News Stories

Subliminal Messages in the Media: How Prevalent - and Dangerous - Are they?

In the news today: a Japanese woman has just divorced her husband because...he didn't like the Disney movie "Frozen."

This bizarre snippet of news inspires the question: why has this movie inspired such global acclaim, even bordering on obsession in some? Has Disney imbued it with hidden, subliminal messages?

The idea of secret messages in Disney movies is not a new one; there are endless articles and bloggers on the web claiming to have discovered hidden meanings - very often erotic - in squeaky clean Disney movies.The word "sex" spelled out in clouds in the Lion King is a chestnut that has done the internet rounds, disputed by Disney who said that it had been the intention of their special effects team to spell "SFX" to leave their "signature" on the film, but the public has been left to draw its own conclusions.

Either way, whether an erotic inferrence designed to make the movie more appealing, or a covert marketing opportunity, the message is still clearly there and evidence suggests that these type of messages can not only be unconsciously absorbed by our brains, but can have potent effects on our behaviour.

In "Frozen", viewers claim to have discovered endless hidden meanings, ranging from subtle connections to puberty which would appeal to pre-pubescent girls; gay themes that would make it attractive to homosexual viewers; biblical references to resonate with religious viewers that ironically jostle for position alongside overtly feminine sexual images and overtones, and, for good measure, a few climate change references to doff a cap at global warming and please the environmentalists.

No wonder the film is so popular.

But even if they do exist in "Frozen" or any other media, including advertising and recorded music, what exactly are subliminal messages, and how do they work?

As someone who makes his living using subconscious persuasion, psychology researcher and magician, Nick Kolenda, has looked into the phenomena and assessed a wealth of scientific evidence that examines its effects.

"Subliminal messages are stimuli that lie below our threshold of conscious awareness," explains Kolenda. "Because they fall below the absolute threshold level (ATL), we can’t perceive a subliminal message, even if we’re looking for it."

He outlines the three types of subliminal message on his website as:

Sub-visual messages – visual cues that are flashed so quickly (generally a few milliseconds) that people don’t perceive them.

Sub-audible messages – low volume audio cues that are inserted into a louder audio source, such as music.

Back-masking – an audio message that is recorded backwards, with the intention of playing it forward to disguise the reversed message.

The most famous case of "backmasking" must, of course, be the alleged Satanic messages contained in the rock group Led Zeppelin's song "Stairway to Heaven" which led to various legal actions and state hearings, but which were ultimately ignored by the band.

However, Kolenda says that it's easy to attribute meaning to anything if we look hard enough:

"People claim that subliminal messages have shown up in advertising, movies, and music. It’s a fascinating concept, no question. Unfortunately, most of the examples are purely coincidental. People will see meaning in anything if they’re looking hard enough for it."

Kolenda claims that in his own show, he tells the audience that he is using subliminal messages but in fact, he doesn't; the power of suggestion accomplishes the task for him.

Yet the results of recent studies do give credence to the effects of subliminal messages, suggesting that ultimately, they can and do influence our behavior. Kolenda himself cites one such study, conducted in Paris in 2011, during which researchers found that subjects who had been subliminally primed with the words “to trust” were more inclined to believe a subsequent message regarding tap water consumption.

If our brains are so susceptible to hidden messages, the potential for subtle mind control could be limitless; subliminal forms of communication could be affecting our behavior on a daily basis without us ever knowing it.

But are some people more susceptible to subliminal programming than others?

Most research has indicated that in order to be received by the subconscious, the messages must first tap into a conscious need or desire. For example, researchers in a 2002 study found that subliminal messages relating to thirst were only effective in thirsty subjects; those who were not thirsty were unaffected.The problem is that humans typically have consistent needs, including thirst, hunger, companionship and sexual desire, so messages that tap into these requirements in order to promote goods, services or interest are almost certainly going to hit home.

The full extent of subliminal effects on our conscious behavior may never be known, but an ex-husband in Japan may well be re-watching "Frozen" in an attempt to see what he missed...

I have been aware of the subtle 'mind programming' in television since I was a teenager and noticed that all 3 networks had a movie of the week and the there were only 4 themes for those movies that rotated monthly from network to network. Week one network 1 would have disaster movie of the week (evoking a lot of fear of what ever disaster), network 2 would have fatal disease of the week, network 3 would have heinous crime of the week, the next week one would have stupid/silly/unreal romance of the week and the other two themes would be one of the 3 I mentioned. This pattern continues today, somewhat modified as there are so many cable networks involved now. There was no need to put any subliminal messages in the sound on these movies though they may have.

The next think I noticed was years after reading an article about subliminal messages and their uses I went in to Walmart for the first time (the 80's) and the whole time I heard "I know you don't need it now, but you will never get it at a lower price again." and other weird urgings to buy crap I didn't need. It may have been the message in the music but there were other things at play as well, the colors used on the displays and in the signs, by the time I got to the checkout I had a basket full of stuff. I had only gone in for shampoo. It was as if I had been asleep and just woke up. I left the basket and walked out. It was years before I ever went in to a Walmart again. I still avoid them.

A couple of years ago I read a book called "Music of Time" by Preston Nichols. That whole book was about the subliminal messages put in rock music and some weird project at Montauk, New York that involved many popular rock bands. The book was hard to believe as Preston Nichols claimed some very amazing things about himself but for the part about The Rolling Stones and Mick Jaggar as I think that is the least musical bunch of reprobates, second only to Guns & Roses, that were so popular even after they were too old to be rock stars. It made me think about the hysteria over the Beatles and other rock bands and wonder if Preston Nichols really did know what he was talking about. The music played on the radio is rarely the best of what that artist does yet it is what gets played over and over. There must be a reason for that.

Thank you for all your hard work on this website.

Best to disconnect the television or be extremely selective in what you choose to watch. Aside from subliminal messages, the media are highly effective brainwashing devices to discourage independent thought - actually, any real thinking. By constantly filling our minds with others' messages, we are deluded into believing that all that brain noise is thinking. Actually, most of it is repetition and assimilation of what we're being fed. Choose what you feed your brain. Do not make yourself available for what others choose to feed you.

I hated 'Frozen', by the way. I don't normally have such a strong reaction to an animated children's movie, but something in me was deeply repelled. I couldn't wait to get out of the theatre. The grandchildren, however, loved it.

I remember seeing the scene in the Little Mermaid where the 1 male character had an erection. Pretty well killed me on Disney.

Right before the 2000 presidential election (Bush/Gore) I taped the X-Files on Fox and when I watched back I noticed a glitch. I rewound the tape and found a split second card that read "Gore is Bad". Obviously this was meant as a subliminal message. I still have the tape.

Good points about the rotating messages of fear, romance, etc. And the clumsy political "messages" embedded; I thought I spotted the notorious "rats" one too. TV has a culture of its own and whether or not it's intended (I suspect it is by now), it does influence what people see in the world. I remember in William Gibson's book "Pattern Recognition," the main character had a "psychic allergy" to company logos and that woke me up to a sense of what was going on (that book had a subtle message of the right kind). About the same time I also read Naomi Klein's eye-opening nonfic 'No Logo." I was already avoiding network news; then I became allergic to TV in general and by now I've progressed to the point where I can't stand to be around it when a TV is on. Seems like everything about it, whether it's programming or commercials, is so embedded with obvious lies and framing manipulations that it just enrages me in the same way that I can spot a religious hawker on the shortwave radio after only a second or two, from the tone of voice. I have to say, I was repelled by the trailer for "Frozen" and avoided it. I recommend gardening, to anyone who has had enough of canned "entertainment." I hope the children who have developed in the midst of this highly sophisticated brainwashing soup are able to outgrow it before too long.

Subscribe to Unknowncountry sign up now