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Entry updated 1 September 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Subliminal Advertising and indoctrination once formed a minor focus of sf Paranoia. The technique, dating back to the 1950s, uses briefly displayed words or images intended to affect the human mind without being consciously perceived. In real life its effectiveness is debatable; it is often considered a branch of Pseudoscience, although occasional contrary reports continue to appear. Sf treatments include Frederik Pohl's comic story "The Wizards of Pung's Corners" (October 1958 Galaxy), with hidden sexual imagery in television advertising; J G Ballard's "The Subliminal Man" (January 1963 New Worlds), with text ads strobe-projected from seemingly featureless billboards; and Keith Roberts's "Sub-Lim" (in New Writings in SF 4, anth 1965), with hypnotically effective images in the Cinema. A set of such obscurely resonant images or shapes, intended for advertising use, comprises the titular McGuffin of J B Priestley's thriller The Shapes of Sleep (1962). Subliminal television "blipverts" in Max Headroom have disastrous effects on some viewers. The notion of a persuasive single-frame cinema image is introduced in Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures (1990), and then spoofed as an entrepreneur doggedly tries to increase the effectiveness by showing it continually for five minutes. In Flicker (1991) by Theodore Roszak, it emerges that a cult of film technicians is spreading the anti-sex message of the Cathar heresy (see Religion) through darkly effective subliminal insertions in movies.

The Illuminatus! trilogy (1975) by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson features the related concept of Fnords (which see). [DRL]

see also: Hypnosis.

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