Programming The Nation?-A Review

By: Grainne Rhuad


“In every religious tradition, the idea of violating free will is something God doesn’t even do, yet man thinks he can do this and is attempting to circumvent these unalienable rights.”-Jeff Warrick  Writer/Producer/Director-Programming the Nation?

The Movie opens with shots both of the World Trade Center Disaster occurring, images burned into most of our brains by this time and Ground Zero in current time.  Strong images to build a documentary on.  The viewer gets the impression that whatever is going to be presented in this film is important, pay attention and maybe even given the context of the movie; was there something we should have seen?  Was there something we missed about 9/11?

However, the movie jumps track from there.  What we are instead introduced to is the world of Subliminal Messages.  The meeting of science and urban legend.  The question is put to the audience, are companies, politicians and nations trying to sway your opinion without your knowledge?

A good overview is given of the development of subliminal messaging.  We revisit Freud who introduced the academic world to the idea that the mind is at work on levels we aren’t aware of on a daily basis.  We are reminded of how affectively nationalism worked to move the hearts and minds of the people of Germany under the Nazi regime.

The filmmaker really gets to the meat of what he wants us to know when he digs into an early subliminal scam that most filmmakers, marketers and psychology students learn about.  The James Vicary Picnic Hoax.

In 1947, James Vicary claimed he inserted the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca Cola” into film called Picnic a la Tyler Durden to unknowing crowds over a six week period.  He then went on tour with his supposed findings selling to the advertising world his results.  He claimed that popcorn sales had risen by 57% and coca-cola sales had risen by 18.1%.  Unfortunately, in 1962 Vicary admitted the results were too small to be meaningful.  However, he did remind the ad world that the subliminal mind was there and maybe it would be profitable to tap into it.  His faux research also caught the attention of the CIA who based on his claims produced a report “The operational potential of subliminal perception.”

The film goes on from there to touch down on both the fake and the real cases of subliminal stimulus in media.  It is chock full of interviews from people in the field of advertising and psychology as well as names you know like David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine, Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW! And Mark Mothersbaug, founding member of DEVO.

While the film itself was a good introduction to the idea of subliminal messages, I found myself having some problems with it, the biggest being much of what was presented was not in fact ‘subliminal’.  The term “subliminal” means beneath the threshold of perception. Many things are subliminal, such as the circulation of our blood, which we normally do not feel, experience, or perceive moving throughout our bodies.  However, a lot of examples were more in the realm of suggestion as viewers could clearly see and experience the stimuli.

In addition, Warrick veered into the realm of propaganda.  While propaganda can certainly be subliminal, mostly it’s not.  It revolves around nationalism, idealism and in your face ‘remember this’ much like the U.S. has experienced since 9/11.  The film pointedly discussed Video News Releases which showed clips that were obvious in their juxtaposition.  This cannot by definition be subliminal.

When it came to military and government involvement the film pointed out some areas of concern which I agree with.  Namely Project Solo in Desert Storm.   Also there is the CIA papers mentioned before, which clearly state the government is interested in subliminal tactics.  On the other hand he made stretches; as in taking on HAARP- The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. A program in Alaska which sports an Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI), a high power radio frequency transmitter facility operating in the high frequency (HF) band. The IRI is used to temporarily excite a limited area of the ionosphere. Other instruments, such as VHF and UHF radar, a fluxgate magnetometer, a digisonde and an induction magnetometer, are used to study the physical processes that occur in the excited region.  While it has been noted that there are physical effect associated with IRI such as moose and other animals backing away from it and people experiencing headaches and nausea, none of these fall under the categories of subliminal mind control.

Overall as I viewed this I appreciated the commitment to knowledge that Warrick brought to the film.  The film, while it could have been wildly skewed, stayed in the area of trying to present information the viewer could then follow in order to make their own conclusions.  A lot of examples on both sides of the issue were given and Warrick even pointed out that his lifelong views around some principles turned out to be wrong.  This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of this film.  The fact that in our quest for truth we must be willing to abandon our favorite ideals when they prove to be wrong.

The film closed once again in New York with images of Ground Zero, which I still don’t understand in context to the entire work.  It was slightly disconcerting.  I was left feeling like I wanted more.  I understood that 9/11 had affected the writer, but was the subliminal in this act?  It seemed to me that like much of the movie, this brand of terrorism was very much in your face.

For more information on Programming the Nation and its production company visit their website @