Subliminal Messages

Introduction

Subliminal messages have been tested and examined for over 50 years.  The first outbreak of hysteria culminated in the late 1950’s when a man by the name of James Vicary used subliminal projection in his movie theatre as a form of advertising aimed at getting customers to buy popcorn and soda pop1.  Vicary claimed it to be an innocent form of advertisement, but when word got out about his efforts the general population became extremely offended and fearful of this subconscious tactic.  Vicary also made it clear that if the FCC banned this form of advertising he would do everything he could do to stop it2.

Another group highly interested in this form of subconscious manipulation was the CIA.  In it’s earlier attempts and trials of subliminal perception the CIA was mainly interested in effectiveness that subliminal persuasion had on people.  This was due to the efforts of the CIA was making in attempt to come up with more mind controlling oriented forms of power1.  It was not long until legislatures in Washington, DC along with the FCC, became interested with this new form of advertisement.  In 1957, Utah legs Representative, William Dawson, crusaded against any form of subliminal messaging claiming that the knowledge about this form of media was all too little and inconclusive for it to be put into the hands of money hungry advertisers and TV companies3.

In efforts to find substantial information, the CIA and the FCC performed some preliminary tests, but their conclusions proved to be much too dependent upon an individual’s environment.  Due to such uncontrollable outside factors and the failure to find a standardized method of testing, the CIA concluded that results were not factual and depended highly on subjective factors.  The FCC eventually sent out a public service announcement in the early sixties that addressed that all of the uses of subliminal messages would be used in the best interest of the public and if used would be highly regulated.  Companies such as Vicary’s Subliminal Projection Co. soon went out of business due to the unpopular nature of their actions.

The scare of the late fifties subsided, but this initial scare sparked many individuals to become highly interested in this new form of media. It was not until the seventies that the FCC heard any more complaints from the public on subliminal messages.  However, the FCC continued to claim that any form of subliminal messages being broadcasted was not in regulation with a broadcasting license.  In effect they were reinforcing the public with their negative stand on subliminal advertisement.

History

This information is from the following website: http://www.innertalk.com.  From that site, they discuss what services their company provides along with the history and an assertion that they “The one statement that I can say with reasonable certainty is: SOMETHING HAPPENS WITH OUR TECHNOLOGY THAT PRODUCES MEASURABLE POSITIVE RESULTS!”  And that, “my…Theories and what follows may be helpful in understanding both the how and what of Whole Brain Inner Talk Technology.”

The author goes on to assert that the popular history of information processing without awareness, is sometimes called shadowed or masked information and sometimes referred to as peripheral information, but commonly known by the public under one general label as subliminal communication, is really a history of modern manipulation.

He refers to Vance Packard's, Hidden Persuaders, which appeared in 1957, quotes from the Sunday Times an account of a New Jersey theater in which ice cream ads were flashed onto the screen during a movie showing. That resulted in an otherwise unaccountable increase in ice cream sales. The Times referred to this technology as "subthreshold effects."

The author says that Packard's work warned of psychologists-turned-merchandisers and of the resulting psychoseduction of the American consumer. From belief systems to product identification, Packard presented a case for persuasion through the art and science of motivational analysis, feedback, and psychological manipulation. Hidden Persuaders was the first open attempt to inform the general public of a potentially Orwellian means to enslave the mind and to do so surreptitiously.

Wilson Brian Key, in his books Subliminal Seduction, 1974 and Clam Plate Orgy, 1981 argues that not only are we being subliminally merchandised today but the public has been subliminally seduced for hundreds of years. Key, a Canadian university professor, sums it all up in the title to a third book on the subject, Media Sexploitation, 1977.

In this authors work, Subliminal Communication, 1990 he discussed the earliest modern reference he had found on the subject of subliminal communication. According to Benjamin Wolman, subliminal research is at least as old as Suslowa's work in 1863 wherein he reported "an increase in the two-point discrimination threshold as a function of subliminal electrical stimulation," (1973). In 1894 W. R. Dunham, M.D. wrote an interesting commentary on the subliminal mind and subliminal communication. Nearly one hundred years later, Dunham's essay reads much like current research on the subject. In The Science of Vital Force, Dunham demonstrated the existence of both subliminal mind and subliminal communication.

One of Freud's most important contributions...is the stark revelation that mankind is a mere particle of his potential.

One of Freud's most important contributions to approaching the enigma known, as the human condition is the stark revelation that mankind is a mere particle of his potential. Unconscious processes predetermine conscious choices and therefore behavior. Aggregates of attitude and behavior constitute personality. Personality is rather rigid, and consequently the human condition is an abysmal shadow of itself. What is more, according to Freud, it is inherently in conflict with itself.
A contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Dr. O. Poetzle, studied subliminal perception under exact laboratory conditions and discovered behavior effects days and weeks after the original stimuli.

Professor Benjamin B. Wolman's modified categorization of subliminal stimuli, divides descriptive values into five criteria of awareness and unawareness. The stimulus is:

1. Below the level of registration.
2. Above the level of registration but below the level of detection.
3. Above the level of detection and discrimination but below the level of identification.*
4. Below the level of identification only because of a defensive action. (1973).
* Using Wolman's categories, InnerTalk® falls in category three.
Wolman makes several general statements regarding subliminal stimulation, having come to certain conclusions based upon his erudite research. Although maintaining a cautious stance, he asserts:
1. Subliminal stimulus does leave an influence upon the content of subsequent cognition.
2. Subliminal stimuli have affected and can affect secondary process thinking.
3. There are neurophysiological findings, which appear to concur with registration without awareness.
4. Despite some failures of replication there are numerous instances where subliminal stimuli "can measurably influence a variety of subject's subsequent behaviors."
5. Conscious thinking can be influenced by stimuli outside of awareness.
In 1981 Dr. Norman Dixon summarized over 748 references on subliminal stimulation in his scholarly book, Preconscious Processing. Dixon provides a model for understanding the flow of information and its entry to consciousness. According to his model, five factors govern whether a stimulus surfaces at a conscious level: direction of attention; signal strength; external noise level; internal noise level and signal importance (meaning).

It is a First Amendment violation to use subliminal information without consent.
The wrongful death action, brought against Judas Priest and CBS in Reno, has led to a judicial interpretation regarding subliminal communication and First Amendment rights. Judge Whitehead ruled that it was a First Amendment violation to use subliminal information without consent.

First Amendment rights have often been an issue when the jurisprudence process becomes involved with subliminal stimuli. The Honorable Jerry Carr Whitehead, District Judge in the State of Nevada eloquently argues that subliminal communication violates First Amendment liberties when covertly or surreptitiously employed.

Whatever ultimate interpretations or direction of the controversy, one thing is quite certain, subliminals (used here as a noun referring to the general nature of their type of communication) are here to stay.

Economic Factors

The economic factors of the media include product placement, which is the practice of integrating specific products and brands into filmed entertainment. Although there is still an occasional payment by the manufacturer for "key" placement, in the majority of deals nowadays, no cash changes hands. Rather the client supplies goods or equipment for use in filming, or tosses in some extra product (food, for example) for the crew. (Entertainment resources & Marketing Association1)

Product placement is imbedded in film. There is no mute button for subliminal messages thus peoples attentions are drawn to products with out and influence to buy. They gain credible endorsements from the show or actor using the product. The cost is low compared to other types of promotion or advertising. You can reach audience at less than $1.00 per thousand4.

In the following films the product placement observed is as follows. In What Women Want there was several cases of product placement—Winston Cigarettes, Fosters Beer, and Legs Panty hose just to name a few. In CastAway it was Wilson volleyballs, FedEx Delivery, and Swiss Army knife. All of these items are used as casual background in the movies.  Another odd economic factor was the BMWs in Finding Forrester. BMW has their corporate office right next the Sony Corp offices, whether or not that is an economic factor is undocumented, but it does seem like a connection.

In general it was hard to find a connection between product advertisement and movie placement. It is common knowledge that movies are a strong resource in advertising, but no one seems to want to talk about it.

Technology and How Media Works

There are many technologies used in the movie industry.  There are a few that are quite closely attached to subliminal messages.  These include the cameras, editing equipment and special effects equipment.

There are many types of cameras used in filming movies.  Though the subliminal messages generally come from the type of camera work done rather than the camera itself, the camera has a strong affect on how the scene looks in its final edition.  For example, a scene may require a wide-angle shot, for which a specific camera is used.  There are messages attached to the way a scene is shot and in order to capture the scene appropriately a specific type of camera is required.  Thus, the technology used does affect the message in the media.

Another technology to keep in mind is the editing tools.  These include digital computer hardware and software, as well as the large scale editing tables.  Many studios use high-powered laptops to do out of studio editing.  An example of this is that Lucas Arts used an Apple PowerBook G3 combined with Apples Final Cut Pro video editing software when shooting Star Wars: Episode 1 in the desert.  This software can also be used to easily to insert digitally mastered clips that flash on and off screen unbeknownst to viewers delivering very effective messages.

Another idea to be aware of is the use of brands such as Apple by large companies can have several connotations as well.  For example, Lucas Arts both made a point of advertising the use of Apples products in making Star Wars: Episode 1.

There are also many devices that can, in theory, deliver messages through ultrasonic “guns.”  These devices, some people will argue, are a potential threat as they do no physical harm, yet can deliver messages to people in frightening ways.

Media Control

The Media Motion Picture Association of America controls the motion picture media.  There is a board of directors who are chairmen and presidents of 7 major producers and distributors of motion pictures and TV- Walt Disney, Sony pictures, Metro-Goldwin- Mayer, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros5.

To elicit a few examples of controlling media the use of Dreamworks film CastAway is effective. There are two major film companies that produced the film CastAway. The first was Dreamworks SKG. Steven Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg, and David Geffen initially set up DREAMWORKS SKG as a film studio that was there for the artist its goal was to produce the high quality films that were only found being made by the moguls6.  It is not as large as some other big name producers but is rapidly moving through the ranks of acquiring it own Media Empire. Dreamworks has its own small but horizontally integrated conglomerate. The second company is 20th Century Fox. 20th Century Fox is part of News Corp which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch is a strong believer that his Conglomerate is an extension of his ideas. He has even gone as far as saying, “For better or for worse, our company (News Corp) is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values7. This combination between producers is rather odd they both represent opposites in the way they conduct control of their productions. Rupert Murdoch believes that the ultimate power should lie in his decisions, while Dreamworks believe in giving their artist more personal control
 

Footnotes

1. http://www.parascope.com/ds/articles/ciasubliminaldoc.htm
2. http://www.parascope.com/articles/0397/sublim2.htm
3. http://www.parascope.com/articles/0397/sublim1.htm
4. http://www.erma.org/brndwk/brandweek.html
5. http://www.productplacement.co.nz/benefits.html
6. http://www.mpaa.org/about/
7. http://www.dreamworks.com/
8. http://www.csun.edu/~kab42291/