The movie Forbidden Planet was released in 1956. The special effects were primitive by current standards. The dialog is filled with fifties-style wisecracks. Comic relief was provided by a robot. Despite the elements that date the movie, it was a special movie in the history of science fiction and a special movie for me in particular.
Most SciFi movies, then and now, are just monster movies in which The Blob, Godzilla, or slobbering toothy aliens absorb, shred, or incinerate innocent citizens, vaporize skyscrapers, and shrug off humanity’s puny weapons. At the end of the movie, the monster is killed by a terrific new invention of the lead male scientist. We know that he will marry the cute secretary, have a litter of bright little scientists, and live happily forevermore. We also know that the sequel is already being filmed and that the monster is not really dead, or that other monsters are on the way to earth, or that the unnoticed egg hidden in a cave will one day hatch a new monster. Think of The Blob, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The War of the Worlds, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Earth versus the Flying Saucers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, The Day of the Triffids, The Valley of Gwangi, Alien, Predator, and War of the Worlds.
There is another sub-genre among SciFi flicks that I would classify as “moving comic books” like the Star Wars movies, Superman movies, Batman movies, the Hulk, etc. These glorious adolescent male fantasies rely entirely on special effects, slinky babes, and fight scenes for their success rather than plot, dialog, or character.
A few SciFi flicks, though, are different, such as The Time Machine, This Island Earth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, The Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Handmaid’s Tale, On the Beach, and Forbidden Planet. [This link takes you to a synopsis of the plot of Forbidden Planet on Wikipedia.] These movies contain thought provoking content about the impact of technology on human life and the possibilities of unearthly environments containing strange beings with whom humans could communicate and interact.
Forbidden Planet is set thousands of years in the future. A group of colonists has been sent to establish a home on the faraway planet called Altair IV. Though it is known that they landed safely, no word has been received from the colony for twenty years. As the movie begins, a rescue ship has been sent to discover the fate of the colonists. The crew of the rescue ship, captained by young, hunky, heroic Leslie Nielson, discovers that of all the colonists, only the linguist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his lovely young daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) remain alive. Dr. Morbius informs the rescuers that a mysterious force violently killed all of the other colonists except for himself, his wife, and his daughter twenty years before. Mrs. Morbius died quietly of natural causes long after the violent deaths of the others. Dr. Morbius also reveals, after a time, that he has spent twenty long years decoding the writings of the highly advanced vanished alien race of Altair IV - the Krell - who had previously inhabited the planet. The Krell were much more intelligent than humans and had developed a superior technological civilization. Despite their cleverness, the Krell all disappeared in one horrible day, thousands of years before the arrival of the first humans to Altair IV.
For unknown reasons, the horrible, mysterious, invisible force that had first destroyed the ancient Krell population and had killed the human colonists much later now became active again. It began destroying the crew members of the rescue ship, one at a time of course, as it had destroyed the colonists twenty years earlier.
At the climax of the movie, Dr. Morbius reveals his discovery that the greatest technological triumph of the Krell was the completion of a wonderful gigantic Machine. The Machine was self-repairing and self-sustaining. It had kept itself in perfect condition during the thousands of years that it had been alone on the planet. The function of the machine was to instantaneously follow the mental instructions of the Krell, providing them immediately with anything they could think of. What the Krell and Dr. Morbius had not realized was that primitive thoughts and emotions still resided in the ancient parts of the Krell’s stupendous brains. They had, after all, evolved from lower life forms, and primitive thoughts and feelings still existed - suppressed, unfelt, and unnoticed - in those highly intelligent beings. When the Machine was first turned on, the suppressed primitive and violent desires and urges of the Krell became instructions that the Machine heard and followed. If one Krell offended another Krell, then the machine obligingly destroyed the offender in response to a flash of primitive anger in the offended one’s brain. In one night of spreading panic and bewildered horror, the Krell destroyed each other without ever understanding how, why, or by whom they were being destroyed.
We also learn that Dr. Morbius’ great native genius was boosted by a Krell device so that his intelligence became as great as that of an ordinary Krell child’s. His thoughts had become powerful enough to be noticed by the Machine - barely. Without the benefit of the Krell “brain-boost,” ordinary humans had wits too dim to even be detected by the Machine.
Without Dr. Morbius’ conscious knowledge, his subconscious mind had assumed control of the gigantic Machine (the script’s author, Cyril Hume, was distinctly Freudian in his description of the minds of both humans and Krell). Twenty years earlier, the Machine had obeyed Morbius’ subconscious mind by killing the colonists who were planning to abandon Altair IV, thus depriving Morbius of the opportunity to study the writings of the ancient Krell. Now, the Machine began killing the crew of the rescue ship because of their drooling interest in Morbius’ lovely daughter Altaira. Many fathers-of-daughters can understand the intensity of a father’s hostility toward his daughter’s would-be seducers.
Even though I have revealed the key parts of the plot, I still suggest that you rent and watch the movie. It is better, fifty years later, than current monster movies and moving comic books. I have not revealed to you how the mysterious force was overcome, what happened eventually to the Krell machine, what becomes of Robbie the Robot, and whether the boy got the girl at the end of the movie, what kind of cars robots drive on Altair IV, and whether a robot can manufacture whiskey - so there are still a few plot surprises for you to enjoy.
It is a movie I have seen many times and have thought about quite a bit over the years. I first saw it as a boy in 1956, at the Mansfield Drive-in Theater, and it completely blew my ten year old mind. It began my lifelong love of science fiction literature and movies.
“What does this campy old movie have to do with The Modern Prince?”
Perhaps this question came to your mind while reading the review of Forbidden Planet. The connection is this: the movie reminds us in a provocative way that we are not really rational creatures. Much of our behavior and many of our thoughts originate in the more primitive unthinking parts of our brains. Our phobias, our greed, our lusts, our unreasoning hatreds, our sex play, our feelings about our parents, mates, and children all originate in the unreasoning parts of our minds. When the great Machine began sensing the urges and needs of the primitive parts of the Krell’s brains, the terrible and violent result was unanticipated, unplanned, uncontrollable, and horrible. They had forgotten that irrational needs and primitive urges still existed within their inhuman skulls.
Our culture is also building a Great Machine to satisfy our many needs and desires; the greatest of all machines in human history. It is called the global economy. It consists of all of the factories and farms in the modern world, the employees who work in them, the managers who control them, the corporations that own them, the computer software running on their many networks, their distribution channels, their corporate customers, their client governments, and their human customers. This machine began to take its current form in the previous century and it is our inheritance from the past. Unlike the Krell Machine, it did not have a single design team or a single inspired inventor. Our Great Machine is assembling itself. As its various components converge, they learn to communicate with each other. They absorb each other through mergers and consolidation. They adapt ever more quickly to the new rules of the rapidly changing global economy. The people who manage its components do not have a vision of the ultimate nature of the Great Machine nor do they take responsibility for its ultimate form. They can only see their tiny portion of it, and no one has an overview of the entire machine. No one takes responsibility for its unexpected consequences. While human beings are very involved in this convergence of giant production and data systems, they do not control them. They go along with it, adapt to it, and adjust to its demands. The global economy is the environment to which all businesses must adapt or die. As “free” market enthusiasts tell us over and over, the rule in the global economy is the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest. That is to say, not necessarily the survival of the ethical, the responsible, the compassionate, the honest, or the kind. The global economy does not acknowledge, much less reward, human values.
Those who support the Great Machine reassure us that we - all of us - are in firm control of all these processes by the simple use of our checkbooks, and the global economy is presented to us by its beneficiaries as the most democratic of institutions. We vote with our dollars and future dollars (in the form of credit). We buy what we want with our dollars. The companies whose products please us survive and thrive. The companies that do not please us will die or change. They quote Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. They cite homely examples that are simple enough for you and me to understand, giving us the comforting feeling that the Great Machine can be understood by people like us. For example:
Economics 101: A Tale of Two Blacksmiths
Two village blacksmiths compete in the village of Mossy Rock. One blacksmith, Friendly Fred, gives good customer service and charges low prices. The other, Low-life Leon, is cranky and charges high prices. The villagers prefer friendly service and low prices, so most of them patronize Fred. Fred’s business flourishes while Low-life Leon is forced into bankruptcy. Thus it can be seen that the blacksmith market is controlled by the spending preferences of the people in the village. The consumer is king of the market.
Perhaps village economics worked that way in Smith’s day - though I doubt it - but global economics do not work that way today. To make the blacksmith analogy work for the 21st century, we would have to add these elements.
A Tale of Two Blacksmiths: The Real Story
Two village blacksmiths compete in the village of Mossy Rock. One blacksmith, Low-life Leon, is gives slow service and charges high prices. The other, Friendly Fred, gives quick service and charges low prices.
Low-life Leon is not making much money, so he hires the village gossip to spread the rumor that he (Leon) has secured the services of a powerful witch from a distant town. (This is not true because Leon is way too cheap to hire a real witch and he doesn’t believe in witchcraft anyway.) The village gossip knows her superstitious neighbors very well, and she tells story after story at the tavern, at the village store, in the village square, at the village market, at the faire, everywhere. She says that a curse has been placed on those who buy Friendly Fred’s products. Her stories describe the horrible things that have happened to those who bought a wagon wheel or a hoe from Fred.
“They will have only ugly daughters and stupid pimply faced sons with small penises. Their crops will be bitter and shriveled. Their cows will not give milk. Their pigs will be skinny and small. Their turnips will taste like dirt.”
The villagers, all simple folk, do not realize that witchcraft is nothing but a foolish myth. In their desire to have a good life, the villagers reluctantly pay Low-life Leon’s higher prices, and they endure his foul language, obscene jokes, and dirty restrooms.
The friendly blacksmith, Fred, knows that belief in magic is irrational foolishness, but he also knows that the villagers are very irrational - not because they are stupid but because it is their nature. Fred’s trade is rapidly dying, so he lets it be known that he has hired a powerful sorcerer from the faraway big city. Fred’s “sorcerer” is really his wife’s cousin, just released from a distant jail, but no one in the village knows him. The “sorcerer” can be found on Saturdays in the village square, stirring a pot of foul liquid, gazing into a crystal ball, whispering mysterious words in an unknown tongue, and talking to spirits that no one else can see. He tells the gathering crowds (sometimes as many as 4 or 5 people) that he has placed a powerful magical blessing on Fred’s products.
“A hoe made by Fred,” he declares, “is not just a hoe. It is also a magical charm that will protect you from all evil witchcraft. If you buy a plow from Fred, then you and your family will all go to Heaven, even if you never go to church ... even if you break nine of the Ten Commandments every day. Your wife will have only sons, all of whom will have enormous genitalia. The milk from your cows will be rich in butterfat, free of cholesterol, and low in calories. And let me assure you that I met Leon’s witch at a magical duel at midnight on the High Sabbath, and my sorcery - which comes from God above - has completely nullified the Hellish witchcraft of Leon’s evil witch. Haven’t you wondered why no one has ever seen her? It is because I - the most powerful sorcerer in Christendom - have banished her to the nether realm!”
Villagers who had been patronizing Low-life Leon’s Smithy now flock to Friendly Fred’s Plows-and-More, even though Fred has doubled his prices (to pay the sorcerer), his restrooms are now filthy, and customers often have to wait weeks to have a hoe sharpened.
The village of Mossy Rock has now joined the global economy.
You may say, “That is a stupid analogy. There is no such thing as a curse.” I agree with you that there is no such thing as a curse, but some people believe, irrationally, in curses. Some people believe, irrationally, that an expensive suit or an overpriced watch make them (magically) into a more worthwhile person.
When a new product is being developed little attention is given to whether it satisfies customers’ rational or irrational needs. No one at the BurgerMundo corporate office asks if the 1.5 pound “Gorgonzola Pork-Burger Platter with Bacon-Fries and Whipped Cream Milkshake” could possibly make anyone’s life better. All they know is that the overweight customer will buy it if it is advertised properly. So, they hire a team of marketing sorcerers to produce ads that will attract the belt-buster crowd. BurgerMundo’s sorcerers will use high-tech design techniques, computerized surveys, focus groups, and market testing to produce advertising that will attract the overweight customer and entice him to make himself less healthy. They will discover that their heavy customers are drawn to certain images, certain colors, and certain messages. They will try to circumvent the customer’s rational decision making process by appealing to his tongue and his penis instead of his brain. Their TV commercials will contain no rational content about diet or nutrition. It will consist of image after image of enormous pork-burger patties bubbling on greasy grill (“sell the sizzle, not the steak”), stringy cheese stretched to impossible lengths, and fat guys watching the home team win the big game on TV while enjoying home delivered Pork-burgers. BurgerMundo’s animated mascot, Paducah Pig, dances his trademark, hilarious, and somewhat vulgar pig-jig while paragraph after paragraph of unreadable fine print scrolls quickly across the bottom of the screen. Finally, a fabulous, tanned, slinky, luscious blonde with magnificent artificial breasts, dressed in a tiny bikini and red high heels, appears. She delivers the final line in a breathy, sultry voice, “If you’re not man enough to handle a Pork-Burger, you’re not man enough to handle me.”
In other words, BurgerMundo and their marketing agency are responding mindlessly and thoughtlessly to your irrational needs - like the Krell Machine - and giving you what your primitive non-conscious mind lusts for - not what your rational mind knows is best for you. The feedback loop in this system is completely crazy. The irrational needs of BurgerMundo’s corporate management for an increase in their stock price is triggering your irrational need to eat more than is healthy for you. Their advertising is rationally and scientifically designed to appeal to the irrational part of your mind. If their research convinces them that you will respond best to that particular blonde in that particular bikini saying that particular line, then they put it in the ad. They will test a thirty-eight blondes saying a hundred-and-seventeen different lines in three-hundred-and-twenty-two different bikinis. They will choose the best blonde/bikini/line combination by measuring the pupil widths of the eyes of their all-male test groups because pupil width is correlated with both hunger and sexual arousal.
Note that no one anywhere felt the need for a Gorgonzola Pork-burger until BurgerMundo’s advertising created the need for a slutty-blonde-attracting-belt-busting-pork-burger - a high cholesterol burger/love-potion combo.
Think about how technology is used in our world to circumvent the rational mind and satisfy humanity’s irrational needs for destruction, sexual prowess, and social status.
- War Machines, such as missiles, tanks, and land mines - solve no rational need of humanity, but there is no shortage of vendors competing for the highly profitable contracts to produce them. These machines satisfy our need to kill others or to prevent others from killing us. I have read that human interface and control panel designers have worked on the problem of convincing a jet pilot to take an order to aggressively attack an enemy in a maneuver that will result in his own death - without letting the pilot realize that he is about to die. The concern, of course, is that a pilot might hesitate to obey an order that will result in his death. Land mines, manufactured by weapons vendors, are the plague of former third-world battlefields, forgotten by both victor and vanquished. They rust away beneath the grass until some toddler loses a leg or hand while playing. Unknown quantities of poison gas, dirty bombs, nuclear devices, bacterial agents, and highly toxic chemicals, produced by unknown corporate vendors under lucrative contract to the governments of unknown nations, wait to be used in the future conflicts that are already being planned. Perhaps you or your son will fight in one of them soon.
- Suicide Devices - The increasingly sophisticated mechanisms wrapped around the bodies of suicide bombers certainly solve no rational need for those who wear them, but they do solve the need of a devoted Muslim to be a martyr and the need of his mentor to have a human bomb to launch against real or imagined enemies. The components for these bombs are provided, at a nice profit, by friendly businesses all over the world that do not ask rude questions about large orders for suspicious materials being delivered to odd addresses. Fast cars are advertised mostly to young males as an important enhancement to male prowess. What rational need does any young man have for a car that will exceed the speed limit? Does he need more speeding tickets or accidents? Cigarettes, known by everyone to be poisonous to humans, are marketed almost exclusively to the uneducated and naive in America. What rational need does an unsophisticated consumer have for a product that will lead to a life of sickness, social embarrassment, and premature death?
- Consumer Devices - Many of the machines you and I use (computers, phones, TV sets, radios, automobiles, etc.) are designed by their creators to interact more and more with the primitive parts of our brains. We purchase machines and products not for their usability and prettiness but to be cool, to have status, to feel superior, to feel smug, to feel secure, and to satisfy other irrational needs. The iPod is not so much a music player as it is a coolness-conveying device that makes its owner cool. What features does it have that other, similarly priced players do not? Slim and elegantly designed cell phones are not so much phones as chic-imparting mechanisms that makes us feel stylish or up-to-date. Marketing experts have learned that linking a product to a feeling of social status or sexual prowess increases sales. Also, showing the product alongside a mostly naked, lovely woman also sells lots of product, from plumbing supplies to marshmallows to to corporate jets. There is no rational reason for this to be so - but lots of irrational ones.
- Consumer Spending - Computer graphics and computerized marketing techniques are often used to encourage us to make financial decisions that are contrary to our own best interest: tobacco ads, food ads, automobile ads, clothing ads, etc. Because of these ads, we buy expensive things when cheaper, equally useful products are available: expensive watches instead of cheaper watches, expensive clothes instead of cheaper clothes, expensive cars instead of cheaper cars - spending more money when we could spend less. We buy more than we need (food, clothing, shoes, jewelry) and things that no one needs (cigarettes, sociopathic video games, triple-meat hamburgers). This money would be better used, rationally, in other ways: education, savings, investments, cultural experiences, preventative medical care, exercise equipment, and travel.
“When I put on something new, I feel transformed.” - line mouthed by an actress in a TV commercial for women’s clothing.
TV commercials present us with bizarre little psychodramas acted out by creatures who look very much like humans, but they do not think, act, or speak like humans. They dance for joy over a new product design. They burst into ecstatic song to express their delight when viewing an automobile that has a slightly different shape than the previous model - which they sang about a year ago. In other commercials, young comsumer-bots, played by child actors, display wide-eyed, gape-mouthed wonder at the latest new kid gizmo. A pair of shoes endorsed by a millionaire athlete gives the batty residents of commercial-land happy feet, making them jump for the podiatric thrill of wearing them. When strolling down the avenue, their very shadows dance with joy, revealing their inner delight at using the latest music-thing. Adult consumer-bots high-five each other for their shopping triumphs: they were smart enough and cool enough to select the latest product - unlike the bumpkins who were foolishly swayed by a competitor’s advertisements.
Real consumer zombies - not actors in commercials - gather around malls before sunrise on hallowed shopping days, ready to rush the gates like starving refugees at a UN food camp in Darfur. Why are they trampling each other and engaging each other in fisticuffs? Because of their eagerness to purchase ...
- Not food for their starving children
- Not life saving medicine for their dying parents
- Not tools to build a hut to protect their families from the storm
- Not clothing to hide their nakedness
- Not lifesaving vaccines for their babies
... a kid’s doll.
“Oh hell,” you say, “I don’t pay any attention to commercials at all. They have no impact on me. I think for myself. Commercials just let me know that a product is available, but I decide what I buy and what I don’t.”
Perhaps you have that ability, but most people apparently don’t. I suspect that those who believe commercial advertising to be ineffective are probably the most gullible. Those who believe that advertisers have some reason to spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually on advertising make a point of screening ads like they screen phone calls. Some groups are obviously less able to rationally evaluate certain types of advertising. For example...
- Our gullible children certainly are not. They are just little kids. All children are pre-rational and most of them are preliterate. Like the little primates they are, they imitate the facial expressions, actions, and speech they see in commercials, absorbing them effortlessly as only children can do. They want the same clothing, jewelry, and playthings that young actors are paid to wear and use on TV. Those who market to children are merciless and ruthless, using techniques that their little customers cannot even understand much less resist. These commercials are training our children to eat too much, spend too much, shoot pimps, sit too much, steal cars, and depend on consumer products for their identity and self-esteem.
- Half of the people in America have a below average IQ. (Congratulations, my readers are not found in this group.) The average IQ is about 100. Yours is well above that mark, and so is mine, but 150 million Americans are below average (that is a reasonable definition of average: half are above, half are below - more or less). While most of them are good-natured human beings, they are not careful thinkers. They watch commercials and absorb their messages without the intellectual defenses that you and I have. These are the people who are so gullible that they give thousands of dollars, a bank account number, a social security number, and a credit card number to an Ethiopian spammer named Prince Abdullah, Regent of West Africa. They purchase penis-enlargement patches because the penis-enlargement pills they bought didn’t seem to be working. They buy “Lose Weight While You Sleep” pills. Selling overpriced junk to them is like shooting fish in a barrel. The financial products industry is very skilled at selling high-interest credit cards and payday loans to this group.
- Even the members of educated, wealthy, and presumably sophisticated groups are gullible suckers for overpriced automobiles, overpriced clothing, overpriced jewelry, overpriced watches, overpriced homes, overpriced everything. They buy expensive items when cheaper ones would do just as well. They buy the label instead of the garment, the sizzle instead of the steak, and the schmooze instead of the substance. They wish to appear to each other and to everyone else to be educated, wealthy, and sophisticated. Marketers who specialize in wealthy clientele have persuaded their affluent customers that social standing comes packaged with product.
- Young men, aged 15 to 25, regardless of their intelligence and experience, are suckers for products that are marketed to their manliness. They want everything that is fast and cool. They want a fast car in which their dream-girl can ride with them in cool comfort to a cool destination where the cool people have gathered.
Coke Zero and Pepsi One, I have read, are marketed to young males who feel that diet sodas, like Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, are effeminate. After all, only chicks worry about their weight. Coke Zero and Pepsi One are, of course, diet sodas. The four products are virtually identical, except for marketing and packaging. I speculate that you could fill Coke Zero bottles with Diet Pepsi and practically no one would ever notice the difference. Diet sodas now come in two flavors: feminine (for those who like diet sodas) and masculine (for those who don’t).
- Young women, aged 15 to 25, regardless of their intelligence and experience, are suckers for products that are marketed to their womanliness. Young American women want clothing, jewelry, and other adornments that will catch the eye of young men and that other young women will regard as stylish.
Young women want cosmetics that will make them beautiful and cover their flaws. First, of course, they have to be taught by commercials what beauty is and what a flaw is. I have seen scientists on TV explaining that the most expensive and least expensive cosmetics contain virtually the same ingredients. Cosmetics now come in two varieties: rich and poor. I have seen before-and-after plastic surgery patients - both friends and on television documentaries - and could not tell that they looked different.
- All of us salivate and our stomach juices flow when we see food, such as a 25 inch cheeseburger or a 60 inch candy bar on our giant TV screens. The sight of food signals our bodies to prepare to eat. All of us feel thirsty when shown a gigantic cold beer (especially those who have a weakness for alcohol) or an ice-cold Coke Zero. Advertisers provoke these physical responses as part of their marketing campaign to encourage us to eat and drink more product. Advertising can make you hungry when you are not hungry.
- Most males have a physical reaction to the sight of a lovely woman, scantily clad, and eager to copulate with customers. The association of a product with images of mostly naked women is a proven sales technique. Like a dog taught to salivate at the sound of a bell, men are taught to lust for video games, cars, electronics equipment, and many other products.
- Some of us are particularly susceptible to suggestion regardless of intelligence. I watched a stage hypnotist at a night club try with mixed success to hypnotize five volunteers. Only a two of the five volunteers were convinced that their right arms were filled with helium and were trying to float to the ceiling. However, a number of people in the audience raised their hands, apparently entranced by the hypnotist’s suggestions. It is possible, I suppose, that I was a sucker who was fooled by a fake hypnotist and his stooges, but I was convinced. After thinking it over, I have come to believe that a small but sizable portion of us, maybe 10%, is very suggestible. (This is a personal speculation. I have read nothing about the subject, but hypnosis seems to me to be real and those who are hypnotized seem to be in a state of mind that is very different from ordinary consciousness.) For these people, the suggestions in advertising must be very powerful.
- All of us succumb to mindless, endless, countless repetition. How many Chevrolet commercials have you seen in your lifetime? How many beer commercials, insurance commercials, candy commercials, etc. etc.? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How many TV commercials, magazine ads, Sunday newspaper ads, billboards, radio ads, Internet ads, etc., etc. have you seen or heard in your lifetime? There is no scientific study that contradicts the principle of repetition: say it enough times and people will believe it. Repetition is how you learned to spell, to add and subtract, to speak grammatically, to jump rope, to play hopscotch, to put on makeup, and to dance. It is our primary educational technique. Do it over and over until you get it right. Repetition wears grooves of thought in your brain. The messages that you hear most are the ones you believe the most, remember the longest, and take completely for granted. How many advertising logos do you recognize? How many advertising slogans and jingles have you memorized? Do you still remember the products that sponsored your favorite TV shows when you were a kid?
People on the Jay Leno show who not know where the “Electoral College” was located
but all of them knew where the Keebler elves make their cookies. (Answer: in the Hollow Tree)
Marketing techniques and marketing campaigns work, shaping our behavior, even though consumers are in denial about that scientific fact. We know this because they have such a dramatic impact on the sales of products. It is unsettling to realize that those campaigns, designed to reduce our bank balances, are created by large teams of men and women with advanced degrees in mathematics and social sciences from prestigious universities. They have big IQ’s and virtually unlimited financial resources. Corporate management pays them very big salaries because they produce results: they persuade you to open your wallet and purchase something you had no need for and did not plan to buy before you were exposed to the advertising. They have studied you, dissected your brain, listed and prioritized your motivations, and designed their very strange little one-minute psychodramas to disable your rational defenses and prick your mind where it is most primitive and most vulnerable.
Much of marketing science is not rocket science. The first rule of marketing is repetition, repetition, and a little more repetition. The second rule of advertising is lots more repetition, even more repetition, and still more repetition. The third rule of advertising is to put a mostly naked young woman in the ad somewhere because - what the hell, it always works. Humans believe what they hear, especially if they hear it over and over and over. The average American sees hundreds of advertisements daily. The average American child spends as much time with the television as with his school teachers and more time with the TV than with her parents. The cleverness and creativity that goes into so many advertisements are more to compete with other ads than to penetrate the weak defenses of the human mind. Repetition is the simple key that unlocks your mind and mine. That is why it is the primary tool of most marketing campaigns.
Corporations no longer sell you what you want; they teach you to want what they sell - a not-so-subtle difference. If you can’t afford what you’ve been taught to want, then you borrow money or use a credit card just like the commercials of the banking and finance industry have taught you to do.
It gets worse: In our democracy, candidates and issues are marketed to us using the same techniques. We respond to the predictable applause lines whenever the speaker pauses, like the trained apes we have become. We ridiculed “Flip-Flop Kerry” without realizing that “flip-flop” was marketed and sold to us - not a thought that originated in our minds. We were “shocked and offended” when Tennessee Rep. Ford visited a Super Bowl party hosted by Playboy Magazine at which pretty white women were present - arousing our irrational fears about interracial relationships and pornography but saying nothing about Rep. Ford. We speak in political buzz-phrases that the political parties are teaching us to use. Medicines are marketed to us on TV, inducing us to ask our physician for a prescription for something whose benefits and efficacy are unknown to us and which works on principles that we cannot understand. Islamic terrorists are marketing the terrorist point of view to potential new recruits using the Internet and videos with sophisticated production values. Their ideological commercials actually persuade young people to want to die. Now that is proof of the persuasive power of modern technological marketing techniques. Our behavior in areas not normally considered to be economic, like politics and health care, is also being shaped by the images and messages of clever marketers.
In Forbidden Planet, the technology of the Krell was given to all Krell. They destroyed each other in a night of panic and confusion. It seemed to the scriptwriters that the Krell would naturally share technology with everyone because of their assumption that advanced, enlightened societies would naturally be egalitarian.
On this planet, however, technology is used by one group of us to disable and bypass the intellectual capacity of another group of us, to control their behavior - not through force, intimidation, or fear - through suggestion, repetition, sexual arousal, and the exploitation of children. This is very different from the techniques of rational persuasion that the authors of the Constitution had in mind. Using ancient Athens and Rome as models, Adams and Jefferson imagined that we would engage in rational discourse, logically debating the advantages of one course of action over the other, and then deciding by vote which course to follow.
Keep in mind that the technology of psychological manipulation is still young. Modern marketing has been used in the marketplace for fifty years and for a shorter time in politics, health care, and terrorist recruiting. Imagine how sophisticated it will be in 2050 or 2075 - assuming that our society has not been destroyed by a dozen likely catastrophes before then. The people who will then live in those future years (I, thank goodness, will be dead of old age by then.) will get all of their news and information from national or global media controlled by governments and global corporations. Those corporations and governments will have learned that the new methods of appealing to irrational motivations is a much more efficient and reliable way of controlling human behavior than the ancient and traditional method of totalitarian brutality or the newer but less dependable method of democratic debate and rational discourse.
I recommend that you rent and watch Forbidden Planet and let your mind consider these points while enjoying a good flick. It has given me a lot to think about since 1956 when I first saw it. Perhaps it will do the same for you.