Programming the Nation?
Directed by Jeff Warrick
The secret world of subliminal messaging gets the spotlight in Programming the Nation?, Jeff Warrick's personal crusade to expose mass media's secret agenda-pushing techniques and to demonstrate how these methods have successfully warped an entire population into highly impressionable lemmings. The doc is big on conspiracies and vague ideas (Warrick shares that the inspiration for this film was born out of his own personal ponderings about whether the U.S. government may have been responsible for 9/11, and whether the media was simply duping him now as they've been doing to everyone for decades by convincing him otherwise), and painfully light on facts: aside from noting the rampant product placement in films and television today, the film doesn't cite a single case of verifiable subliminal messaging from the last decade. Though the late-night Discovery Channel-like ruminating might prove fun for conspiracy theorists or educational for the uninformed, does anyone really need another reminder about the naughty imagery that may or may not have made its way into a handful of animated Disney classics?
The film's bulk is comprised of interviews with a variety of diverse, well-established figures: From Dennis Kucinich to Noam Chomsky to Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, the range of subjects is undeniably impressive, but none of them offer much in the way of support for Warrick's premise, that we're all being programmed. They rather merely state mostly obvious facts on how the media's portrayal of what's right, what's wrong, and what's hip has a great influence on American culture. And when discussing subliminal messaging, even the most passionate believers in its existence admit that there's little way to be sure that subliminal messaging is a tactic often used by the media, resulting in a lot of baseless opinion-sharing that often flirts with paranoia. Also of annoyance is Warrick's inability to find anyone in the advertising field willing to discuss their ideas regarding sublimation, giving unnecessarily further opportunity for Warrick to rant about how sexual images are purportedly embedded in many print ads for alcohol and cigarettes (will anyone be shocked by this notion?). And while the film thinks it has a lot to say about how images of sexuality in media and advertising today have greatly impacted an entire generation's body image, this is hardly information that doesn't already exist at the forefront of our cultural zeitgeist.
Perhaps most troubling though is the slapdash, slap-in-the-face conclusion: Admitting he didn't necessarily find the evidence he was looking for to conclude subliminal messaging is to blame for, well, mostly everything wrong in the U.S., Warrick then encourages the audience to band together to demand changes in media and advertising laws, likening the uprising he feels necessary to the demands for equality of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Warrick's association of the two causes proves both misguided and borderline insulting: Since the filmmaker succeeds in revealing next to nothing about subliminal messaging in 109 minutes, does he really think it's appropriate to suggest that citizens should be as angry about skull-like imagery in whiskey ads as they were about "Whites Only" drinking fountains? For most, this lazy correlation will prove far more alarming than anything that's "exposed" throughout the entirety of the well-intentioned but intellectually vacant film.
Opens August 19