Americana: Subliminal Scenario

Back in the '50s, there was a fuss over a brainwashing technique known as subliminal communication. A movie theater found that if its films included tiny blips of commercials for popcorn and soda —moving past so quickly that the viewer did not consciously realize he was seeing them—popcorn and soda sales went up. These results were highly uncertain, though, and the technique was abandoned. Since 1957 it has been against FCC policy to permit subliminal techniques on television. Last month, however, the agency made an emergency exception.

The case involved an undisclosed Midwestern television station—reportedly KAKE-TV of Wichita, Kans. Over the past...

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