- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Madison Books; 1993 edition (December 18, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0819186538
- ISBN-13: 978-0819186539
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Age of Manipulation: The Con in Confidence, The Sin in Sincere 1993rd Edition
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Many of you may think that the practice of making subliminal suggestions has been proven to have no effect on consumers. WRONG! This book, written by the world's leading authority on these techniques, dissects them in detail. After reading this book, you may realize that the stuff dribbling down your chin is not Diet Coke, but Pavlovian saliva. Very Highly Recommended.
From the Back Cover
In our request "to be in the know" are we compromising our capacity for unadultered thought? In this startling book, Dr. Wilson Bryan Key exposes the devious and sophisticated strategies that advertisers use in newspapers, magazines and television to manipulate and seduce our thoughts and senses. He explores how the media establishes our "reality" and why, subsequently, Americans are the most manipulated people in the world. This provocative book will forever change the way you view the world around you.
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This volume seems a bit "drier" and less humorous than the previous works, but I can't offer a detailed review since I'm still reading it. but it's very informative and very intelligent. A nice change from the spy noovels and men's magazines I usually read.
Key's books are always interesting and very provocative, and this one is no exception. However it does not add much to the now somewhat tired theme. The things he gets right are, well, pretty obvious by now. Advertisers are willing and able to craft images that evoke primal emotions, through testimonial, social situations, and evocative imagery, and may do so in ways that are deceptive. They certainly rely on this to transfer feelings to their product more than they rely on persuading us with a strong argument that we need the product.
The scientific basis of Key's ideas is legitimate. Marcel's fascinating research years ago showed that things perceived but not noticed are processed to a remarkable degree semantically, priming subsequent behavior and interpretations without itself ever becoming conscious. There's no reason in principle why this shouldn't happen just as well with figure and ground as it does with tachistoscopic images. That's why Key felt he could compare the phalluses in ice cubes with the apocryphal stories about James Vicary's briefly flashed "Eat Popcorn, Drink Coke" messages that caused so much undeserved panic. Neuroscience research has since confirmed that there is a distinct amygdalar response to emotionally evocative images that we aren't aware of seeing.
Ok, but big deal. Artists and poets make a meager living at the same craft. Finding subtle ways to evoke emotion. What is special about Key's argument ? Key's whole argument, when you strip off the annoyingly redundant social criticism, is simply that these unaware images and nonverbal embedded stories, since they are not made explicitly conscious, cause "repressed" feelings to be applied to advertisers' products.
The cognitive neuroscience version of Key's psychoanalytic story is that the images activate semantic and preprocessing nets that alter how we interpret the product we are reading about. Key's argument, which may have some merit, can probably be summarized better by saying that since we don't know where the emotion is coming from, we may be more likely to associate it with the product rather than the evocative hidden imagery. That's assuming the images are truly that evocative, that we can perceive them, and that we don't notice them.
It is also assuming that the emotion isn't simply misplaced to the person we are with rather than the product. There's probably a good reason why teenage boys like to take their dates someplace that raises their heart rate rather than to the library. Some of that excitement gets transferred to them. See Perry Buffington's amusing "Cheap Psychological Tricks," and "Cheap Psychological Tricks for Lovers" for a realistic perspective with humor rather than paranoia.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the thing advertisers do better is not hiding phalluses, it is inundating us with sheer repetition and using images that have cultural relevance. The suggestion isn't stronger, it is just customized and given to us over and over through powerful mass media delivery syringes.
The mystique that Key has been cultivating for so many years is that particular images can be made so powerful that people can't resist them. It's a direct analog to the myth of the all powerful hypnotist whose every suggestion can cause people to leap out of windows or strangle their cat. Fifty years of psychology research tells us otherwise, that the context and expectations are far more important than presumed magical mesmeric powers of individual images and suggestions. Yes we can make the individual images or suggestions more evocative, but only so much, and then the repetition and our expectations become more important.
Key's influence on culture is seen most dramatically in the fact that he was successfully able to nearly single-handedly commandeer the word "subliminal" from its original meaning of "below threshold," to now being in common usage as "pictures with hidden sexual imagery," and even just "any message that we are unaware of."
The problem with Key's books is not that he is wrong, in spite of his alarmism he was probably more right than most people from the start. The problem is that he stubbornly refuses to see anything but a narrow view of what is going on. Like Freud, he convinced himself early in his career that all around him was sexual images, and now that's most of what he seems to see. There are often more interesting things going on psychologically in the images crafted for us than just erotic imagery, and more ways it is used than just advertising. Pratkanis and Aronson's "Age of Propaganda" makes a nice accompaniment to Key's books, helping to pull them back into some scientific perspective.
--Richard Brodie, author, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme