Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


The ad is dated--Time magazine, sometime in 1971 or so, I think. But it's a classic. If you look closely at the frosty glass, you'll see three ice cubes. The frosty lines through the middle ice cube form something akin to the letter E. The ice cube on the bottom--look closely now--has an X embedded within, sort of--see it? And if you're with me so far, you can see the letter formed by the lime against the top one. Yeah, that's right--S.

S-E-X. And it sells. Lord a'mighty does it sell, right? This perverse ad's manipulative composition sells gin by gunning engines. Or so people said. 

Decades ago, subliminal advertising was gigantically hot. In 1981, I sat in a crowded little grade school gymnasium and listened to a mightily righteous speaker describe manipulation by putting ads like this one on an overhead projector, blew them up the size of a gym wall so that we could all see what we'd missed. 

And there's more in this one. As yourself this: when is a bottle cap not a bottle cap?--easy, when it's a spent male you-know-what. See it? Sure. Goodness, how did I miss that?

That was the guy's racket, frank talk about erections and vaginas in a little Christian school gym where those words where only horny eighth grade boys ever used those words, and then furtively. By the end of the presentation, he'd trained us to see penises in all shapes and sizes wherever we'd look. Freud had a field day.

I was skeptical--I'll admit it. The whole thing felt like manipulation. "See that female sex organ?" he'd say and 300 imaginations created images we would have considered sinful if the speaker wasn't such a devout Christian. There would have been far less oogling if we'd met on a nude beach.

All of that came back to me with the ongoing saga of a Harvard social psychology researcher named Prof. Amy Cuddy, whose TED speech set records and still is--the tally is 21,000,000 viewings. There's no sex in this presentation, but what research has shown is her findings are just as suspicious. 

What Prof. Cuddy sells (I know it's a pejorative word) is the efficacy of body language--both to others and to self. What research shows (some say it's dubious) is that if we adopt power poses like this Superman look, we can actually gin up our state of mind and turn our fears into bombast. What she argues, famously, is that body language not only reveals our state of mind, but also shapes it. After a fashion, we can channel Superman if we mimic his body language.

Prof. Cuddy's blessed advice to millions who watch her and believe her is that they can alter the shape of their lives by simply adopting--even covertly--Superman-like postures. She tells them to go into bathrooms or other secluded places for two minutes before a challenging interview or presentation--get in there and reshape your shoulders, look formidable, and in two minutes, she says, you'll come out swinging. 

Once more--21 million hits. And a best-seller. And appearances on tv talk shows all over the place. And speeches and presentations at the five-figure level. That kind of successful. Just a little of this, she says, 

and the world's your oyster.

Sex in the ice cubes is all about fear, about who's manipulating me. That speaker had a gym full of suckers, most of them already convinced that evil was everywhere. Prof. Cuddy's millennial presentations are all about power--how to get it, how to keep it, how to wield it, a different sermon altogether, a different sermon for a different audience and a different time. Twenty-one million people want to be afraid of nothing. 

But both presentations are pretty much bogus. 

It was P.T. Barnum, people often say, the circus king, who once said, "There's a sucker born every minute." If he didn't, he could have--that's certain.

But nobody knows exactly where that cynical line comes from. All we know is that it has real sticking power, because there is. 

Who knows?--I'm probably one of 'em. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Years ago a student of Sigmund Freud asked if the cigar he was smoking was a phallic symbol ...... his reply, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.