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Brainwash 2000

by Gareth Branwyn

"There's a seeker born every minute."

—Firesign Theater, "Everything You Know Is Wrong"

"The family harmony tape really works! I took a cross-country trip with my mother. Every time she would get angry, I'd put on the tape, and without fail she would calm right down. Thanks to your tape, I survived the trip."

—Letter to a subliminal tape manufacturer


In September of 1957, a New Jersey movie audience found itself with an uncontrollable urge to scramble out of its seats and make a beeline for treats in the lobby. Sure, treats have always been a part of the movie-going experience, but on this night, something was different. The Coke, popcorn, Goobers, M&Ms, and JuJu Bees flowed like Ripple down a wino's gullet. Later, when it was discovered that the theater owner had spliced hidden messages into the movie reels ("Drink Coke," "Eat Popcorn"), all hell broke loose in the media: the dark power of subliminal advertising was revealed.

Gareth's Subliminal Software Picks:

Or so goes the popular urban legend. It is apparently true that the theater and an advertising specialist, James Vicary, did place the subliminal ads and claimed to have dramatically increased concession sales as a result, but repeated experiments by other researchers failed to replicate the effects. Even though Vicary later admitted the positive findings were a hoax, the subliminal persuasion meme had escaped into the modern psyche, where its been replicated ever since. Like conspiracy theorists who weave together grand plots from a Gordian knot of seemingly unrelated associations and events, subliminal paranoids thrive on a conspiracy of embedded messages. The word "SEX," copulating figures, flaming skulls, and severed heads in ice cubes, cigarette ads sporting camels with dick noses (OK, so that one's real), a woman being consumed in a campfire.

Dr. Wilson Bryan Key, author of Subliminal Seductions, has made a pastime (and a living) out of doing these Rorschach readings on ads. He's the guy who first saw sex in ice cubes and also the nut case who testified against the band Judas Priest when they were accused of implanting suicide messages into their songs, which allegedly resulted in a teen's death.

So what exactly is subliminal persuasion? "Subliminal" literally means "below the threshold of perception." In common usage, it also refers to things that we might not recognize consciously that could still have a delayed impact on us (e.g., something seen out of the corner of the eye that only registers later on). While most cognitive scientists would argue that things below the perceptual threshold cannot activate mental processes, unconscious or otherwise—and dozens of studies bear this out—pop psychologists and new age kooks have refused to listen. It's one of those things, like extra terrestrials, cellulite cream, and the EZ-Krunch...it just sounds like it should work. Unarguably, advertising holds a tremendous influence on our lives and lots of time and money is spent designing ads that appeal on many levels. But choosing colors, sounds, and images that appeal to various appetites of the human psyche is a long way away from the idea that completely hidden sounds and images can cause us to act in some predetermined way. And, when you think of it, isn't subliminal advertising unnecessary? I mean, my mom (no offense, Mom) will actually watch a commercial for a new improved product ("now with formtla XK5!"), and turn to my dad and say: "Honey, we should try that!" With plug-and-play consumers like this, who needs to mess with subliminal thought control?

Given the many debunkings and experiments to the contrary, one would think that subliminally enhanced products (for do-it-yourself brainwashing) would be about as popular as anti-gravity and perpetual energy machines. One would be wrong. The subliminal audio tape market, for instance, promises relief or cures for overeating, smoking, baldness, PMS, spiritual bankruptcy, and just about anything else that ails you, is an over-$50-million-a-year business. Not wanting to miss out on all the rube-fleecing fun, software makers have now jumped onto the subliminal bandwagon. Let's take a couple of these programs for a test spin through Gareth's brain and see what happens.

These tests, of course, were not scientific. The makers of these programs will surely respond by coming up with oodles of reasons why they didn't work for me, but they will work for you. So, go ahead, spend your hard earned shekels on software snake oil, if you must. But, if you really need to sit in front of a computer screen of hidden affirmations in an effort to get your life together, the STIM gene police have their own hidden message for you.</end>"HEY YOU, OUT OF THE POOL!"

GARETH studmuffin BRANWYN stares at his monitor buy me a 180Mhz PPC in search of truth, beauty, and increased hair growth. have sex with me now

illustrations by wellington
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