In World Premiere: Eric McLuhan says his say about subliminal messages (here), Professor Eric McLuhan talked about his class on perception and subliminals at Ontario College of Art (OCA) in the seventies.
In this correspondence he says he was using a carrousel tray of 80 slides to familiarize his students with the subject. In the mean time, he digitized this material and has been kind enough to email me some of the slides, allowing me to publish them on this blog as another world premiere.
In these slides readers interested in the topic of subliminal messages as used in our mass culture will find not only fine examples of subs’ occurrence in advertising but also a method for their research.
Prof. McLuhan’s comments on his material will appear in italics. In some cases I have allowed myself to add a few remarks.
The first slide he sent me from his carrousel has been already added to my previous World Premiere post as item nr 8 from the posters file.
Then he sent me this painting from Salvador Dali, Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940), which, incidentally, I had already mentioned in my subliminals series (Subliminal Junk X, Case 74 here).
I can name at least two more Dali’s paintings in the same vein: 1/ Metamorphosis of Narcissus; & 2/ Swans Reflecting Elephants. You can google them. Also, at the small Dali Museum in Montmartre (Paris), there is an anamorphosis: A butterfly is painted which reflection on a vertical metal tube transforms into a grinning Harlequin’s face.
Then Eric McLuhan sent me the following.
I generally approach the matter of embedding from the angle of visual puns. Doing so allows the discussion to proceed minus the annoyance of moral indignation.
Then, the word FLY embedded in the intervals between the figures…
I find it really useful as a demo of embedding technique because the object is not presented as a figure but as a pure product of use of interval (ground) and con-figuration.
Here’s another example of embedding that uses con-figuration–that is, ground. The only elements that are to be taken literally appear in the centre strip. From a Ben Casey cartoon.
The Ben Casey exemplifies how an assemblage of disparate elements can be used to compose an image not implicit in any one of them–exactly how subliminals are constructed when a gearshift lever or a baguette serves as a penis, etc…
The mouth and nose of the four-square face is provided by a lamp in the bottom-right square. The bottom-left square, it’s other (rather undefined) deco elements and at the same time the chin.
I use this one, the Family Circus cartoon, to introduce the notion of the “beholder’s share” in completing the image, whether done consciously, as here, or unconsciously, as in the usual round of subliminals in ads.
Let me close with a dandy, one of the most subtle subliminal ads ever made. For Beefeater gin.
The Beefeater ad is an excellent example of an ad designed to be ignored. As such, it does its work while the beholder is occupied elsewhere, in this case, with reading the column of print on the left. The ad itself can be grasped in a second or two at most: there is nothing there, just a few fragments of a situation. The bottle cap, the martini glass and olive and its reflection, the single word. The beholder fills in the rest and thereafter relegates the entire to the area of inattention so the ad continues to work for the next minute or two or three as he reads the print. The entire ad is subliminal.
I get Eric’s point all right, yet my feeling, as I was searching for a subliminal embed, was, perhaps based on a misconstruction of the word “dandy” he used, that the picture was very appealing. I fancy some people may like to linger gazing at it. It magnifies the glass of gin as pure light on a background of unmitigated darkness. The reflections have been airbrushed to produce a vertiginous effect of infinite light-beam plays. It’s a diamond. A diamond for cheap. Real art, I would say. Abstract art. Clean, uncluttered style. It takes a lot of work to streamline an object like this, even if on paper only.
Here are a couple more from the slide tray. I think you’ll enjoy them.
The first is a fake, a send-up: I use it to set up the next two…
After the laughter has died down, comes this one…
From erect to flaccid.
And then this one… (From Good Housekeeping, I think.)
Twinkle did several with the same theme.
The academic reaction to my lectures on subliminals were generally, er, disappointing. Or downright dismissive, to put it mildly. Not serious scholarship. Mind you, I avoided the moral approach entirely and pursued the practise in terms of art technique and visual ambiguity. But the literati, it must be noted, have a profound distaste for puns, visual or otherwise.
Speaking of which…
And in Chatelaine, of all places! Tsk, tsk!
The jock strap as Tote Bag–or is it vice-versa?
Variations on a theme…
The essay to be written (or spoken) on this one is easy, and obvious…
No wedding rings
They’ve been to a party / ball
They’re going to her place
He’s focused outwardly; she, inwardly…
‘How do you know they’re going to her place, I asked. The groceries she’s holding?’
Yes, it is the fact that she is carrying the groceries, cradling the genitalia, clutching the milk to her breast, that tells the story. Normally, the gentleman would carry the bags.
Here’s one for today…
No comment needed.
It seems even more outrageous that advertisers talked of “dirty minds,” about the very few people who voiced their suspicions, given such transparent items…
Hard to believe, isn’t it? The best way to hide something is to put it in plain sight.
Of course they say you have a dirty mind. What else can they say–unless they admit to being naughty?
Wink wink nudge nudge.
Lipstick ads can usually be counted on to provide a sandbox for the embedders to play in. Here’s a rather exuberant example…
Hey, sport, how’s the old stick?
Moisture-soft lips? Come ON…
Hour after hour? And this was before Viagra and its companions.
The background here again is important. Whereas on the Bols ads the figures (objects: groceries, baguette, bottle and tennis balls…) told the story, here the lipstick is, to be sure, a phallic shape, yet somewhat remotely so. It needs the “moisture” Eric is talking about to specify the effect, and it is provided by the white, marble-like veins of the background wall and their “spurt effect.”
Here is the copy to consider. Meaning subliminal oral sex in the lipstick pointing toward the model’s mouth is not per se sufficient, methodologically speaking, because in any case it is the vocation of lipstick to be applied to the lips, which would make all lipstick ads subliminal. (It would be like saying everything is sexual, like Freudians: eating is a sexual pleasure [orality] etc.)
The copy is about a “big love stick.” Double entendre. The advertiser, however (an imaginary advertiser who would go beyond the ‘dirty mind’ stance), might reply that there is a dissonance in that construction, because of “quick”: doing it quick is not a favorable attribute for a “love stick”… But perhaps it is meant that the stick is quick to get hard, hence that it is a healthy stick and that once it is hard it will not be soft again before a long time… The stick is quick to be a love stick.
Bear in mind that almost every reference to lips in these contexts is also a double entendre: facial lips and genital lips. As, for example, in the Sportstick ad, or in this one (inviting cunnilingus). See also the next few…
The field is rich.
This one deserves prolonged meditation: it is loaded.
First, note the manufacturer is Chap Stick.
Here we go again: same ballpark as SportStick…. Same tune, different key.
Composition: standard eye-leading: eye is led from top left to bottom right. Plunge — Wet Wet — Quencher, Chap Stick–and so down.
The model strides over a gap in the pavement: legs apart. Through that gap/between her legs there gushes a waterfall, a torrent of foamy liquid.
She is airborne (ecstatic?): only the very tip of one toe touches the ground.
The headline tells the reader to take a plunge. Figuratively of course as the depth of this water is an inch or less. But “take the plunge…”
So Chap Stick / Lip Quencher provides the wet wet world–and there they go with lips again. Really subtle!
Now turn to the copy for the second course.
Headline: Come and enjoy MOIST LIPS. Only it has to be read aloud in a suitably excited voice: COME! and enjoy MOIST LIPS.
(Remember the waterfall…)
(Pause for emphasis)
(there’s those lips again).
Then: Once you enter our wet wet moist lips world, …
Chap Stick is
drenched with protective emollients,
overflowing with creaminess,
to soften your lips and keep them lusciously moist.
In mouth-watering creams…
Here are two cliches from the lipstick ads. Lipsticks not only have a very useful name (lips + stick) and set of suggestive (symbolic) phallic associations, their very ubiquity and familiarity blocks the readers’ imaginations from seeing them as anything else.
…in the inset on the right side.
Also, there is the usual double-entendre about lips, and so on.
Check the main headline: Put your lips in our hands…
Is that a thumb?
It’s amazing, the variety of contexts in which male genitalia can be used!
It’s a visual pun. Puns are the essence of our subject.
This shape can be related to the “super deformed” genre from some Japanese mangas and video games, a type of normed caricature. It’s fine “super deformed” genitalia. I suggest to use this grid when looking for subliminals.
There’s a nice (and innocent, for once) subliminal embed in the top left corner, behind and just below the word, “tu”–a man’s face.
The point is, you examine the model’s expressions and demeanour, and ask, what is on her mind, what is she grooming for? The answer is there, connected to “tu”–second person (male in this case) and very singular. Her dream companion.
There is nothing naughty about this ad or the use of the subliminal (or nearly sublimninal) image since readers can easily discern the ghostly boyfriend if they pay attention. It is just a nicely-orchestrated composition.
I have my own interpretation on this one. The ‘dream companion’ is in the gloom. As I guess people will tend to look at the model, they won’t notice the face in the background. When they see it, for those who do see it, it must be startling, like a spook coming out of the dark… He looks befuddled, as if not well awoken from his eternal sleep. Or sad and melancholy: The man is a suicide. Men will die for this woman. She’s a witch. “Tu” is the informal/intimate you, but also the masterly, the superior you. The advertiser intended to convey a sense of power, magic power and power over males. That the man stands in the dark could also mean the woman will be the one who shines in that pair.
My heartfelt thanks to Eric McLuhan for sharing and commenting this material.
Then there is this.
Just remembered–the very first issue of OUI mag, in 1972, featured a brazen subliminal that might interest you, inasmuch as there was little or no recognition of it–the embed, that is. OUI was published by Playboy.
It is a simple subliminal: open the centerfold and hold it up to the light. One side is a reclining nude. The other has a drawing of Marlon Brando in a rather odd pose. With the light shining through, you see Mr Brando performing cunnilingus on the model.
You might like to add this one to your collection.
I ordered the copy and saw the embed all right. I was to take a picture of it when Prof. McLuhan sent me the picture he himself had taken and just retrieved. Here it is.
For more cases go to Index and my posts in the Subliminals Series.
“Tell the men of the East to look out for the men of the West. The irrepressible Yank is knocking at the doors of their temples and he will want to sell ‘em carpet-sweepers for their harems and electric light plants for their temple shrines.” (Frank Norris, The Octopus)
After you read this new essay on subliminal advertising, I am confident that you will be aware the connection between the above quote and the essay is at best flimsy. In this the quote does no differ in the least from the usage in the publishing market, where publishing houses remunerate editing staff specialized in irrelevant and shallow quotations – the shallower the better. But the above quote also differs from the usual practice inasmuch as it is largely irrelevant but not at all shallow.
That quotation business reminds me of some author’s 6-page (!) Acknowledgments at the end of his book. He does not acknowledge his editors’ quotation job (there are no chapter-heading quotations in that one) but he is so frank and scrupulous in his thankyous to his “ghostwriter,” his “editor,” his “senior editor,” his “researchers,” to Mr so-and-so for the title of the book, and for such and such idea in the book, and for the very idea of the book, and so on and so forth, that one realizes after perusing this that the author’s contribution is at most that single acknowledgments section, and his name on the cover.
Yet I have got another quote for you, which will reverberate with the former one over these intercalary considerations of mine.
“James Joyce’s book [Finnegans Wake] is about the electrical retribalization of the West and the West’s effect on the East: The West shall shake the East awake. …while ye have the night for morn … Joyce’s title refers directly to the Orientalization of the West by electric technology and to the meeting of East and West.” (Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village)
Harem or, more precisely, Purdah: A man who wants to see the world with his own eyes needs baggage consignment.
Cases 109 to 113 are taken once again from Harvard Business Review (for previous HBR cases see here). The issue is October 2016. It is extremely important to deal with cerebral material because, as you know, zombies must be shot in the head. (“Cerebral” refers to “Harvard,” of course, not to “Business,” don’t be silly.)
……………Case 109 Eva Air SEX
Eva Air is a Taiwanese airline company. The hostess has just served the passenger his meal and invites him to enjoy it with a gesture of her hand. Her other hand is concealed by copy; given how that other hand is positioned, one may think she holds something in it, for otherwise the hand would not be, as it is, somewhat lifted in the air but rather down along her body, but as she probably needed both her hands to carry the trail, and besides one sees no object whatever, coffee pot or anything like that, some parts of which would be sticking out of the concealing copy insert, in fact both hands are empty. Consequently, the concealed hand is making the same gesture as the visible hand, and what the hostess is inviting the customer to enjoy is not his meal but herself: she opens her arms to him and his embrace. This is a first subliminal effect.
Then there is a subliminal effect with the visible hand too. As you can see, a glass of wine placed between the hand and the photograph (and viewer) creates by refraction an optical illusion on the hostess’ visible hand. Through the glass, part of her forefinger is seen bigger as it is. Your brain, by experience, normally corrects such illusions and in fact, looking quickly at the picture you will not even notice (in the sense of paying attention to) the altered proportions. I beg you pay attention to these and consider carefully the object you now see. I have outlined the subliminal embed (picture 109-3) but I did a poor job with the computer mouse and am convinced that you can see the penis better on the “blank” picture (109-2). The glass swells the finger’s phalange into the shape of a penis glans, to which the other phalanges provide the shaft. The knuckle bone at the finger’s root looks like a testicle. This is a second subliminal effect.
…………….Case 110 Harvard Business Review’s Online Exclusive SEX
This is an ad for HBR’s online newsletter, dubbed “insider newsletter.” The logo above the copy shows a stylized torso with what seems to be a magic wand – represented as a stick radiating several, multidirectional beams. The object mixes magic and technology, since in the context of modern communication it could be seen as an electric antenna, and the beams as electric or radio waves.
It mixes more than just that. The stick is held in the middle of the torso, not at its margin. If you extend it in imagination, it reaches the groin. The stick is actually a huge erect penis, and it is giving off a massive ejaculate, in several spurts. The spurts are multidirectional because of a vigorous handshake applied to the penis.
……………Case 111 Wharton University of Pennsylvania’s Executive SEX Education
Copy: “Transformation. ‘The moment I knew there were no limitations to what I could achieve’.” In brackets, so we know the utterer of these memorable words is the model. The guy’s transformation is rendered by graphic means by the somewhat fuzzy contours of several of his parts, such as his hair and shirt; the fuzziness does not result from my hand trembling while taking the picture, it is in the original. The guy is transforming before our very eyes, and the background, above his head, is no background at all but a thermic, misty halo emanating from his body as a result of energetic processes at the heart of his transformation.
If we believe the copy, this uncanny mutation will enable the lad to overcome all limitations. Now what, according to you, are the obvious limitations of this guy? He does seem to lack neither intelligence nor the qualities inherent to a friendly, easygoing person. On the other hand, he clearly is a geek. I mean, try to imagine a better representation of a hopeless geek… You cannot. The limitations of our buddy here are sexual.
Executive education is often aimed at people with scientific and engineering training who want to make more money and achieve higher status in the organization world to which they are bound, by opening executive positions to them. As trainees in sciences and engineering, they demonstrated intelligence and a capacity for long studies and hard work. Now it is time to make men of such spineless clowns, and this is what executive education is for. As a consequence, the present ad is a mere copycat of Jerry Lewis’s film The Nutty Professor (1963), whose French title, Docteur Jerry et Mister Love, makes obvious the parodic reference of the film to Stevenson’s famous story about a man’s transforming personality – in the original it is the transformation of a respectable notable into a perverse brute, and in the parody the transformation of a geek into a lady killer. Higher status is the main tool for overcoming males’ sexual limitations, and key to higher status is executive education.
…………….Case 112 Wells Fargo SEX
The erotic content of the ad is hardly mistakable. The woman is sexually aroused. I have drawn two straight lines (picture 106-2) to show the tilting of her head. She is about to kiss the man or is inviting him by her attitude to kiss her. Her eyes are half-closed: these are “bedroom eyes” (seductive eyes). Her lips are puckered up. We see a perfectly triangular, dark area on her trousers at the level of genitals as if the fabric were wet with moisture of arousal.
The man seems rather indifferent, which means: This has happened to him so many times. Every business trip, the lucky guy.
Complement. Among the many preposterous distortions of reality in films of mass consumption, the female character taking sexual initiative is one of the best jokes – even better than female warriors, another recent staple of these products which is such bad taste and so much absurdity, knowing that a man’s slap sends a woman flying ten meters away (I don’t know this from experience, but I don’t need experience to know that it is so). We owe the ubiquitous initiative-taking woman of the movies to the following consideration. The hero being the man, he must be rewarded – with sex (if he is not rewarded with sex, he is a failure, not a hero). But as a hero, his behavior ought not to evidence the vulgar commonalities of his sex, that is, urgent interest in sexual acts, lechery, womanizing, and prostitutes-seeking. The only way for the film maker to solve that dilemma is to introduce on a systematic basis an initiative-taking female character who rewards the hero with her love and body, toward the middle of the film, while he is fully absorbed in his mission and quest.
……………Case 113 Harvard Business School of SEX and Drugs
Copy: “Where experienced executives become exceptional leaders.” Ex-perienced, ex-ecutives, ex-ceptional: sex, sex, sex.
The black man on the right has a penis embedded on his shirt (picture 113-2).
With his bony finger he points toward the penis of the other black man, showing it to the white guy on the left: “You see that penis?” The penis must be erect, as the guy looks to the girl and gestures toward her as if to grab her. With her left arm, the girl is giving hint of a defensive move, as if to avoid the latter’s assault; this is just a reflex, she perhaps is a little scared by the dimensions of his penis but fundamentally she thinks it is okay to be inseminated by him. (Curiously, the skin color of each of her arms is not the same, the left one being tanned –or hairy!–, the right one being not, as if the former arm were another person’s intending to grab her wrist from under the table. Possibly she is going to be gang-raped.)
There is a fifth person on the left, another guy, of whom we only see the hands and shirtsleeves. He holds his pen as a junkie holds a syringe for a shot, with his thumb on top of the piston.
The ad, thus, is about all that is needed to make of “experienced executives” tolerable members of the society.
Job outsourcing by multinationals: Everybody knows… but nobody knows who.
As a Comment to Subliminals XIV (here), I wrote: “I will see if I can find multinationals’ job figures by country. Then we will know which countries would be most impacted by automation. We may call Nike an American company but I believe they employ more Chinese than Americans. If this is true, they may contribute a higher share to Chinese economic growth than to American growth and, on the other hand, the automation of Nike factories would impact Chinese work more than American work. [In the mean time I have been looking for Nike job figures by country and did not find them. Hard task, it seems. Probably with some reason…]”
The reason is, I now know, that companies are not compelled to divulge their job figures country by country. That, again, probably with some reason.
“U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced a bill that would require publicly-traded corporations to disclose the number of employees they have in the United States and overseas. Under current law, companies must disclose their total number of employees in annual Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Peters’ bill, titled the Outsourcing Accountability Act, wouldn’t create a new regulation, but rather change the existing rule so companies would have to break down their employment figures by nation and state.” (2012) (source)
The bill was voted down.
“Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that ‘U.S. multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers… cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million’.” (source)
You bet companies don’t want to break down their job figures! That bill is key. When the American people realize and actually see (with figures) that their favorite brands employ 100 or 1.000 or 10.000 times more Chinese than Americans, they will start questioning their approach to consumption, I believe.
Add fiscal outsourcing, which is done by most big companies, as admitted by The Economist, and what I said about American multinationals contributing more to foreign growth than to American growth is wholly warranted: “The volume of money moving through such havens [i.e. “the most tax- and regulation-efficient jurisdictions”] on the way to their final destination has risen sharply since 2000 and currently makes up about 30% of all FDI [foreign direct investment].” (TE, Sep 17th-23rd 2016)
When I say “nobody knows who (does),” whereas all multinationals do, this simply means that people ought to get the figures presented to them in tables ranking the companies from highest to lowest outsourcing figures. Support Outsourcing Accountability Act.
The Winner Takes All
Wikileaks reveals: “Qatar giving Bill Clinton $1m for 5 minute meeting.” That is some $3.333 per second of presence. At this rate, Bill Clinton earns the same as 2,361,480 average Americans (Mean personal income $44,510, US Census Bureau).
If you take median income ($30,240), he earns as much as 3,475,842 or about 3.5 million average Americans.
Full-time minimum wage in US is $15,080. Bill Clinton earns the same as 6,970,125 or about 7 million American workers at the minimum wage.
The poverty line in US is $11,770. At his Qatari rates, Bill Clinton earns as much as 8,930,287 or about 9 million Americans at the poverty line.
If you know the mean/median income of the 46.7 million Americans below the poverty line (Census Bureau figures’ for 2014), then you can find how many millions of American paupers Bill Clinton is worth.