Subliminal Surrender: No Laughing Matter

benson hedges

Behind the curtain, beneath the veil...
Vance Packard wrote about the power of embedded, subliminal advertising messages in his landmark book, The Hidden Persuaders, published in 1957.

He hypothesized that advertisers motivate us to buy in ways that only our slavish subconscious mind can comprehend.

Do you see the hidden message in the ad above?
Do you see the provocative optical illusion that some believe changes the entire meaning of the ad? More about that in a bit.

When Subliminal goes Supraliminal
But it isn't just in advertising that the media plays tricks with the mind. And sometimes the cues are embedded in what we hear as opposed to what we see.

Dancing to the music
Music background in TV and films may not be subliminal in the technical sense but it still seems to slip beneath the radar of consciousness, doesn't it?

It's always there in the background nudging us this way or that, suggesting what we should think, how we should feel.

The driving pulse-pounding intro theme to CBS's NCIS LA meshes with the frenetic jump-cut visuals to tell us what to expect for the next hour.

Does the music merely reflect the excitement level of the show or does it, in large part, create it?

Without the music are we left only with images to two guys smiling at each other while they run around, pointing toy pistols?

Laughter from nowhere
But even more subliminally supraliminal is the sitcom laugh track, the strange invention of Charley Douglass.

First used only to sweeten the laughter of an actual studio audience, the laugh track, sometime around Hogan's Heroes, took on a life all its own. It continues to be the haunting, ubiquitous background noise of nearly every TV sitcom.

Speaking of haunting, some of the laughs you may hear on laugh tracks today were recorded nearly 60 years ago. The laughing there's a creepy subliminal image...

The TV laugh track doesn't have the power to make us laugh but it does inform us that (1) we are watching a comedy and (2) what that actor just said is funny. Even if it isn't funny. Or perhaps better said, especially if it isn't funny.

After all, if it were funny, why would we even need a laugh track?

Let's play around with this idea of laughter from nowhere. What happens if we have a little fun with it?

Deadwood (HBO)

HBO's excellent frontier drama, Deadwood, had it's lighter moments, but by no stretch was it a comedy. But what happens when a laugh track is added is eerie and surreal.

Doesn't it actually start to feel like a sitcom?

(Remember this is Deadwood, so the language is graphic to say the least)

Deadwood as a Comedy - Watch more Funny Videos

Big Bang Theory (CBS)

This clip has been making the rounds on the web over the last week or so. The Big Bang Theory is a highly rated, well-produced comedy but there's something strange about its vibe when the laugh track is scrubbed from it.

We're not really aware of the unnatural pauses between lines when laughs fills the spaces. Without laughter, the action seems to freeze freakishly between patches of dialogue.

Friends (NBC)

Friends was one of the most popular TV comedies of all time. But can you tell that from watching this laughtrack-less clip?

So what is it really that we're laughing at?
Does something seem funnier when we're given evidence that others have found it funny? Isn't that why the laugh track is there?

Why are so quick to surrender to the hidden command?

Is this all just another example of we call Psycholgia Apocalypzia?


What do you see in the Benson & Hedges ad at the beginning of this post?
Get the surprising and shocking story here.