Three Times Subliminal Messages in Media Were Excellently Mocked

When I started writing this article, I wanted to challenge myself to write a positive spin on subliminal messages. After some very liminal messages from fast food chains and political parties, I came to the conclusion that subliminal messages in advertising straight up suck, as is the case with any kind of emotional manipulation. Despite this conclusion, I was able to find one silver lining, one indisputably beneficial use of subliminal messages in commercial media: using subliminal messages to mock subliminal messages in advertising. Here are some of the funniest and most absurd times that subliminal messages were used to ridicule such a hideously manipulative concept.


 The Young Ones:  All of Series 2

Watching any given episode of British series The Young Ones is a bit like watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse only more violent and less sexy. Beneath the surrealism and wandering plots, you could often find some brilliant satire at work, so it’s little wonder that the comedic quartet decided to take aim at subliminal messages in commercial media, especially considering subliminal messaging was eventually banned in England. In the second series of The Young Ones, certain episodes feature subliminal messages – momentary frames of a leaping frog, a soaring bird, and other images firmly planted in the realm of glorious nonsense. If you live in the U.S., you can still see these subliminal messages (unless you blink) on the DVD box set Every Stoopid Episode. However, the subliminal messages were eventually removed from re-broadcasts of the show in the UK.

 The IT Crowd

While The IT Crowd is another British TV show, it’s a bit more sensical in its use of humor than The Young Ones. Rest assured, this doesn’t make their jab at subliminal messages for personal gain any less absurd. In a scene between lazy office manager Jen and spray-tanned ’80s douche leftover Douglas (her very inappropriate boss), Douglas attempts to seduce Jen by having her look at his laptop, only to see a momentary flashing image of himself reclining “alluringly” in bed.The image is repeated again in the credits of the episode, breaking the 4th wall in a sense, and possibly breaking down your resistance to an attraction to a cross between George Michael and a frat guy.


Saved by the Bell: The Zack Tapes

Falling into the laughing-at-you-not-with-you category is an episode of Saved By the Bell called “The Zack Tapes” in which Bayside student and god Zack Morris puts subliminal messages on a popular cassette tape that’s making the rounds because these rich kids didn’t stay rich by spending lots of cash on multiple cassettes. Since these subliminal messages were designed to basically hypnotize the target of his affection, Kelly Kapowski, into loving him, you can easily imagine the hell that breaks loose. Unlike the other examples here, Saved By the Bell didn’t actually use any subliminal messages to get their point across. Rather they did what they always did: orchestrate some off-the-wall caper that spits in the face of your suspension of disbelief as well as any semblance of continuity. Saved By the Bell trolled society hard on a weekly basis but they still knew raping people’s minds with subliminal messages wasn’t cool. This is most satisfactorily hit home when resident jock stereotype Slater appears to have succumbed to the idea that Zack Morris is a “blonde Tom Cruise.” Saved By the Bell  may have even prophecized the future in linking Tom Cruise with brainwashing.
Subliminal messages for private use and professional use can actually be helpful if you want to break a bad habit or reinforce something positive in your life. But emotional manipulation for corporate gain reeks of sleaze no matter how you slice it. Sometimes it’ helps to just laugh at the desperate sliminess of it all. And then take a hot shower to wash it all off (especially if you watched any episode of Saved By the Bell, ever).

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