In the late 1950s there was a scandal. It was revealed that the Coca-Cola Company and Movie theatres had conspired with filmmakers to ensure that a single frame commercial, was inserted into each film. It was said that the single frame in each film was enough for the subconscious to take note, but not actually be on the screen long enough for viewers to register it consciously. It was called ‘Subliminal Advertising’.
It was also said that the approach increased sales of Coca-Cola’s beverages and popcorn by up to 40%. When it was eventually discovered a news agency interviewed a marketing agent to get his views. They asked him if he felt it was right that these companies could present just a millisecond of information to viewers, his response was ‘You know they sit through 20 minutes of commercials before it starts, right?’
The statistics regarding sales increases were just a hoax and Subliminal Advertising has never been proven to have any real effect.
So in regards to mental health, or in fact let’s back up a little and say society in general. We, in the ‘free world’*, are given choice. This is our reward for winning the geography lottery.
We have the ability to decide what we wear. We have the ability to decide which habitat to live in. As well as the ability to eat what we like, see who we like, watch what we like and so on.
Sounds perfect so far Mindfump. The dream. Utopia.
The problem is we are terrible with choice. You walk into a restaurant with a menu the size of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel and you are done, the game is over before it has begun. We look forlorn at the waiter or waitress for guidance. We want someone to tell us that there is a dish with chicken, one without and one with fish. OK – I’ll take the chicken*, thanks. Or an even better situation would be to ask the waiter or waitress for a specific recommendation – please! please! take the responsibility away from me – please reduce my options all the way down to one.
So we spend our time fighting the Government for more choice and then give the responsibility away as soon as we can. Which is probably a good thing, given how bad we are when we do make decisions ourselves.
Give us the choice to buy a gun, we kill each other. Give us the choice to eat whatever we want, we eat junk food. Give us the option to smoke or not, we smoke. Give us the option to exercise or not, we don’t. Give us the option of going for a walk and we’ll sit inside playing video games. Give us the option to give money to charity or to buy a new pair of shoes, we buy the shoes. Give us the option to protest a single frame commercial or the 20 minute commercials, yep, we protest the single frame.
Now I am not suggesting everyone does these things. But this is the case for a significant number of people* and none of these things particularly benefit the individual. Being fat with a cigarette, out of breath holding a gun, a happy life, does not make. So, why do we choose to live this way? Well, we don’t, obviously. We are terrible with decisions, we just went over this.
We are given the illusion of choice and then pushed in the direction of certain products and ideas. This is done through marketing, PR and any other means of information dissemination. Lets take cigarettes as an example. All you need to do is remove the channels of information. Remove the packaging, ban advertising and then take people’s choice away in regards to where they can smoke and.. Voilá! less smokers. It’s magic! The choice to smoke still remains but we ‘decide’, completely of our own volition* not to do it anymore.
Taking this back to mental health and tying it into my wonderful metaphor at the beginning though, the problem is that we are the single frame. Society is the the 20 minutes of commercials. And we are still protesting the single frame, but what about the causes of the issues? They must lie somewhere in society – just like diabetes through sugar or cancer through smoking. Mental illness, is not a choice.
But what can we do?
Well, just like with cigarettes, the Government, can restrict the options for certain things. Such as; limiting working hours, limiting certain kinds of advertising, making photoshopping of body forms illegal, enforce balanced and representative imagery in advertising, investing in early family planning, investing in social services, investing in the arts, increasing restrictions on big business, safeguarding jobs for people with mental illness, to name but a few.
We can’t focus on the single frame and then apply all the blame to it, the 20 minutes of commercials has a far greater impact, we must act collectively. Quite literally. Although I’m probably going to miss both the single frame and the 20 minutes of commercials as I’ll be outside, in the lobby, still trying to decide which film to watch.
*Sorry America, I can’t say that without irony or laughing.
*Never been big into fish, and the vegetarian option? Without another animal on my plate, how would I reinforce my faux superiority?
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