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As this author wrote in 1993 for a film class at the University of Washington in Seattle on the topic of Soundscaping (with minor edits):
A filmmaker attempts to reproduce in two dimensions what is inherent to three-dimensional space. A film space encompasses everything in, on, and around the camera, governs which frame of film borders another, and which sounds will fill that space. The space is a combination of diegetic and off screen mise en scène as well as montage effects and sound manipulation. A complete space is both a landscape and a soundscape since both add depth and realism to an otherwise two-dimensional medium.1
Often this involves playing so-called mood music. “Music affects the way we feel,” writes Kathleen Northridge for the eHow.com website:
Primitive people knew that rhythm could affect how people felt and they used it to intensify feelings of love, happiness, anger, etc.… Scientists at the Universita di Pavia tested the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structure of music and varied tempos. They found that a faster tempo increased heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure, among other things.…
When [a] mother’s heartbeat increases, so does that of the fetus,… [and] newborns like nothing better than to be held up near their mother’s hearts. The sound of a rhythmic heartbeat calms newborns.2
Colors too affect mood. “People are more likely to lose their tempers in a yellow room,” for example, writes freshome: Interior Design & Architecture. “Crimson can make some people feel irritable.… Red has been shown to raise blood pressure, speed respiration and heart rate… [while] blue brings down blood pressure and slows respiration and heart rate.2
Images are inclusive: the mere act of seeing a handgun such as those depicted on warning signs attached to many school entryways in recent years has been demonstrated to increase violent tendencies. Writes Jennifer Klinesmith, et al, in “Guns, testosterone, and aggression” for Knox College:
Substantial evidence suggests that aggression can be increased by the presence of weapons in the environment and by the hormone testosterone. Several studies show that the presence of aggressive environmental cues such as weapons can increase the accessibility of hostile, aggressive thoughts and/or lead to more aggressive behavior [Anderson, C. A., Benjamin, A. J., Jr., & Bartholow, B. D. (1998). Does the gun pull the trigger? Automatic priming effects of weapon pictures and weapon names. Psychological Science, 9, 308-314; Bartholow, B. D., Anderson, C. A., Carnagey, N. L., & Benjamin, A. J., Jr. (2005). Interactive effects of life experience and situational cues on aggression: The weapons priming effect in hunters and non-hunters. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 48-60; Berkowitz, L., & LePage, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 202-207; Bettencourt, B. A., & Kernahan, C. (1997). A meta-analysis of aggression in the presence of violent cues: Effects of gender differences and aversive provocation. Aggressive Behavior, 23, 447-456].4
Using images and sounds to subconsciously affect viewers’ purchasing habits is a powerful tool available to the media giants. While businesses vehemently deny using covert and possibly illegal methods of product presentation, observers have claimed it common practice and appearing in numerous adverts. “Advertising is (an attempt at) pure psychological manipulation. To shun the notion that subliminal studies are implemented is downright ignorant,” a thesis idea rejected years ago according to Edward R. Murrow School of Communication graduate “Hitch Hiker” in personal correspondence.
Vance Packard, in his 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders, brought the concept of “subliminal advertising” to the attention of the general public. “Although Packard did not use the term “subliminal advertising,” he did describe many of the new “motivational research” marketing techniques being employed to sell products in the burgeoning post-war American market,” according to the Snopes.com website. “Advertisements that focused on consumers’ hopes, fears, guilt, and sexuality were designed to persuade them to buy products they’d never realized they needed.” 5
The oft-cited example is that brief images of “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat popcorn” flashed briefly on the screen during a drive-in theater movie in 1957 increased sales of said products by 18.1 percent and 57.8 percent respectively, according to Wikipedia.5 “However, in 1962 [market researcher James] Vicary admitted to lying about the experiment and falsifying the results, the story itself being a marketing ploy.” 6
That aside, subliminals have often found their way into Disney’s animated movies. A photograph of a topless woman appeared in “The Rescuers” home video, for example. In “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Jessica Rabbit doesn’t appear to be sporting underwear when she twirls, and there is also a questionable scene involving Baby Herman sulking under a woman’s petticoats. The original home video cover art for “The Little Mermaid” contained a phallus. And mysterious layering of voices in “Aladdin” says “Good teenagers, take off your clothes.” 7
Mischievous or otherwise disgruntled employees are usually to blame for these inclusions to the Disney experience. One example is the claim that letters in the clouds from a scene in “The Lion King” were allegedly inserted by special effects artists to spell out SFX, but they actually appear as SEX to the astute observer.8
The power of visual images became painfully apparent during the 16 December 1997 airing of the “Electric Soldier Porygon” episode of the Japanese children’s animated cartoon television series Pokemon. Alternating red and blue flashing colors at a frequency of 12 Hertz were responsible for causing hundreds of children and many adults to suffer photosensitive epileptic seizures. Evening news coverage again triggered the response in susceptible viewers. In its aftermath, a series of guidelines were established to help prevent future recurrences of related phenomena, and many computer games today even carry warnings of the potential risk of seizures.9
1 Kevin Crosby, “Soundscaping,” Presented to The University of Washington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Class of Comparative Literature 357 (Film), Autumn 1993, grade 3.7.
2 Kathleen Northridge, “The Relationship Between Heart Rate & Music,” EHow, at http://www.ehow.com/about_5931837_relationship-between-heart-rate-music.html (retrieved: 4 January 2011).
3 “Room Color and How it Affects your Mood,” freshome: Interior Design & >Architecture, at http://freshome.com/2007/04/17/room-color-and-how-it-affects-your-mood/ (retrieved: 4 January 2011).
4 Jennifer Klinesmith, Tim Kasser, Francis T. McAndrew, “Guns, testosterone, and aggression: An experimental test of a mediational hypothesis,” Knox College, at http://www.sju.edu/academics/centers/ivrp/pdf/guns-testo-aggress.pdf (retrieved: 4 January 2011).
5 “Subliminal stimuli,” Wikipedia.org, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subliminal_message (retrieved: 22 October 2008, 3 January 2011).
6 “Subliminal Advertising,” Snopes.com, at http://www.snopes.com/business/hidden/popcorn.asp (retrieved: 4 January 2011).
7 “Hidden Porn In Disney,” PARENTAL ADVISORY: target website sites contains Disney nudity, “Disney,” at http://www.anomalies-unlimited.com/Disney.html (retrieved: 3 January 2011);
8 Op. cit.
9 “Electric Soldier Porygon,” Wikipedia.org, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Soldier_Porygon (retrieved: 4 January 2011).
“Derren Brown – Subliminal Advertising,” thaflash1988 video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyQjr1YL0zg (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Embedding disabled)
“How television works,” UpdocFilms video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBm9ZyIg3I0 (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Watch it here)
“We’re in a LOT of Trouble !!!” excerpt from “Network” (1976), PARENTAL ADVISORY: contains mature language, WeAreInALotOfTrouble video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3QVn4JyYA (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Embedding disabled)
“‘Inside Edition’ Subliminal McDonalds Ad Busted,” (McDonalds subliminal on “Iron Chef”), PSYK0MANT1S video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xPvYgTvr8I (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Watch it here)
“Who’s That Hiding In My Fox 5 News Logo?” (Presidential Candidate John McCain subliminal), fliesinthek video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSAOQuLxSdY (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Watch it here)
“Satanic Disney,” Yaeka video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWZYiADYtHE (retrieved: 4 January 2011). (Watch it here)
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