used in movies and advertising to influence the subconscious of the viewer. The latest stir around this controversial technique has come up around the campaign of the Bush administration. Allegedly, a promotional video that was aired recently, would contain subliminal messages meant to convey a hidden message.
It would not be the first time that a political party would be accused of using subliminal imagery. A similar accusation was made against a promotional film of the Liberal party of Canada, where after dissecting their ad, one could clearly see a gun being fired at the viewer. The Bush promo is rumoured to be filled to the brim with subliminal images of a disturbing nature: fire, explosions, terrified children, mutilation, ghost-like figures and several acts of violence. The problem with this technique is that it is not an exact science; there is no solid scientific proof of it causing the effects it should evoke. Then again, the human mind is still a mystery to science.
The most famous story about subliminal manipulation is that of the infamous experiment held in 1957 at a movie theatre in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Here it was believed that ultra-fast editing of images of popcorn and Coke throughout the movie would lead to a significant increase in refreshment sales during the intermission. This experiment caused such a stir, that subliminal messages were outlawed and deemed unethical. However, it soon appeared to be a hoax and the experimenter James Vicary admitted that he had been tampering with the results. Still, subliminal techniques were applied on a broad scale thereafter, especially in advertising. It apparently still proved to be an effective way to send mixed messages and hidden meanings.
In cinema it has been used a lot. One of the most famous examples were the gruesome images used in The Exorcist; subliminal images were edited in to increase the fear of the audience. This could explain why this movie induced such strong reactions of terror with so many people. The subliminal images were cut out of the movie only to be reinstated in the 2000 Director’s Cut. Also Oliver Stone’s award winning movie JFK is ridden with subliminal messages, sending out a message that the Kennedy slaying was tied to Masonic or secret societies. Subliminal messages again were openly used in David Fincher’s Fight Club, turning the spotting of Tyler Durden almost into a game.
It’s difficult to prove whether images are meant to be subliminal and whether they trigger the sought-after effect. Simultaneously, they also give good way for nice conspiracy theories and spooky stories. However, the deliberate use of suggestive images meant to evoke a secondary hidden effect could be at least considered dubious and unethical. The mere idea that politicians would resort to such tactics does not ask for a big leap of mind 🙂
* Site where the alleged subliminal Bush movie is described and dissected.
* More on the promotional ad of the Canadian Liberal party and subliminal messages.
* Example of subliminal message in a movie poster.
* Subliminal images in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.
* A list of movies containing subliminal messages.
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