Michael Shermer talks about why people believe strange things, including the belief that there are secret messages in popular music when it’s played backwards.
By popular request, from Lady Gaga’s debut album The Fame, comes a little clip out of track number three, Paparazzi reversed.
Personally, I can’t hear it even with the “reverse lyrics” showing. To me, Lucifer sounds more like moose-em-mouw, but the emails keep coming. For the record, I’m a complete skeptic.
After watching The L Magazine’s The Evolution of the Modern Blockbuster Movie (via) I got thinking that I had never actually read the famous Batman – The Dark Knight Returns comic series (wikipedia entry) from 1986 that was used as a rough basis for Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).
I remember hearing about Frank Miller’s, soon to be a collector’s item, The Dark Knight Returns and had always wanted to read it, but I was a bit young for its graphic content and besides, I didn’t exactly have any disposable income for comics when I was 7.
However, as I read it this evening, I came across a page that I found pretty interesting. On page 89 of book two, the comic makes a reference to backmasking in Stairway to Heaven. I’m posting it here to show just one more way the legend crept into popular culture. The relevant panels after the jump.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon and he did it forty-years ago today. He spoke the now legenday words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Played backwards, “small step for man”,
sounds like wait, I won’t ruin it for you, give it a try below:
Not that it means anything, I just thought someone might find that an interesting coincidence.
Tom Stafford, a member of the Adaptive Behaviour Research Group in the Department of Psychology at University of Sheffield, recently presented the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Association for the Teaching of Psychology at Lincoln in the UK. He talked a little bit about the priming that can occur when you load up my backmasking site. He was kind to present the topic using this slide.
Thanks Tom! you made my day.
Research Digest wrote up an interesting summary of Tom’s keynote talk.
Here’s an interesting little text file from 1983 that Jason Scott has in this vast archive of BBS files, backmask.txt, that delves into the history, technology, and social aspects of backmasking.
From the text file by William Poundstone:
TV programs such as PRAISE THE LORD and THE 700 CLUB have propagated rumors of a satanic plot in the recording industry, no less, in which various albums conceal “backward-masked” demonic murmurings. If THAT sounds too spacey to be taken seriously, consider that it was the fundamentalist groups who were behind House Resolution 6363, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Robert K. Dornan (R., Calif.) in 1982 to label all suspect records: “WARNING: THIS RECORD CONTAINS BACKWARD MASKING THAT MAKES A VERBAL STATEMENT WHICH IS AUDIBLE WHEN THIS RECORD IS PLAYED BACKWARD AND WHICH MAY BE PERCEPTIBLE AT A SUBLIMINAL LEVEL WHEN THIS RECORD IS PLAYED FORWARD.”
Many of the original rumours I heard about backmasking when I was a kid are in this file. Itâ€™s interesting to note that the claims of what exactly each songs says when played backwards has continued to evolve over the years.
An article in the Boston Globe published today highlighted my backmasking page.
Remember that guy in high school who was always trying to tell you about the satanic messages hidden in “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (below) if you played it backward? Turns out he was right. Or so says Jeff Milner, a graphic designer from Alberta, Canada, who has not only posted snippets of the song, and several others, in reverse, but also transcribed the alleged backward lyrics. His findings: “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow don’t be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May queen” translates to “Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan.” The message is surprisingly clear on “Stairway,” but less so on songs like “Baby One More Time.”
See the full article.
It took me a few days to get around to reversing the backwards message embedded in the I Am America (And So Can You) audiobook, but now that I have, let me just say, Stephen Colbert doesn’t disappoint.
While complaining that seniors are from the library card generation, Stephen complains that “They don’t believe in buying multiple collector copies no matter what kind of rare, bizarre, or coded message appears in the first edition” at which point (about 1:18 of track 3) the following audio is heard:
So there you go, proof positive that Stephen Colbert is a liberal and hates America.
Hungry? Eat Popcorn
The interesting thing about the claim of a subliminal influence contained within popular music when played backwards is that the messages are very difficult (if not impossible) to discern unless you’ve been primed to hear them on a conscious level.
I’ve been receiving emails wanting to know how this apparent lack of influence ties in with research that demonstrates subliminal messages can coerce unwary buyers into making purchases they would not otherwise have considered?
A short story is in order, (stop me if you’ve heard this one) Fort Lee, N.J., 1957. Unsuspecting film goers are enjoying “Picnic”, with William Holden and Kim Novak. In the projection room, an important marketing experiment is being staged. Researcher James Vicary has installed a tachistoscope, a machine that can inject subliminal images of tiny fractions of a second—far below that of a person’s conscious threshold. Every five seconds and for a duration of just 1/3000th of a second, Vicary alternated two messages. One read, “Drink Coca-cola” and the other, “Hungry? Eat Popcorn”.
Vicary’s results were spectacular! Coca-cola sales jumped 18.1%; popcorn sales 57.8%. Vicary dubbed this “subliminal advertising”, the practise of manipulating consumers to make purchases they might not normally make.
And if you believe that, I’ve got a pet rock I’d like to sell you.
The great popcorn experiment was a fraud.
Advertisers and regulators doubted Vicary’s story from the beginning, so another researcher, Dr. Henry Link, duplicated Vicary’s experiment and found no evidence that people reacted to the messages. In a 1962 interview, Mr. Vicary admitted the data was all fabricated to gain attention for his business. Some critics have since expressed doubt that he ever conducted the experiments at all.
However, the legend lives on. To this day a great many people still believe Vicary’s claims and will apparently never be convinced otherwise.
As numerous studies over the last few decades have demonstrated, subliminal advertising doesn’t work; in fact, it never worked, and the whole premise was based on a lie from the very beginning.
It is possible to prime the unconscious.
According to a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale were able to alter people’s judgments by simply priming them with either hot or cold coffee.
The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee and asked for a hand with the cup.
That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.
As improbable as it may seem, findings like this one have continued to pour forth in psychological research in recent years.
New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.
The article goes on to remind readers that, “studies of products promising subliminal improvement, for things like memory and self-esteem, found no effect”.
If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink—here’s a very short audio snippet from chapter 2 (650k mp3).
I just finished installing a new wiki for anyone interested in the phenomena of backmasking. It’s called Wikiback. It’s the first wiki I’ve ever setup, but I’m hoping it will be a benefit to those looking for more information.
It hasn’t got a lot on it yet, but anyone interested in adding backmasking information is welcome to edit it.