Examines the history of subliminal messaging in America and the ways in which we are being manipulated subconsciously by advertisers, pop-culture, corporations, our military, and politicians. These civil-rights violations have a profound and long-term effect on each and every American citizen in our country. According to many authorities, since the late 1950′s subliminal content has been tested and delivered through all forms of mass-media including Hollywood filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and William Friedkin. But, unlike other current affairs facing our society, such as the environment, the “War on Terror”, or the declining economy, we often downplay, (or even totally dismiss), the overwhelming influence and corrosive nature of mass-media – all for the sake of entertainment and escapism.
Ever feel like youâ€™re being influenced by the barrage of advertising youâ€™re subjected to every day? What if you were being manipulated and not even aware of it? Subliminal advertising and the culture of manipulation is the topic of the documentary PROGRAMMING THE NATION. Directed by Jeff Warrick, an ex advertising executive, who does triple-duty as narrator and on-screen talent as well, interviews a variety of subjects from pop culture history, the advertising industry, a world-renowned professor, and many others. Warrick strives to prove the hypotheses that not only is subliminal advertising being used today, but that it actually does affect our moods, purchasing decisions, and guides our actions.
The interview footage with the likes of MIT professor Noam Chomsky, Rolling Stoneâ€™s David Fricke, Devoâ€™s Mark Mothersbaugh, and â€œDemocracy Nowâ€ host Amy Goodman was entertaining, and honestly I could watch these people, and the rest of the interviewees speak for hours on end. Getting into everything from The Beatles (Paul is dead) urban legends to government mind control experiments, PROGRAMMING THE NATION explores a wide variety of possibilities in messaging, which works to this documentaryâ€™s advantage since it doesnâ€™t feel like itâ€™s coming off overly political, or like they are getting into too much â€œTwilight Zoneâ€ territory. Overall this doc is very balanced, which lends to its entertaining nature. The only complaint in this regard is that the film does feel a little long (running time is 105 minutes). This would feel better as a one hour special on television.
One place where this film fails though, and this isnâ€™t a reflection of the obvious talents of the filmmaker behind the lens, is that he tends to come off a little to Michael Moore-ish. Like Moore barging his way into the Walmart HQ, Warrick makes his way to one of the largest advertising agencies in the world to try to get information from their executives. The limited footage shown does seem to add some edge to the doc, but at the end of the day it actually took me out of the film. There really couldnâ€™t be any way that he thought that his tactics might work, and they donâ€™t serve the overall story well either. A documentarian putting themselves on camera is usually meant to showcase the passion of the filmmaker, and to give their voice in the film a palpable feel. This time it just comes off a little over-the-top.
That unevenness aside, PROGRAMMING THE NATION is a thought-provoking and entertaining documentary. The subject is compelling and the execution (with exception to the above rant) is done well. The wide variety of interview subjects keeps the film fresh and doesnâ€™t make it come off as didactic. Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing what topic Jeff Warrick takes his curiousity to next.