Are you sure that you arent being subconsciously manipulated into making decisions that you wouldnt normally make? Are you sure that over the next few days, your purchases of popcorn and Coke will be completely under your conscious control? Are you even sure that I havent embedded secret messages into this research paper to manipulate you into giving me an A? If you didnt consciously perceive secret messages but you did perceive them subconsciously, then they would be called subliminal. The word subliminal literally means below the threshold (Encarta 99). The threshold is the level at which you are aware of stimuli, so if something is below the threshold, or subliminal, you are not consciously aware of it. Therefore, you may be receiving messages and obeying them without even realizing it! What I have set out to prove through my research report is that people are being manipulated by the media through subliminal advertisements.
Subliminal advertisements stimulated significant public attention in 1957. It was reported that a motion picture theater in New Jersey had flashed subliminal messages on its movie screen during the showing of the movie Picnic. These messages appeared on the face of the actress Kim Novak every 32 seconds and urged the audience to Eat popcorn and Drink Coca-Cola over a course of six weeks. 49,699 people viewed these subliminal messages. The movie theater reported that its concession sales increased 58%. Some people just dismissed this as a publicity stunt or believed that you cant be affected by something you cant perceive. The truth is that nobody has ever been able to reproduce this result. However, this incident caused many people to take interest in the subject of subliminal perception. One such person was Vance Packard who wrote the very popular book, Hidden Persuaders, which appeared in the London Sunday Times as an account of the whole New Jersey ordeal.
People who hear of subliminal messages often ask how something that isnt perceived consciously can be perceived subconsciously. This confused me at first too, but through my research I have come to realize that it is really quite simple. When you are in a room with 50 people that are talking, but you are only conversing with one person, you can still hear all 50 people. You consciously perceive one persons voice, but those other 49 peoples voices dont just go in one ear and out the other. You may not realize that you are perceiving those other voices, but you really are. Those other voices would be subliminal. Another example of how something that isnt perceived consciously but can be perceived subconsciously, is if you were to sit down and just list everything that youve seen in the past hour. You would probably come to a large number, but you couldnt possibly list everything youve actually seen. You could just look outside and consciously perceive hundreds of things, but when you really think about it, you probably actually perceived millions if not billions of things. When you look at a car driving down the street, you dont just see the car, passengers, and the street. You also see every blade of grass lining the street, the little boy playing off in the distance, and the house across the street with the white shutters and shingled roof.
Now that Ive established that there is a conscious and subconscious mind, I will explain both. The conscious mind has the privilege of accepting, rejecting or modifying perceptions. For instance, if the conscious mind listens to someone say that they are stupid, it could accept, reject or modify it. However, if it is the subconscious mind that listens to this statement, then it just accepts it and believes that it is stupid. Ironically, however, the beliefs held in the subconscious are the source of why the conscious accepts, rejects, or modifies the statement.
Many advertisers take advantage of this and try to embed subliminal messages into their advertisements. Advertisers subliminal messages often concentrate on the taboos of society to stimulate the mind. Such taboos would be sex, which is often the most common focus of advertisers, death, incest, homosexuality, and sometimes even pagan icons. Disney movies have displayed, and have been sued for, embedding subliminal messages. In their movie, The Little Mermaid, they show the male genitalia as a part of the castle. People may think that people were just trying to find perverted things in innocent Disney movies, but apparently it wasnt innocent enough to keep it on the cover. The newer cover does not display a castle on it. Another subliminal message involving Disney is in the movie Aladdin. Right before he sings the song A Whole New World, Aladdin says, Take off your clothes under his breath. My last example of a Disney related incident involving subliminal messages is in the movie The Lion King. When the king lion falls off of the cliff, you can see that the dust around him and the stars in the sky spell out the word Sex. There are many subliminal messages in our products today, but one I find most disturbing is the Camel Cigarettes advertisement. The Picture on the left shows a man standing proudly with his genitalia erect. The picture on the right shows the camel that is named the Smooth Character. If you look at his nose, you will come to realize that it is in fact the male genitalia.
There is proof that shows just how influential these ads were to the marketing of Camel cigarettes. In 1978, there were seven surveys taken by 3,400 smokers between grades seven through twelve in Georgia, Louisiana and Minnesota and it showed that Camels were preferred by less than .05%. However, in 1988, RJR Nabisco launched the Smooth Character, a cartoon camel modeled after James Bond and Don Johnson. 5,000 children from California were polled and 22% of girls were smoking Camel cigarettes, and 24% of boys were smoking Camel cigarettes! This was a significant rise from the original .05%! Another study showed that children were as familiar with the Smooth Character as Mickey Mouse! Even if the sexual subliminal messages werent intended, or effective, it still gives off the subliminal message, Smoke Camel cigarettes, and you will be cool and attractive! Both males and females are grossly manipulated by images just like these, which say that if you wear a certain designers clothes, or drink a certain soda, or smoke a certain cigarette, that they will be cool and beautiful just like the beautiful person in the advertisement! Subliminal messages can be as disturbingly simple as that.
There seems to be three people in particular who know a lot about subliminal perception and advertisements, and those people are Wilson Bryan Key, Ph.D, William Bryan Cane, and Eldon Taylor, Ph.D. They have showed up many times in my research so I believe that they all play an important role in my research report.
The first man that I mentioned was Wilson Bryan Key. He is famous for the uncovering of subliminal images in advertisements. He argues that not only are we being subliminally merchandised today but the public has been subliminally seduced for hundreds of years (Subliminal Learning 27) He has lectured to people about how the advertising industry is using subliminal messages to manipulate the public (Chen 1).
In 1988, there was a case in Reno regarding the parents of a boy who committed suicide, which Wilson Bryan Key claims to have been caused by the musical group Judas Priest. He claims that this group included in a song, at a low, subliminal level, the words Do it! (Ethics of Subliminal Research 1). In the end, the judge concluded that the words could be heard but that there was no evidence that they would have been able to trigger someones suicide without the aid of the suicidal thoughts that the boy had previously engaged in.
Wilson Bryan Key has also brought up the subject of the just how intentional subliminal messages are in advertisements. He has said that these images do not appear by accident, coincidence, or as the work of an individual artist. Rather, advertising agencies spend three to five months and upwards $50,000 to scrutinize every detail in each advertisement (Chen 1)
The second man that I mentioned was William Cane. William Cane is the pen name of Michael Christian who teaches English at Boston College. He was educated at Boston College Law School and has been lecturing college students about subliminal messages for fourteen years. He has concluded that one of the biggest problems facing college campuses as well as society is the use of legal drugs (Cane 1) He said that his lectures show what advertisers are doing to hook youngsters into lifetimes of addiction (Cane 1).
The third man that I mentioned was Eldon Taylor. He has written many books going deep into how subliminal messages work and their effectiveness. He discusses the earliest modern references that he has found on the subject of subliminal communication such as Sigmund Freud and the areas of the brain that get affected by subliminal messages.
One of Edmund Taylors major topics in his books is about just how legal subliminal advertisements are. This is, in my opinion, the most disturbing part about my topic. The truth of the matter is that there are currently no laws whatsoever forbidding the use of subliminal advertisements. This means that a commercial on television could flash a message manipulating you into buying it, and you would never even know, but yet it is perfectly legal. Eldon says that there are many reasons as to why subliminal advertisements are legal. One reason is that the public reaction of the movie situation in New Jersey back in the late fifties to the early sixties ended where it began. What was considered by Newsday as the most alarming invention since the atomic bomb has been shuffled away to dirty mind arguments and ghosts that go bump in the night (Subliminal Communication 10). People just believed that what you couldnt hear couldnt hurt you, and that what you couldnt see, you didnt see because it wasnt there. Several states, and even the United States Senate have introduced legislation to prohibit subliminal messages in public communication media, but no legislation has ever been enacted. People that were interviewed by Eldon Taylor about subliminal advertisements were said to fall into one of two groups: the group that believed that they did not work, or the group that believed that they were against the law. This is extremely alarming that nobody is actually aware of what they are being exposed to because the media is legally manipulating us! Some actual examples of how subliminal messages are currently being used are that in some malls, music containing the subliminal message, Buy/Dont steal is being played, and that there are some video rental stores that have subliminal messages flashed throughout some of their movies to rent only their videos!
The main argument that is keeping subliminal advertisements legal is that they do not work. There hasnt been enough evidence to prove that they work because subliminal advertisements are a fairly new field of study. It is really still in the investigative stages. However, though there really isnt any scientific proof that subliminal messages work, there are many testimonies saying that they work from people who have used subliminal messages in a positive way. I will mention a few of these testimonies to give you an idea of just how effective subliminal messages worked for some people. I have taken these testimonies out of Eldon Taylors book, Subliminal Communication: Emperors Clothes or Panacea? A woman named Marilee had more than two hundred warts on her hands, and tried to have many of them burned off. After using a subliminal wart-removal audiotape for thirty days, the warts had completely vanished. Six months later, the warts had still not returned. Another woman named Judee Goddard bought a subliminal weight-loss audiotape to play secretly to her husband. After thirty days, Mr. Goddard had lost twenty-six pounds, and was never informed of the subliminal program. My last example is of a man named Vern Water. His mother purchased a stop-loss-of-hair tape for him. He had already lost most of his hair because of what seemed to be male pattern baldness, but after listening to those tapes for less than one month, he began to grow new hair. After approximately two months, he had a full head of hair once again.
These testimonies and this research paper certainly didnt prove my research topic, which was that people are being manipulated by the media through subliminal advertisements, but it did show that there is definitely a good possibility that subliminal messages may work. We also must remember that just because we dont have the technology or knowledge to fully understand subliminal messages quite yet, doesnt mean that they dont work. If we do some day find out that subliminal messages do actually work, then we will realize just how badly we have been manipulated all of these years. However, there could also be a very negative side to that, which would be that we would know for sure that they work and then there would always be that definite possibility that people were manipulating us constantly to do whatever they want. This is where you have to wonder if we should ever really know. It all comes down to the mathematical fact that even when theres a lot of a positive, if theres a bigger negative, then its still negative. Scientists will probably continue to study subliminal messages until we have it all figured out because of our need to learn, and hopefully, our newfound knowledge will be exclusively positive!