Saturday, May 30, 2015

Does subliminal advertising have a place in a free society?

After publishing my post yesterday on subliminal advertising, I read it again because I had an intuition that there might be some grammatical errors in it. I found a couple errors and fixed them, but during that reading, I started to wonder about the implications of subliminal advertising in a free society.

Subliminal advertising can introduce incentives and motives in the mind that the viewer may not be able to explain later. The viewer of such advertising may find that the choices he makes go against his interests and prevent him from noticing or realizing opportunities that have passed.

To put the subject in the broader context, subliminal advertising doesn't just work in the commercial sphere. It works in the political sphere, too. The use of television to influence political outcomes has been going on since the first television broadcast (you know, the one with Hitler). With modern television production methods, slipping a subliminal message in a political ad is a temptation too big to pass by the monied interests. Who among them wouldn't want to play the public on their fears and induce them to make choices that go against their interests, without any conscious understanding or recollection?

The foundation of a free society is that we make our statements and our motives clear. Laws must be public so that we know how to avoid breaking the law. Contracts must be be clear, with the text available for all interested parties to see so that we know what we're getting into before we sign. Every transaction must provide benefits to every party to the transaction or the transaction could be seen as unconscionable.

If subliminal advertising is so powerful on adults, imagine what it can do to our kids. Kids have young minds that are open to learning and suggestion. TV commercials promoting cereal, toys and clothing can have an enormous impact on kids and how they think. Advertisers would be loathe to give up the Nag Factor when it comes to promoting their products. But would we be surprised to learn that television programming and the commercials therein are being used to shape political outcomes?

For all the transparency we expect from a free society, why do we allow subliminal advertising? Maybe subliminal advertising is protected by the 1st Amendment. But it would seem that if we can't hear it or see it, and we're not intended to notice the message, except unconsciously, then perhaps it's not speech. And if the the source of the message is a corporation, then almost certainly, it's not speech in the context of the Constitution. Corporations are not people. Yeah, there are people in corporations, and those individuals are protected by the Constitution. But corporations have limited liability in perpetuity. Natural persons do not. So whatever a corporation says may not be protected by the Constitution.

I want to leave you with a rather startling statistic:
"According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube."
I can't imagine spending that much time watching TV. Well, I've tried, but life beckons. I see the sun outside. I see the white puffy clouds rolling by. I see my family and experience the pleasure of being in the gaze of either of my daughters.

So when I look at that statistic, I see that so many Americans are making themselves vulnerable to subliminal messages with a commercial or political gain at the other end. If we're all adults, we can make a choice to turn off the TV. Long ago, my grandmother (on my Mom's side) said to me, "We don't watch TV. We watch a program. Now pick a program and watch that." So I watched some golf.

But I never forgot what she said. She made it clear that watching TV is intended to be a passive activity, but that we should be active and aware of our choices when we turn on the tube. We should take notice that at any time, during a commercial or even during the program, there could be a hidden message in there to influence our political choices without us noticing.
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