Ever feel like you’re being influenced by the barrage of advertising you’re subjected to every day? What if you were being manipulated and not even aware of it? Subliminal advertising and the culture of manipulation is the topic of the documentary PROGRAMMING THE NATION. Directed by Jeff Warrick, an ex advertising executive, who does triple-duty as narrator and on-screen talent as well, interviews a variety of subjects from pop culture history, the advertising industry, a world-renowned professor, and many others. Warrick strives to prove the hypotheses that not only is subliminal advertising being used today, but that it actually does affect our moods, purchasing decisions, and guides our actions.
The interview footage with the likes of MIT professor Noam Chomsky, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, and “Democracy Now” host Amy Goodman was entertaining, and honestly I could watch these people, and the rest of the interviewees speak for hours on end. Getting into everything from The Beatles (Paul is dead) urban legends to government mind control experiments, PROGRAMMING THE NATION explores a wide variety of possibilities in messaging, which works to this documentary’s advantage since it doesn’t feel like it’s coming off overly political, or like they are getting into too much “Twilight Zone” territory. Overall this doc is very balanced, which lends to its entertaining nature. The only complaint in this regard is that the film does feel a little long (running time is 105 minutes). This would feel better as a one hour special on television.
One place where this film fails though, and this isn’t a reflection of the obvious talents of the filmmaker behind the lens, is that he tends to come off a little to Michael Moore-ish. Like Moore barging his way into the Walmart HQ, Warrick makes his way to one of the largest advertising agencies in the world to try to get information from their executives. The limited footage shown does seem to add some edge to the doc, but at the end of the day it actually took me out of the film. There really couldn’t be any way that he thought that his tactics might work, and they don’t serve the overall story well either. A documentarian putting themselves on camera is usually meant to showcase the passion of the filmmaker, and to give their voice in the film a palpable feel. This time it just comes off a little over-the-top.
That unevenness aside, PROGRAMMING THE NATION is a thought-provoking and entertaining documentary. The subject is compelling and the execution (with exception to the above rant) is done well. The wide variety of interview subjects keeps the film fresh and doesn’t make it come off as didactic. I’m looking forward to seeing what topic Jeff Warrick takes his curiousity to next.
PROGRAMMING THE NATION Review
FILM SYNOPSIS - According to many authorities, since the late 1950's subliminal content has been tested and delivered through all forms of media, at an increasingly alarming rate. "PROGRAMMING THE NATION?" examines the purported uses, influences and potential subconscious side-effects of what's going on beneath the surface of advertising, film, music and political propaganda. Even the US military has been accused of using this technology in their Psychological Operations Unit, (PSY OPS) campaign. This socially relevant documentary not only traces the history of this phenomenon, but seeks to determine the validity and potential threat that may or may not exist. Do you ever find yourself doing or buying things without any conscious reasoning? Why has consumer debt in America risen over 50% since 1990? How is it possible that the United States consumes about 25% of the world's resources while only making up 4.5% of the world's population? Are we all part of an elaborate scheme which has been programming the nation? Decide for yourself...