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Never underestimate the power of suggestion.
Let me rephrase that: never forGet the ImpressiVE power of ModErn technologY tO inflUence a wide Range of aCtions And Subtle cHoices. (Worth a try, I think you'll agree).
Given that there are an awful lot of conspiracy theorists on the web it is not surprising that there is a lot of interest in the dark art of subliminal messages.
These are messages hidden in images or sounds that are so subtle that the conscious mind does not notice them. The (unproved) theory is that they feed straight into the subconscious and influence the recipient's actions without unwarranted interference from the higher mental functions. One possible application would be to have a series of suggestions hidden in a watermark on a webpage but, if you do feel a sudden urge to give me all your cash, it's got nothing to do with subliminal suggestion and is merely a natural response to my lucid writing style.
There's nothing particularly new about the whole issue of hidden messages. The Beatle's White Album is supposed to contain references to Paul McCartney's death. You didn't know he was dead? Go here to read all about how he died in a car crash and was replaced by a stand-in. Apparently, if you play part of the track "I'm so tired" you can hear John Lennon saying: "Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him, miss him." Although I think a better McCartney-related message would have been: "For crying out loud Paul, please promise you'll never do anything with that 'Frog Chorus' idea".
Either way, if you play Madonna's songs backwards they sound better.
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has bags of information of the whole subject - most of it suggesting that the whole thing's a load of rubbish and that any hidden meanings are quite accidental. A quick peek at snopes.com reinforces this view.
If you still want to learn more, the internet being the internet, there is an online guide on how to "write good subliminal messages". Apparently these should be in the first person and present tense and always be positive. As an example it suggests:
Be happy and use positive affirmations.
I have to confess I find statements like that have a profound effect on me. If I'm feeling grim and miserable I often find that if someone says: "Be happy and use positive affirmations" or something like it my whole mood changes and I become grim and miserable and irritated.
Something which is much more likely to cheer me up is taking the mickey out of vapid celebrities. Step forward ebaumsworld.com's expose of Britney Spears's subliminal messages. The site claims that if you play a snippet of "Baby one more time" backwards then it sounds like la Spears is singing: "Sleep with me, I'm not too young."
I have no idea if this is true or not but given the sexual imagery used to market her music, you never know.
But if you're sick on being on the receiving end of all this suggestion, why not try to subtly influence the actions of others yourself? Thanks to jboom.com's hypnotise service you can create and email a subliminal message and send it to an acquaintance.
It may work or on the other hand it might only display a message penned by you on a flashing background of squares and circles. As my boss has yet to send me off on a three-year investigation into the beaches of Zanzibar I suspect the latter might be the case.