There Is Nothing Subliminal in This Headline for Programming the Nation?

As much a backhanded indictment of easy access to DV cameras, motion graphics software, and Final Cut Pro as the slippery advertising tactics it targets, this kitchen-table doc aims to expose the prevalence of subliminal messages in, well, pretty much every form of media. The results are irritating, occasionally educational, and frustratingly insight-free. It's not for a lack of effort: Writer/producer/director and former marketeer Jeff Warrick breaks the subject down into distinct chapters, each of which focuses on masked sales pitches in television, print, movies, rock music (David Van Taylor's more nuanced 1992 shock-doc Dream Deceivers is sampled), politics, and more. He also assembles an impressive if eclectic array of talking heads to bolster his points—usual suspects Noam Chomsky and Mark Crispin Miller turn up, but then again so does Geoff Tate, lead singer for heavy-metal dinosaurs Queensryche. A research dump isn't the same as a thoughtful documentary, though, and as diligently as Warrick lines up his facts like so many boxcars, he undercuts their impact with amateurish aesthetic choices. Ultimately, the wan narration, indifferently shot interviews, and migraine-inducing animated backdrops in Programming the Nation? don't serve its inquiry any better than that needlessly equivocal question mark in the title.

 
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