Monday, 26 July 2010

They Live, We Sleep

(Not So) Subliminal Mind Control is Alive and Well in the UK.

We all know the point of advertising is to consciously and/or subconsciously guide us toward certain choices. In most cases, though, we may consciously see it, but our ultimate reactions to it are probably more subconscious. For example, seeing a fun advert for a chocolate bar, and consciously thinking “Hmmm... that looks nice”, then several hours later buying a chocolate bar (perhaps even a specific brand), that you may not have otherwise bothered with. The modern world is absolutely full of such examples. We are so saturated by advertising, branding and marketing in every aspect of our lives, that we have become oblivious to it. For the advertisers, I believe this has become both a disadvantage and a boon.

For a truly successful recent example, how many children do you think now have toy Meerkats, due to a certain price comparison website's ad campaign? However, then consider how many other adverts are shown, that don't have the same impact. How many of those do you remember? It's more difficult for advertisers to slip those messages into our conscious minds now, in preference over others. On the other hand, because we are so saturated with them, we no longer take much notice of the majority we see, so they are undoubtedly embedded rather snugly in our subconscious, ready to give a little push when we see something they're associated with.

So why am I discussing this? Well, the other day I came face-to-face with a prime example of the pessimistic science fiction world becoming reality. In the 1988 film They Live, the main character discovers that with the aid of some specially coated 'sunglasses', he can see the world for what it truly is. Humanity is living in an induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep, in which our alien masters wander around normally, but we see them as other humans. More importantly, for the sake of this discussion anyway, the sunglasses also reveal the subliminal messages used to control our behaviour. Every magazine, every advert, every billboard is covered simply in large black lettering against a white background, upon which are words such as 'Obey', 'Consume', 'Do Not Question Authority', 'Submit', 'Marry and Reproduce', 'Watch TV', etc.. One of the most amusing and cutting moments is when Nada (The lead character, his name symbolising the every-man and/or nobody) sees a wad of money in a shopkeeper's hand. Across each note is simply the words 'This is Your God'.* (See below)

The film is a comment on Reagan era economics, societal and personal greed and selfishness, the suppression of the masses for the power of the elite, the way in which the underclass can spend so much time fighting amongst themselves that they allow themselves to be exploited and miss what is quite literally before them... amongst those and other issues, the film is also a comment on how we sleepwalk through our lives, oblivious to the controlling and suggestive wording and imagery that surrounds us.

The other day, I discovered what it might have felt like for Nada, when he first saw those oversized statements of control. Walking into a shopping centre, I was greeted by a plain white, unadorned wall upon which was written a single bold word, in the plainest text, all in black. There was no indication of brand affiliation. This was not for a specific shop or product. This was for general observation without context, apart from the location itself. Unlike the images from the film They Live, the image on the left wasn't a matte painting effect or a prop. It was real. In giant letters, was written the word 'LUST'. Of course, it is clear what its purpose must be. Lust is associated with passion, desire, need, want. All the key words that imply we must have something. It cannot be coincidence that it is there for all to see upon walking into a shopping centre, the Mecca of western consumption.

It is so large and prominent, that of course many will notice it (though it was incredibly disturbing to see how many walked by without even a glance of acknowledgement). For those who didn't 'see' it, the sign will of course help suggest to them later on, that they must buy items that they 'need' in the shops. For those who do notice it, well, perhaps we are all the worse off. For we know its influence and purpose, but we soon forget while shopping, and are perhaps still likely to 'buy' and 'consume' all the more, because of a word that suggests those desires in the back of our minds...

How much of our lives are controlled? How much free will do we truly have? You really have to wonder, sometimes...

* Side Note 'This is Your God' (See 3rd paragraph)
On a side note, it does bring up an interesting point. America is well known for being a society of consumption and a the thirst for money (I'm not saying the UK or other places are any different or better, America just happens to be the poster child for such culture). It has the statement on its dollar bill: 'In God We Trust'. Of course consciously we know this is simply a reference to Christianity and the Christian God, which was and is the predominant religion of those who founded the country. But it begs the question, what subliminal influence has this had on the generations of Americans who use the dollar bill every day? The statement on the bill is not surrounded by imagery of particularly Christian context. It is not next to an image of Christ, or the cross. It is simply a statement on the bill, which is the only context. Does it thus subliminally imply that the bill itself is the God in which to place one's trust? You can't help but wonder if this has had any effect on American economics and society over the decades. Anyway, I digress...

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