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Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Subliminal advertising

Back in the 60's and 70's, there was a big to-do over the concept of "subliminal advertising" - flashing hidden message in movies or TV which would cause the viewer to do something (usually buy something). The practice was banned in many places, even though it turns out the entire concept was a fraud - the research claiming to prove it worked was faked.

But there's "subliminal," which "below the level of consciousness", and "subconscious," which are often things of which we are perfectly conscious in a sensory way (i.e., we actually see or hear it), yet only penetrate into the actual brain in a subconscious way, that is, we don't really think about what we saw or heard, yet it influences us anyway.

So what has me blathering on about this subject? It was a picture in an article today. The article itself basically lays the groundwork for another increase in troops in Afghanistan. And what picture did the San Jose Mercury News chose to accompany this article? A picture of dead Afghan civilians? A picture of the grieving family of the 49th dead American soldier to die in Afghanistan in August? Of course not. It was a picture of a smiling Colonel, shaking the hands of airmen (that's how the picture caption reads, I don't know if there were any women) bound for Afghanistan. The New York Times, whose story it is, gives us pictures of two individual soldiers in Afghanistan. Each of these pictures carefully chosen, a conscious decision to subconsciously increase the identification of the reader with the war effort, and to increase support for the war.

There are other conscious decisions too on the part of the media. As was the case all through the Iraq war (and still, of course, but numerically smaller), the numbers are deliberately deceptive. The article says the latest death brought the "total killed last month to 49," and offers as its source icasualties.org. But if you go to icasualties.org, the table you'll see shows that the total killed last month was 77, not 49, because of course that's the total of coalition troops (and, just as in Iraq, not including troops aligned with the currently installed government, meaning the real death toll of "our side" - excuse the expression - is even higher). Indeed, as far as I can tell, the number "49 U.S. troops dead in August" appears nowhere on icasualties.org; you actually have to go to the list of individual names and count them yourself. The Times story doesn't lie about this, of course, it does refer earlier in the same sentence to "U.S. soldiers," so grammatically, the claim that "the total killed last month" was 49 is correct, but there is no doubt it is meant to be intentionally misleading. And meant to influence us, subconsciously.

As for me and I hope for readers as well, the attempts to influence me subconsciously aren't working, as they aren't for a majority of Americans. Join me in the streets in October to let our opinions be known, very non-subliminally.

There is one more interesting omission from the Times article, whether intentional or not it's hard to say, but I'd like to note it in passing. The article notes that yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs used the phrase "under-resourced" when talking about Afghanistan seven times in his press conference. What it doesn't note was that in one of those references, Gibbs reversed Administration policy by using the supposedly banned phrase "war on terror," when he said "You can't under-resource the most important part of our war on terror." Just noting that for the record.

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