Under the radar: Futurist narrative of disjointed image and sound in the Beijing Olympics Supershow

Since at least the 1920s, the technology of partialized or dislocated images encoded to send subliminal messages striking home un-sensed by the prefrontal cortex’s analytical screen has became a fixture in advertising, especially in the poster-art medium, but nowadays in TV commercials and MTV as well. The theorist behind this was Edward Bernays, a double-nephew of Sigmund Freud, who became a loyal consultant to Corporate America, helping it “sell things consumers didn’t want/need to people who couldn’t afford them”. (Thanks to Prof. Matt Johnson for this tip-off). Sound familiar?

(Interestingly, the immorality of the method has fractured PBS’s editorial profile. In one of its increasingly rare investigations of CorpAm’s modus operandi – Frontline’s “Merchants of Cool” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/etc/synopsis.html) and 3 later follow-ups, our “be more PBS” friends laid bare the mechanics of subliminal image-hooking to a late-night public in 2003(?). At the same time a brave local station in Minneapolis launched a PTV show called “Mental Engineering” (http://www.mentalengineering.com/) which reverses the coding to show the intended manipulation. For very very late night audiences indeed, since PBS itself now battens hugely off corporate feel-good logographs amplified by reassuringly lulling overvoicing)

Well, anyway. What goes around can come around: First War war-geared publicity campaigns regretted as misleading? or maybe just too many publicists entering the marketplace hoping for careers in the Ad industry, or (now) “market consulting”? – some such counterflows have since the 1920s bred several generations of well-trained rebels who have used the same logo scribing methods in the domain of leftist public art. Futurism split away from PR to find new traction in – well, you know one case: Hitchcock (Spellbound, 1945)- not to mention in the Soviet Union agitprop plakat. Under the WPA Fed Arts program it helped being into being an anti-Nazi war-willingness CorpAm never wanted.

Having infused the worlds of moving-image art (dance and film) it (I call it logography) has now been taken up in the People’s Republic as a kind of protest insert into publically sponsored Superbowl scale Show. The Master Magician here is of course Zhang Yimou, whose forte has always been image and color coding (Red Sorghum, Red Lantern the film, Red Lantern the ballet, then Red scarved army drummers, all 500, in the 2008 Olympics pre-show: and much much more with Yellow of course,

Gotcha! I found a Beijing CCTV post-event “inside story” broadcast that actually shows the Master at work twiddling his mystery shapes into message. Spectacle again, but, true to this newer tradition, with a soupcon of sabotage. Here it is.

For more (much more on the subject of psychosemantics and how isn invading all corners of Chinese public culture, see:




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