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Subliminally Speaking
by Michael Giardina

Last Friday, a construction worker fell from a 30-foot-high rooftop into a 300-gallon kettle of tar, boiling at nearly 500 degrees in Torrington, Conn. Investigators believe this was a tragic accident. I have a different idea. I believe that advertising agencies secretly designed a special tar kettle capable of displaying a secret message that said: "Jump! Do it!" Sound ridiculous? Yes. Many people go overboard when they accuse companies of incorporating subliminal messages into advertisements for their products. But, it can easily be done. In 1957, James M. Vicary created the "invisible commercial," a series of messages, including "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Eat Popcorn," that lasted one three-hundredth of a second. He then claimed that after displaying the images at a movie theater, sales increased 18 percent. In 1985, a family sued the rock band Judas Priest, claiming that subliminal messages in the music drove two boys to suicide. They believed that the band inserted messages, urging the kids to "Do it! Do it!" The judge didn't buy it and the band was found innocent. Does this mean artists do not embed secret messages into their music? Don't be so certain! Backward masking is a process by which artists deliberately superimpose reversed messages onto the soundtrack. Pink Floyd's "Empty Spaces" is a clear example of this technique. At the end of the track, you can hear distorted speech. If you use a sound reversal or basic audio program to reverse the gibberish, you can hear this: "Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to old Pink, care of the funny farm, Chalfont!" More controversial than backward masking is the natural occurrence of "reverse speech." Certain phonetic arrangements, when heard backwards, naturally have another message. Designers can use this understanding of phonetics to design hidden messages. So do they? Here are some examples of secret messages that might be intentional. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. In Led Zeppelin's song "Stairway To Heaven," the following lyrics reversed - "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now. It's just a sprinkling for the May Queen" - will yield: "Oh here's to my sweet Satan, the one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan." In Queen's song "Another One Bites The Dust," reverse the repeated lyric "another one bites the dust" and you will hear, "It's fun to smoke marijuana." Perhaps the most plausible, in terms of marketing techniques, is Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Reverse the lyrics: "With you I lose my mind.give me a sign" and you will hear, "Sleep with me; I'm not too young." There is no proof that these messages were deliberately placed in the music, but hey, it is some food for thought.