Let’s talk about subliminal messages, brainwashing, manipulation

People theorize hidden meaning exists in music, ads, movies, more; rise above sneaky persuasion in media

MARY GINTHER, Evergreen columnist

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We all have a favorite song, whether it’s obscure or a very popular song that could easily get stuck in your head. However, what if you were unaware of a message that was hidden within it?

In the 1970s, people theorized that record companies were putting hidden messages in their music, said William Kabasenche, a professor of philosophy at WSU. It was believed record labels were backmasking albums to hide secret messages within the songs being played.

Backmasking is a recording technique in which a sound or message is recorded backward onto a track of an album. It was theorized these messages tried to trick people into buying certain products or tell them to do something. This was the beginning of conspiracy theory of subliminal messages.

“Subliminal messages are a way that companies can manipulate your autonomy,” Kabasenche said. “Your autonomy is your basic decision-making process … messaging that can influence your behavior that you aren’t consciously aware of is an unethical thing.”

The laurel and yanny track that went viral on Twitter earlier this year is theorized to be another example of subliminal messaging, Kabasenche said. Everyone became obsessed with the fact that when the track played you either heard yanny or laurel. Soon, the White House released a video of the staff joining in on the viral hype.

After this video was released, people began to wonder if the track was made to distract people from what was happening in politics and focus on an internet trend instead. This distraction is also known as nudging, Kabasenche said.

“Nudging is taking advantage of a human’s psychological behavior,” he said. “[For example] nudging is a popular technique grocery stores use … by putting the more expensive items in your eye line rather than the cheaper items.”

The good news is that you have the choice to opt out of listening to subliminal messages, whether you know you are listening to them or not. In the end, it comes down to whatever you ethically believe is the right choice to make.

“It is all up to you on how you want to go about listening to [a message],” Kabasenche said.