Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Messages, Subliminal and Otherwise

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Worshipping one god is like slopping a big dab of peanut butter in the middle of a piece of bread and calling it a sandwich. Spread that yummy condiment around a little bit! Maybe top it with jelly or bananas! Now you've got something worthwhile.

Last week I wrote a post about a rock concert I attended and my thoughts on it. My post inspired an even better one on the importance of myth, over at Hecate's great site. I'm not ashamed to admit she's a deeper thinker than I am.

Today's topic: Advertising where you might not expect it.

Whew. Heavy stuff. Maybe you want to go on out to the lobby and get a 7-Up.

For some reason, my daugher The Heir is deeply interested in how minds can be molded and how human beings can behave in ways that they might not even be able to explain.

The Heir has a famous book (now out of print) called Clam Plate Orgy. It's about subliminal messages. The author, a college professor, went to a Howard Johnson's with his students. He decided to order the clam plate, even though he didn't much care for clams. And then, as his students watched, he traced human figures in the menu's photo of the clam plate and deduced that the figures could be processed by the brain as a bunch of horny people having an orgy. (Hence a hungry diner, especially if he reads New Man magazine, will order that sucker up in a jiffy.)

The author went on to trace such hidden messages throughout the entire advertising world. Most notably, the word SEX on a Ritz Cracker.

Of course, there are some who say this guy was a loony. Gee, that's a reach. But what if you believe in subliminal advertising? Suppose a bored human, for instance, could look out her window at her tomato garden and find hidden images of Rick Santorum and a willing Labrador Retriever where another person would just see a tangle of leaves?

Okay, I only see a tangle of leaves. Honest.

But whether or not subliminal advertising exists (I think it does), subtle message advertising is a certainty. And it doesn't only happen in t.v. commercials. In fact, it mostly happens outside commercial advertising, because if you know you're watching Ron Popile, you know he's gonna try to sell you that slice-and-dicer. ("But wait! There's more! Buy now and we'll send you a semi-automatic weapon, absolutely free!")

Subtle message advertising has been a tool of certain bored gods for more than a millennium. And we are richer for it, and their praise and worship teams of the past deserve a performance bonus. Payable on the Other Side, of course.

Here's how subtle message advertising works:

1. Christian missionaries come into your country and win over many of your people. First, those of you who hold onto the Old-Time Religion (the pre-Christian one) meet secretly to keep it going. You cultivate an image of quiet wisdom and acquiescence that only thinly veils your cunning strength. (I call this the Obi-Won Kenobi effect.)

2. After the missionaries have broken up your secret groves and burnt your books, you adopt another tactic. You tell "fairy tales" that present your gods and goddesses as "fictions." You tell the stories to your kids at bedtime. Inevitably they'll ask, "Mama, are faeries real? Are Leprechauns real?" Ah, darling, you betcha. As real as angels, maybe more so.

3. Some of the "fairy tales" gather strength until they become fabulous epics like Morte d'Artur. Well, now, we all know this is just a story, right? So what does it hurt if kids hear about the Lady of the Lake, and Avalon? It gives them something to play together outside, using their fertile imaginations. Given a choice between playing King Arthur and playing Sermon on the Mount, what kid's gonna choose Sermon?

4. These fairy tales endure through centuries. And then along comes a new medium: film. A Jewish animator from New York seeks about for good stories, much as Will Shakespeare did in his day. The animator decides that the old fairy tales will draw in the crowds.

5. So in the twentieth century, when 90 percent of Americans worshipped the Yahweh God, Walt Disney presents:

Peter Pan and Tinker Bell
Pinocchio's Blue Fairy
The Sword and the Stone
Sleeping Beauty's guardians
Cinderella's Fairy Godmother
The Little Mermaid

Of course he dropped in a few bad witches here and there, but so do the old tales.

6. What happens? In an age of Christian oligarchy and scientific hegemony, little kids still get a hefty dose of faeries while young and impressionable. In essence, that Old Time Religion has foud a subtle way to rock on.

Case Study #1: The last time we at "The Gods Are Bored" attended our good ol' Methodist Church, the youth pastor released this huge movie screen and ran a clip from Disney's Peter Pan. In the clip ("Following the Leader"), a happy group of boys chases after Peter Pan. It's lively, classic Disney animation. When the clip ended - you could see the tots were disappointed not to be able to watch more - the pastor reminded them that "the leader" was God, and they should follow him.

Emmmm. How many preschoolers are gonna watch cute cartoon kids following Peter Pan and make the sophisticated leap that Peter Pan here symbolizes God? Tee Hee! Like Annie on the balcony, they're gonna leave church thinking they ought to be following Peter Pan. They heard it at church.

Case Study 2: We at "The Gods Are Bored" are spending yet another dreary weekend morning at the cheapo flea market, where enterprising Heirs and Spares find books like Clam Plate Orgy. A mother with a tot in a stroller passes us. The tot points up at Anne and says: "Tinker Bell!" Because of course Anne has a huge collection of Tinker Bell t-shirts, growing all the time, and she's wearing one of them.

Would that tot recognize Jesus just as quickly? More important, would a picture of Jesus excite her enough to make her point at a stranger?

So this is how the bored gods thrive, and have thrived, and will thrive. If they're not immortal, how come they predated Christian missionaries, exist alongside Christianity, and will probably keep humming along to infinity and beyond?

Following the Leader I remain,

Your pal in the Santorum tomato garden,



Hecate said...

Given a choice between playing King Arthur and playing Sermon on the Mount, what kid's gonna choose Sermon?

See? It took me paragraph upon paragraph to say what you said in one sentence. Now who's really the deep thinker?

buddy don said...

ye gut a grate point here. whut amazes me is how tykes of no moren two kin recognize everbidy frum tinkerbell to batman to the wicked witch of the west to snow white to ye name the "imaginairy" creatchur.

as my brother eli mite wood say, "thays sumthin a'goin on."

olive said...

The gods had a particular curb appeal in my old high school- Latin Class. What's better than a language class where you don't have to speak the language. And one where half the writing exercises are translating ancient myth and lore. Half the pagans I knew in high school sprung out of Latin class. Cheers!!