Jeff Warrick’s documentary is subtitled “The History of Subliminal Messaging in America,” though it seems that the filmmaker has a very broad view of what subliminal messaging is all about. Yes, the obvious suspects show up – hidden sexual imagery and verbiage in consumer advertising, Beatles tunes played backwards – but the film also reaches into government propaganda (especially the Bush White House’s efforts to convince a skeptical country to go to war with Iraq) and media manipulation (particularly in regard to TV newscasts using promotional video news releases created by corporate marketers).
A great deal of the film’s content will be familiar to anyone who ever took an advertising or marketing class in college – though Warrick deserves extra credit for debunking the myth of James Vicary’s boosting of cinema popcorn and soda sales by using a tachistoscope to flash subliminal messaging on a big screen. There is also a number of amusing photographic dissections on the subject, plus a few funny old commercials (including a Chevrolet advertisement with Dinah Shore and Pat Boone that openly spoofs subliminal messaging).
If the film focused strictly on the promotional aspect of the subject, the film could have been diverting. However, the film takes a decided left turn when the likes of Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and Dennis Kucinich turn up and the film goes out of its way to rehash the hysteria and deceptions of post-9/11 Washington politics. There’s nothing wrong with Warrick’s presentation of these atrocious events, but whether you can call them “subliminal messaging” is debatable – especially when so much of the Bush-Cheney warmongering were open lies that were easily dispelled.
Personally, I believe there are two interesting films that are uneasily sharing the same space. Warrick’s points are cogent, but his presentation is jumbled.