When I was young I used to wait on master, And hand him his plate, And pass the bottle when he got dry, And brush away the blue tail fly

Cracking corn today, no work save for laundry…I started singing it after watching Bugs Bunny do it in a cartoon. I suppose I should get cracking on the wash, just to get it out of the way. No point in having the sword of damocles hanging over my head if I can help it.

Well, perhaps I’ll waste a little time by passing on a couple of widely believed scientific “facts” that are actually false… until proved otherwise again.

The age-old study in which they trained planarians to go through a maze, and then fed the trained planarians to untrained planarians and noticed that the recently-fed planarians learned the maze much more quickly than a control group of unfed planarians. No explanation was ever found for this property of flatworms.

Much later, another group of researchers figured out why this was. The fed planarians weren’t assimilating memories, they were simply better-fed than the control group, and so they learned faster.

I think it was just so embarrassing a find that it was largely ignored, and textbooks in the know stopped using the flatworm learning as an example of the scientific method. Of course, cannibals who eat their associates’ brains so as to gain their wisdom are largely ignorant of this fact as well, and they keep on using planarians to justify their actions.

On September 12, 1957, a market researcher named James M. Vicary called a press conference to announce the formation of the a new corporation, the Subliminal Projection Company, formed to exploit what Vicary called a major breakthrough in advertising: subliminal stimuli. Vicary described the results of a six-week test conducted in a New Jersey movie theater, in which a high speed projector was used to flash the slogans “drink Coke” and “eat popcorn” over the film for 1/3,000 of a second at five-second intervals. According to Vicary, popcorn sales went up 57.5 percent over the six weeks; Cokes sales were up 18.1 percent.

Vicary’s announcement immediately touched something like a national hysteria. Outraged editorials appeared in major magazines and newspapers; outraged congressmen drafted laws and made themselves available for outraged interviews. This was the year of Vance Packard’s best-selling expose of the advertising industry, The Hidden Persuaders, and the public was apparently willing to believe anything about Madison Avenue–1984 was just around the corner.

Overlooked in all the hullaballoo were Vicary’s own relatively modest claims for his invention. It was useful only as a reminder, he said, and couldn’t persuade anyone to do what they didn’t want to do in the first place. But even he was probably overstating the case. While Vicary steadfastly refused to release any of his data (or even the location of the theater where the tests were conducted), psychologists who had performed similar experiments gleefully contradicted his results. A weak stimulus, they said, produced a weak impression; the subliminal “message” was no more hypnotic than a slogan on a billboard glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.

Moreover, Vicary’s ideas were hardly new. A subliminal projector called a tachistoscope had been used during World War II in training soldiers to recognize enemy aircraft, while a book published in 1898 (The New Psychology by E.W. Scripture) laid out most of the principles of subliminal response.

Still, the panic over subliminal “brainwashing” continued. In January of 1958, Vicary agreed to conduct a publicly announced test over the Canadian Broadcasting Company stations. The message “telephone now” was flashed 352 times during a half-hour show, but there was no noticeable increase in telephone use during or after the program. Instead, the CBC received thousands of letters reporting unaccountable urges to get up and get a can of beer, to go to the bathroom, to change the channel–not a single viewer correctly guessed the message.

Since the technique apparently wasn’t working, the advertising industry felt free to denounce it (and help repair some of the image problems brought on by Packard’s book). Subliminal ads were banned by the American networks and by the National Association of Broadcasters in June of 1958. A proclamation that subliminal ads were “confused, ambiguous, and not as effective as traditional advertising” issued by the American Psychological Association finally laid the controversy to rest, one year almost to the day after Vicary’s historic press conference.

In 1962 Vicary granted an interview to Advertising Age in which he called his invention a “gimmick”–the Subliminal Projection Company had been dissolved, and he was working in happy obscurity for Dunn and Bradstreet. Eleven years later, though, the subliminal pitch made an unexpected comeback. A commercial for a game called “Husker-Do” was found to contain the phrase “get it” flashed four times (one frame each) during its 60 seconds.

The manufacturer, the Pican Corporation of Los Angeles, expressed horror and surprise, withdrawing the ads (which, of course, violated the NAB code) and writing the whole thing off to an overzealous copywriter in Cincinnati. But the company’s scruples apparently didn’t extend to countries where there were no regulations against subliminal ads: in 1974, the spots appeared on Canadian television. More outrage followed, and subliminal ads were quickly (if pointlessly) outlawed in Canada.

ok. enough fooling around…. time to gather my laundry, and head out. see you this afternoon, dear journal.

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