Back in the early days of recorded media, a scourge was alleged to be making its way through movie theaters. Researchers claimed to have proof that a visual image, spliced into the film for an undetectable fraction of a second, would nevertheless lodge itself into the viewer's mind. The victims, told for instance 'You're hungry', would then be compelled to go out and buy more popcorn. This quickly expanded in the popular imagination to "compelled to do whatever they tell you to"; no matter how bizarre or expensive the compulsion, viewers wouldn't be able to help themselves.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as TV sets became more prevalent, this was naturally extrapolated out to TV broadcasts, and assumed to be a routine element of commercials. Teachers on sitcoms would warn their students about the dangers of the practice; of course, the teenagers would then immediately try using it to control their classmates. Hilarity Ensues. Eventually the U.S. Congress actually proposed laws forbidding the practice, although they were never actually enacted.
Similar hooplah arose surrounding "backmasking", the practice of deliberately inserting messages into audio recordings that only make sense when the recording is played backward...an ideal way to hide the real message of the song, it was believed. Throughout the '60s and '70s, rock bands ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Eagles to the Beatles were accused of placing subliminal audio tracks into their music in order to praise Satan, corrupt the innocent, confess the death of a bandmember, whatever. All parents and teachers knew was, it was bad.
The only problem is, subliminal advertising doesn't really work.
The initial claims have long since been discredited. Later, better-documented studies have revealed that there is a slight psychological effect, but the results are so minimal that existing preferences will completely overwhelm it. As for backmasking, it has a lot to do with the power of suggestion; the gist of it is that you're more likely to hear stuff like, say, "Here's to my sweet Satan" when you play "Stairway to Heaven" backwards, if you're looking for it. And forget about that having any subliminal effect; if you played an intentionally-hidden message backwards you'd just hear the words clearly, and if you play it forwards the mind can't decipher the gibberish. This shouldn't be surprising, seeing as how most listeners will completely miss the more overt messages of a song.
Subliminal Seduction combines the worst aspects of a Discredited Trope and a Dead Horse Trope. The concept is to all practical purposes dead, but lives on in the creative imagination. Audiences see it so often that they still assume it must be real.
The trope gets its name from the 1973 book Subliminal Seduction; Ad Media's Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America by Wilson Bryan Key. Key claimed that his research had revealed a massive conspiracy among American advertising agencies to lace both products and photographic images used in ads with subliminal references to sex, and proceeded to show every example he could find. While very popular at the time, his conclusions were controversial and have long been challenged. Key's evidence was at best questionable — he claimed that every Ritz cracker has the word "sex" embedded on it 12 times, to cite one case — and many of his photographic examples can be interpreted as wishful thinking or paraeidolia.
Subliminal Advertising is what happens when marketers try to use subliminal messages to sell products anyway, either seriously or as a parody.
The maker of Sprite soda has been parodying this trope on and off for many years. In one memorable example, it was suggested that anyone who saw the image of a naked woman in ice cubes probably needed a girlfriend. Then they turned around and started their "Sublymonal Advertising" campaign, with their slogan "Obey Your Thirst" reduced to the Orwellian "Obey"...
They also get exceedingly obvious with the campaign, such as a small sign on movie theatre floors that says "don't look up", and a larger sign above it that says "sublymonal advertising complete"
An ad for Tesco Compare parodied it. The ad featured Paul Daniels encouraging viewers to think of an insurance comparison site while various blatant logos for the site showed up behind him.
A year 2000 advertisement for the Republican party had a bunch of negative terms for the Democratic party, such as "BureaucRATS", zoomed in at varying parts of the screen. Of course, the Bureauc- part cut off.
It is actually in response to this that The Simpsons did there "subliminAL messaGOREs" chalkboard gag as seen later in the page.
Parodies on a Comedy Central TV spot. The ad showed a series of Christmas-themes children's drawings while Penn Gilette narrated about how people exploit Christmas for commercial gain, while the message "WATCH COMEDY CENTRAL ALL THE TIME" appears for a split second.
Many have claimed to see the figure of a man with an erection in the front leg and shoulder of the camel depicted on a pack of Camel cigarettes. Snopes analyzes this.
In Tokyo Mew Mew a la mode, the Saint Rose Crusaders use subliminal messages on TV and in random text messages to turn the public against the heroes and their token Mary Sue.
Leo Burnett and 4Kids are the devil!. Eventually 4Kids admitted to, ironically, creating the Leo Burnett part as a jokey shout-out to his use of subliminal messaging. But how the 4Kids part was added from there...
In Cherry Comics, Lola's plan for seducing the hot science teacher involved using a subliminal seduction tape.
In-universe example in Batman: Hush. The reason Bruce thought of Tommy Elliot when he needed surgery, even though he hadn't seen him in years, was because of a hidden program in the Batcomputer which randomly flashed Tommy's image every time he used it.
As set-up for the Batman RIP Arc, the phrase "Zur-En-Arrh" shows up occasionally as background graffiti. During the arc, it turns out that Batman has been psychologically conditioned not to be able to see it, and by seeing it, is being primed for Dr. Hurt's attack on his psyche.
Pennand Teller parodied this trope in Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends in the Demon from Hell segment. You can find it here.
They actually tried to do this with a movie a few years back. The message spliced in was 'Call Home!'. When audience members were later asked how the movie made them feel, or did they want to do anything special, many people said they... felt a little hungry. In any event, no one had the urge to make a phone call to Mom.
Tyler Durden from Fight Club placed subliminal porn images into family films, strictly for his own amusement.
Also near the beginning of the movie Brad Pitt's Tyler was spliced into single frames several times before he is officially introduced.
Same trick was used in Sunshine, only with the dead crewmembers of a Ghost Ship.
Turning Tyler's pranks on the actual audience, a number of subliminal porn images are placed into the actual movie at a few points.
Which is the joke/point.
Staying through the credits for Cloverfield gets you a few final seconds of audio, with the main characters who survived the movie still begging for help, followed by a quick burst of backmask. Dedicated viewers managed to record the sound and play it backwards within a day of the film's release. The final message of the movie? "It's still alive!"
Similarly there is a still image from the original King Kong flashed briefly during the helicopter scene in Cloverfield
Parodied in the film Little Nicky, where the title character reveals a Satanic backwards message on a song by the soft-rock band Chicago.
In John Carpenter's They Live!, aliens control the world through subliminal messaging (backed by Applied Phlebotinum) hidden in billboards, magazines, and pretty much everywhere.
Used as a bit of a plot point in Spy Kids. Junie's favorite show employs several characters in costume speaking gibberish, but when the tape of the show is played backwards you can clearly hear their cries for help.
The horror movie Trick Or Treat takes the urban legend about Satanic messages hidden in music and runs with it. The movie is about a heavy metal star who was into black magic (and died in the middle of a magical ritual) who put a backmasked summoning spell on his next-to-be-released album. The hero, a put-upon headbanger (played by the guy who played Skippy in Family Ties), gets the only prerelease copy of the album. Playing the album backward in short bursts gives the nerd headbanger advice for defeating the jocks and preps at his school who torment him, but the album keeps wanting to be played backwards in its entirety — and when he does, the dead metal star is summoned in demon form from Skippy's stereo speakers and runs amok. The plot is a little tongue in cheek rather than pure New Media Is Evil—the radio DJ is played by Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne cameos as an anti-metal evangelist.
The hero's radio DJ friend discourages a young heavy metal fan from trying to hear backmasked lyrics on records. Why? Because he insists that it's nothing more than a scam by record company executives to make kids ruin their albums playing them backwards, so they'll have to buy more. (This would've been a subversion of the trope, had the records in question not really contained hidden incantations invoking demonic forces.)
The Exorcist has short flashes of a demonic face during some scene changes.
In The Ring, the corpses of Samara's victims are shown for a split second at two points in the movie.
Justified, though, since she is triggered by a code which she has already been programmed to respond to. She didn't just see 'kill kill kill' flash up on the screen for a second, and decide, hey, I really don't like the people in this bar . . .
In Memento, after his wife's death, Sammy is shown sitting in a mental institution. Briefly, just after someone walks in front of him and before the scene cuts back to Leonard on phone, Sammy's character is actually replaced by Leonard sitting in the same chair.
In The Chronicles of Riddick (Unrated Version), during the quick cuts of the action during the fight scene between the mercs and the prison wardens on Crematoria, you will see a quick shot of only the female merc's (clothed) breasts as she turns - for no apparent reason. You cannot see her face or hands or weapons - just breasts.
This is the preferred method of fraud university hired therapist Allie Parker's "psychological profiling" in Ray P.Muniz's Sci-Fi novel The Impairment. To briefly elaborate instead of assisting her patients and helping them overcome their problems, she makes them devote their every day lives to the problems by a manner of hypnosis induced both by a "trigger phrase" or words and anitem of value or solace to them, all to slowly drive them to join up with her cohorts. She does this to both main protagonist Kyle Griffin and his friend Mark Rivera.
In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, children are fed subliminal messages during sleep that are meant to reconcile them to their social class. Beta children, for instance, are fed messages like "I'm so glad I'm a Beta. Being an Alpha would be ever so hard, and I'm not stupid like a Gamma or a Delta."
Dean Koontz's horror novel Night Chills has the villains testing their subliminal-message technology on a small isolated town.
In the Discworld book Moving Pictures, awkward entrepreneur Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler figures that if people can be subtly influenced by showing an advertisement for a fraction of a second, they would be influenced a hundred times stronger if the ad was shown continuously for a full five subliminal minutes. Fortunately, his nephew Sol Dibbler not only has more common sense, but catches wind of this scheme.
Sir Terry Pratchett has mused, in one of the Johnny Maxwell books, as to what might happen if you played a record by Christian star Cliff Richard backwards. If backwards masking is such a strong tool in the hands of Satan for provoking evil and loathing, then its use by a saintly Christian performer such as Sir Cliff might result in spreading the word of God, with people attending church and worshipping with no clear idea as to how they ended up there.
However these are somewhat different in that they're not even remotely hidden. Fnord. Instead, we've all been mentally programed since grade school not to notice them on a conscious level, which in turn causes a general "sourceless" feeling of uneasiness and confusion, making us easier to manipulate.
Older than Television: A short story from the 1930s called "Daymare" contains an example of this: a man implants a hypnotic message into a speech broadcast across an Orwellian television network to control a colony on a moon of Jupiter.
In Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony, Artemis persuades his opponent to choose Taipei 101 as a meeting place by dropping words into the conversation. That it works seems far-fetched, except that the man is already intimately familiar with the location and calls it "his second home".
Artemis: I'm going to be wearing a burgundy tie. Pay attention to that. There are a hundred and one ways this could go wrong.
Used in an episode of The IT Crowd, when Douglas Reynholm shows a video to Jen about the company... also, him being naked.
Subverted in that it backfires horribly for him; Jen and everyone else who sees it see exactly what's going on and are, not surprisingly, freaked out.
The Documentary episode in Babylon 5 contains a commercial for the PsiCorps; the commercial has text frames reading, "TRUST THE CORPS" and "THE CORPS IS YOUR FRIEND", inserted for just long enough not to run afoul of the laws mentioned above.
Shamelessly spoofed on The Young Ones where "liminal" (i.e. just long enough to be half-registered by the conscious mind) images entirely irrelevant to the plot (if there was a plot that episode) would be sneaked in, apparently just to stoke the viewers' paranoia.
A recurring Saturday Night Live character performed by Kevin Nealon in the 1980s featured a parody of this trope. "Mr. Subliminal", as the character came to be known, initially appeared as an advertising executive named Phil Maloney who would use subliminal cues and messages in his own speech to influence the people around him. Later Nealon would apply the device in his role as anchor on the "Weekend Update" segment, where he would lace his "official" editorials with ironic and often biting commentaries.
Happened in one episode of Saved by the Bell, when Zack put subliminal messages on audio tapes to cause Kelly to fall in love with him, and to end Mr. Belding's interfering with his scams. Of course, people heard the tapes who weren't supposed to, Zack's scheme is exposed, and Hilarity Ensues.
The Doctor Who episode 'The Sound of Drums' features the Master persuading the population of the United Kingdom to vote for him as Prime Minister with a subliminal message carried over a mobile phone network, and then in 'Last of the Time Lords' uses it to dull any thoughts of resistance to his regime.
An episode of Eerie Indiana plays with this; a young boy who is frequently put-down by his verbally abusive and overbearing father starts getting into a alt-rock band who are accused of putting subliminal messages into their music. When the kid's personality starts changing to be closer to that of his heroes - including standing up to his father - his father begins to become obsessed with the subliminal messages that are seemingly corrupting his son, leading to him storming into a music shop and playing one of their records backwards to prove it to the main characters. Much to his mortification and horror, however, what is heard when the album is played backwards is a repeating litany of his bullying and verbal cruelty to his son.
An episode of That 70's Show mocked this. Fez's host family demonstrated how a KISS album had backmasked "Devil love me...Devil lives! It's clear as day!". Fez noted that in his language the message said:
"I want to sex your monkey. beat which I have never done."
The initial research model was the basis for a Columbo episode, in which a murderous film-maker lures his victim out into the lobby for a drink of water via strategic inserts. It's actually a really clever, well-done ep, considered among the best...once you overlook the teeny little hitch that its 'cutting-edge' science turned out to be totally made up.
Columbo later uses the same technique to get the murderer to reveal where he hid the silencer he'd used.
In the Red Dwarf episode "Backwards", one long backmasked monologue actually turns into: "You are a stupid, square-headed bald git, aren't you? I'm pointing at you, I'm pointing at you! But I'm not actually addressing you - I'm addressing the one prat in the country who's bothered to get hold of this recording, turn it round and actually work out the rubbish that I'm saying! What a poor, sad life he's got!"
Having fallen out with the Channel 4's director and never knowing how far is too far, Chris Morris inserted a single-frame image into his news-special satire Brass Eye that said "Grade is a cunt".
In Season 3 of LOST, some characters have to rescue a prisoner that is being forced to watch a brainwashing tape while loud music plays. The video is already eerie enough (with messages like 'God loves you as he loves Jacob'); however, fans discovered if the music in the scene is played backwards, the message "Only fools are enslaved by time and space" appears.
Father Ted tried to use this to convince the inexplicable Chinatown on Craggy Island that he wasn't a racist. Unfortunately, he only had a slide projector, so he just clicked back and forth as quickly as he could from a slide of himself to one with "Not a racist" written on it.
In 1986, evangelist Rev. Jim Brown of Ironton, Ohio convinced his flock that the theme song to Mr. Ed contained Satanic messages backmasked into it. Dr Demento obligingly broadcast the theme both forward and backward for listeners to make up their own minds. He couldn't help but comment, though, "I suppose if you listen to the word 'horse' backwards enough times — or if you happen to be a back end of a horse — you could start hearing something sinister if you really wanted to."
The BBC topical panel quiz Have I Got News for You briefly flashed up "VOTE CONSERVATIVE" just before an election. There were complaints.
Leading them to briefly flash up "HUMOURLESS BASTARDS" the following week.
It should be noted that the complaints were probably more about violating the requirement that public broadcasters in the UK stay politically neutral close to the election rather than any subliminal issues. Have I Got News for You has gotten in trouble over this multiple times.
The subliminal popcorn ad discussed in the Snopes link at the top of the page was satirized in the MST3K episode Timechasers when a character's face is flashed on screen very quickly during a time travel sequence:
Servo: "Is this that subliminal advertising you hear about?"
Crow: "I dunno but suddenly I'm hungry for a guy with glasses."
Parodied in A Bit of Fry and Laurie where a woman is suing a rockstar for backmasking, the rockstar then sings a song called 'Drop All Charges.' (She does drop the charges.)
She also asks the judge for "permission to get out of his face" — part of the lyrics to the 'Drop All Charges' song.
It also stretches the definition of backmasking; her lawyer explains that while "come on baby, set yourself on fire!" might seem like an innocent pop lyric, if you play it backwards it says "ryif no flesroy tes". And if you play that backwards it says "set yourself on fire". So she did.
In an episode of CHiPs a subliminal message was inserted by a band's agent without their knowledge, found by playing the album backwards at 66.6 RPM.
The story writing for the historic Icelandic tome "Njorl's Saga" gets picked up halfway through by the North Malden Icelandic Saga Society. After momentarily lapsing into a P.R. film for business investment in North Malden, an action scene unfolds with "INVEST IN MALDEN" occasionally flashing on the screen (along with knights carrying signs shilling for Malden.)
And in another sketch, where someone is undergoing persuasion to quit the Masons, we see what he's seeing as a voice-over asks "do you want to stop being a Mason?". The image he's looking at is repeatedly replaced for brief intervals with an image of a naked woman alongside a large "YES". When the sequence is over, he of course answers "no".
Episode "Blood" implied that those people compelled to kill were sent subliminal messages, though it's possible they had just hallucinated them because of the drugs that were used in the community.
Episode "Wetwired" dealt with subliminal messaging on cable television driving people to murder. Mulder finds that he is immune to this subliminal messaging because he is red/green colorblind, and the messaging is heavily reliant on that. Scully, on the other hand, is temporarily brainwashed, convinced that Mulder is one of the men who abducted her and has been lying to her from the beginning. This almost ends tragically as she pulls a gun on him in her mother's home. Scully insists that Mulder never trusted her, and Mulder replies with "You are the only one I trust." The episode is disturbing, since it is about the furthest extreme that Mulder and Scully stray from The Power Of Trust in the entire series. That's how powerful Subliminal Seduction is.
In one episode, the gang have a lorry of empty crates, which they're selling as crates of smuggled cigarettes. One of the crates really contains cigarettes, and has a distinctive logo on it. Apparently, arranging things so that The Mark continually sees this logo out of the corner of his eye while driving to the meeting subliminally conditions him to choose that crate to check.
In another episode they use a variation on this. Across a period of time, the crew basically stalk the mark while using items (such as coffee cups, newspapers and so on) plastered with a logo for a fake venture they want him to take interest in. When combined with some overheard conversations it works remarkably well.
An episode of Saved by the Bell featured one teacher giving the students a lesson on subliminal messaging by playing music for a week with a hidden message for her students to bring her flowers and treats. Naturally, Zack uses this tactic to try to get Kelly to invite him to the upcoming "girls ask out guys" dance. It works... for a while.
Mr. Show parodied the Judas Priest case in the episode "The Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost", where Heavy Metal band Titannica are sued by a fan who attempts suicide after listening to their song "Try Suicide", so they respond by recording "Adam's Song (Try Again)", urging him to try again.
In the more recent series of Mission: Impossible, the team get the villains to hire one of them posing as a nightclub singer by leaving subliminal messages in her backing music.
The Mythbusters once tested a subliminal mind control device, it worked about as well as the bicycle helmet with a crystal screwed in.
Touch nose. Touch nooossssseeee. Don't make me go in there. Touch nose.
Judas Priest were sued over two teenage suicides claimed to be provoked by backwards messages in their music. The claim was shredded in court. After the trial, frontman Rob Halford pointed out the logical fallacy in many of the prevalent backmasking claims — if you put subliminal messages in music telling your fans to kill themselves, then nobody will buy your music, because your fans are all dead. It would be more productive to put in messages saying things like "buy more records."
A number of artists have made songs with intentional backmasking, to poke fun at the phenomenon and/or cheese off Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs:
The Mindless Self Indulgence song Backmask is a blatant poke at subliminal messages. When played forwards, the lyrics tell the listener to "go kill yourself", "don't forget the guns - you're gonna need 'em to destroy", et cetera; played backwards, a large section consists of a pleasant female voice telling the listener to be a good person, e.g. "Don't stay out too late", "Get dressed for church".
The intro to Electric Light Orchestra's "Fire On High" contains the ominous-sounding backwards message "The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!"]] They later released an entire album, Secret Messages, parodying the practice and the associated hype. It's said that when the band first heard allegations that their music contained "satanic" backmasking, "skcolloB" was one of the politer responses.
On Pink Floyd's album The Wall, the song "Empty Spaces" contains the amusingly self-referential if kind of hard to make out since it's so buried in the mix backwards message
Roger Waters: "Congratulations, hunters, you've just discovered the secret message! Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont..."
James Guthrienote One of the album's producers: *interrupts* "Roger, Carolyne note Roger's then-wife is on the phone."
Roger Waters: "Okay".
In the context of the album, it's a bit of Foreshadowing about Pink's mental breakdown. Also, one incredibly detailed analysis of the album points out that Waters abandoning the message to pick up the phone reinforces the entire album's theme about the importance of communication.
On his solo album Amused To Death, Waters includes a backwards message as a Take That to Stanley Kubrick who wouldn't let him use a sample from 2001.
"Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Nature Trail to Hell" contains the backwards message "Satan eats Cheez-Whiz!" His song "I Remember Larry" has the backwards message "Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands." "Bite Me", Which is probably the weirdest example ever. If you slow it down 800% (300% in Sound Recorder), it has a segment of a different song in it.
"Detour Through Your Mind" by the B-52s contains the backwards message "I buried my parakeet in the backyard. Oh no, you're playing the record backwards! Watch out, you might ruin your needle."
Iron Maiden's album Piece of Mind contains, between the songs "The Trooper" and "Still Life", a backwards recording of Nicko McBrain doing his impression of Idi Amin Dada: "What ho, said the thing with the three bonce, don't meddle with things you don't understand." The band put this in the album on purpose to Troll the Moral Guardians who accused them of being Satanists because of "The Number of the Beast".
The Bedroom Philosopher placed a slowed-down, whispered backwards message on the song "I'm So Postmodern", targeted at soap actor Shane Porteous: "Shane Porteous, buy a smock". Then the last line of the song is "I'm so postmodern I prerecorded this song, and laced a message subliminally telling Shane Porteous to buy a smock". On the CD, this is followed by the song played backwards rapidly, so you can see for yourself.
The Aquabats!' song "Why Rock", a parody of the metal style associated with this trope (and claimed to be a cover of a band called Leather Pyrate) contains the backwards message "It's worth it to graduate; your parents have the right idea. Brush your teeth."
The song "Echo Side" by Dark Lotus (a Psychopathic Records supergroup featuring members of Insane Clown Posse (who were already the target of Moral Guardians and proud of it) and Twiztid) features a backmasked message which when reversed is actually an anti-Satanic message: Fuck the devil, fuck that shit, we believe in life legit. If you hearin' what we say, why you throw your soul away?.
Subverted in the Oingo Boingo song "Cry of the Vatos" which features drums, screaming, and full-volume backmasked lyrics... which when played in reverse, say things like "Accept Jesus into your heart and you will be saved. You will receive everlasting life."
The song "Heavy Metal Poisoning" from Styx's message-heavy 1983 album Kilroy Was Here includes a heavily-distorted voice reciting the Latin slogans from the dollar bill. And if that weren't enough, the second side of the album begins with a short clip of reversed speech all by itself.
They Might Be Giants do this all the time, most noticeably in the song simply called "Subliminal". If you play "On Earth, My Nina" backwards, you'll actually hear "Thunderbird", another song of theirs. They Might Be Giants being They Might Be Giants, they released the "reversed" song half a decade before the forwards one. The demo version of "Which Describes How You're Feeling" has a bridge that, when played backwards, gives the message "They Might Be Giants wanted to include a verse about the suffering people in the world, but we couldn't figure out where to put it into the song". And "Hide Away Folk Family" ends with fake back-masking: It's actually just John Flansburgh singing a string of backwards-sounding nonsense. They do a double reverse in the song "Dinner Bell". They take a string of spoken parts of the body (ex. shoulder, bicep, elbow, arm), reverse the line, sing what they heard of the reversed line, and then reverse the reversed lines that they sung, and put those lines into the song. It's a cool effect.
"P5hng Me A*wy", a song from Linkin Park's remix album Reanimation, contains a backmasked section which is simply one of the song's verses.
Inverted with Linkin Park's "Announcement Service Public." YOU SHOULD BRUSH YOUR TEETH! AND! YOU SHOULD WASH YOUR FACE!
"The Poet And The Pendulum," the first track on Nightwish's Dark Passion Play, opens with backmasked verses from the end of the song.
Soundgarden attempted to cash in on this satanic messages thing on the song 665, but a bout of dyslexia lead them to leave a message to Santa.
"Please Don't Release This Song", Mitch Benn's parody of "new" Beatles songs "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" on the album Too Late To Cancel, ends with a backmasked section that turns out to actually be the chorus of "We Haven't Got A Clue", the first song on the album.
The Franz Ferdinand song Michael has "She worries about you, call your mother" backmasked into it.
"Subliminal" by Floetry includes a backmasked line at the end to add to the song's flavor. Turns out Natalie's saying, "Do you feel clever? No, forget what everyone else has to say. Do you feel clever?" the same line that opens the song.
Brazilian rock band Engenheiros do Hawaii did this in their song "Ilusão de Ótica" ("Auditive Illusion"note This actually is a Pun-Based Title that only makes sense in Portuguese, with the phrase "ilusão de óptica" (optical illusion)) from their 1990 album O Papa é Pop (The Pope Is Pop). At a certain point in the song, when the record is played backwards, the vocalist Humberto Gessinger says, "Por que é que cê tá ouvindo isto ao contrário? O que é que cê tá procurando? Hein?" ("Why are you hearing this backwards? What are you looking for? Huh?").
The song also contains more backmasked messages, like "Jesus salva, salve as baleias, leia livros" ("Jesus saves, save the whales, read books") and "safe sex, relax".
Even Christian Rock band Petra got in on this. After being falsely accused of planting real backmasked Satanic messages in their songs (this was the early '80s), they deliberately placed a conspicuous backwards message in the space between two songs on their 1981 album Never Say Die: The message? "What are you looking for the Devil for,when you oughtta be looking for the Lord?" Later they openly lambasted the critics with their song "Witch Hunt", which contained, in the bridge, backwards versions of spoken lines that also appeared forwards in the same song.
The infamously "pornographic" song "Darling Nikki" by Prince has a backward-masked sequence that, when played forwards, says "Hello, how are you? I'm fine, 'cause I know the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon."
"Sucker" by Self ends in an Affectionate Parody of this: It has a backmasked sequence that sounds identical to the one in "Darling Nikki", but changes the message to "Hello, how are you? I'm fine, 'cause I know that breakfast is coming soon" (It's from an album called Breakfast With Girls, and the next song on the album is the title track).
What you have to remember though, is that some of them are only perceived reversed messages (e.g., the alleged "Yes, I'm Alive" message in one of 2Pac's songs).
Apparently The Beatles did this for a while. Long story short it resulted in a lot of people thinking Paul was dead. Blame the drugs.
It also allegedly resulted in Sharon Tate's death, but let's not get into that...
Parodied here, revealing the hidden meanings behind Daft Punk 's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
The outtro of Information Society's cover of Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?" has the backmasked message "Obey your parents. Do your homework. Winners don't do drugs." At first I thought it was the voice of the broken-down robot, with the mechanical noise in the background.
In Trip Theory's "Times Up(The Bomb Remix)", there's a timestretched and backmasked(?) vocal sample in the transition to the third break. Can't find a transcription of it.
The end of the title track of the first Overkill album, on original pressings, has the message "There's no message here, you're going to ruin your needle, asshole!"
Semi-similarly, the end of Vicious Rumors' album "Digital Dictator" contains a very obvious backwards message which reverses to play "Be nice to your mom and dad. Don't abuse. Don't blow your brains out on drugs. Rock your brains out. By the way, you're ruining your needle."
Caparezza included a backmasked message in one of the tracks of his latest CD. You can read more about it here (in Italian). The message means more or less: "I know how religion makes slaves out of you... but darkness will make its light". One of the album tracks (not the one where the message is) indeed talks about conspiracies and secrets.
They mentioned backmasking in "So Far, So Bad". The song describes the band's fictional Magnum Opus (which we'll never hear because The Man is suppressing it), and among its other features, "If you ever tried to play it backwards, it told the kids to stay in school."
FIF also used backmasking themselves to hide nonsensical messages. On Quantity is Job 1, the space between "Riot Gear" and "The Untimely Death of Brad" includes Reese saying "Brad is dead. Let's kill Brad." On The End is Here, "That's How the Story Ends" starts with Reese saying "Sandwiches make the best friends."
"The Smell" from their first album also has a backmasked voice at the beginning and end.
The song "Defy the Ailments" by The Faint, from their album Media, contains a message that says "Think [unintelligible]'ll talk backwards... Sometimes I amaze myself."
The Fiery Furnaces like using reversed vocals as a studio trick, but there's really only one time they've hidden any lyrics this way. The single version of "Tropical Iceland" adds a fifth verse where the first and last lines are reversed. Playing the song backwards reveals that the full contents of that verse are:
And if you ever need some hash or weed
You won't be gettin' it here
Just take off into the bumpy sea
Go to Denmark, man, oh it's so near
The Bloodhound Gang's "Lift Your Head Up High (And Blow Your Brains Out)" references the Judas Priest controversy with the lines "Rewind and let me reverse / Backwards like Judas Priest first did" followed by a bit of deep backwards speech. The message is "Devil child, wake up and eat Chef Boyardee Beefaroni"
"What Can't Be Seen" by Everything Else features the first verse played backwards during the solo.
Missy Elliot's 'Work It' did this, too, obviously only for artistic effect. In the chorus, it goes "I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it", and then the next line is that line reversed.
There's also another line in the song that goes, "Watch the way Missy like to take it backwards!".
I want to play a game. Search the alternative ends for your U.S.C.H, and the prize will be yours. Let the hunt begin.
Played straight in "Kirosana": (translated from Finnish) "Let us rape this hellish heaven on earth. There's a meaning of life for you."
According to Blue Stahli himself, his music contains messages telling you to do inappropriate things with cowboy hats.
Bloodrock was one of the first to poke fun at the concept; in "Gotta Find A Way" a backwards message has one of the band members saying "Anyone who is stupid enough to play this record backwards deserves what he is about to hear", followed by a quote from Jabberwocky.
At the end of the Incubus track "Azwethinkweiz" is a backwards message that can be reversed to play, "Thursday night we smoked indica, and Azwethinkweizm was BORN!"
A Bloom County strip once featured a random media watchdog badgering Milo to listen to a Billy Joel song backwards to discover its hidden "evil message." Milo does so, and promptly recounts the message, "No matter how thin you slice it, it's still baloney." ("A Satanic riddle!!")
In another strip, when the local rock band's DeathTongue's latest record is played backwards, the message urges the listener to attend church and tithe.
"Devilbunnies! I snort the nose, Lucifer! Banana, banana!"
One Zits arc had Jeremy purchasing a subliminal seduction tape to use on his girlfriend Sara. It of course doesn't work, but Sara, having been tipped off to the scheme by Hector, plays along in order to watch Jeremy squirm.
Parodied in a FoxTrot strip: Jason plants 'BUY ME' messages into flipbooks he's selling for $20 each. Paige and Peter fall for them (Peter even pays TWICE for his flipbook).
Another time Jason put a subliminal message into a magic eye pattern. He got his father to give him money.
Nina Paley, creator of Fluff, wrote a comic strip for the University of Illinois student paper while in college. Arriving at a heavy metal concert, the main characters are confronted by a picket-line of protesting Satanists, up in arms over the band's rumored use of backmasked messages that advocate going to church on Sundays.
One Sherman's Lagoon strip features a character trying to convince Sherman to believe the Paul Is Dead conspiracy, and he points to a backwards message in a Beatles song as evidence. "It sounds like a recipe for cranberry sauce." "Maybe it's the sauce that killed Paul!"
Parodied in a "Smashie and Nicey" sketch by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. The two DJs are playing a record that has been accused of having backwards messages:
Nicey: "We've played this record backwards, forwards and sideways and can't find any satanic messages." [They play the record] Voice: "Kill yourself. Worship Satan. Take drugs." Smashie: "Maybe you should play it at the right speed, mate."
Parodied in a Bob & Ray skit as far back as 1960: An enterprising ad man thinks hard into the microphone while the B&R show is on the air and asks listeners to call in if they received any messages. One guy does call in to say that he's getting a message to come for dinner... which turns out to be from his very impatient wife.
In Mage: The Awakening, one of the Free Council grimoires is a metal album that implants knowledge of a few rotes, along with a spell that causes the subject to defy authority.
They change that one every show — another time it was "George Bush is a genius!". In the book of the official script, the line is written as "Judas Priest is God!"
Their radio show asserts that subliminal food messages can be found in Hamlet, demonstrating by playing a recording of the "rogue and peasant slave" speech backwards to reveal the hidden message, "Mmmm... creamy and delicious!" Later, a disclaimer saying that the BBC in no way condones worship of Satan is interrupted by an unreversed message giving orders from the Dark Lord.
The theme songs to Kingdom Hearts and its sequel are both supposed to have backwards messages, but only the second song, "Sanctuary", does it intentionally. The lyrics say "I need more affection than you know, I need true emotions, I need more affection than you know, so many ups and downs." The reference, at least, to "true emotions" probably refers to the antagonists of the game.
Notably, the forward line, "My heart's a battleground," when played backward is "I hate emotion," demonstrating the internal conflict with "I need true emotions."
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind created its growling sounds for its fictional creatures by backmasking a cat yowling. Also, in the game's data files, there's a sound not used in the game, called "funny.wav." Played forwards, it's just the game's normal "Critical Damage" sound, but played backwards, you get "Sam has no pit hair."
Play the demonic gurgles made by the final boss of Doom II backwards and you'll hear "To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero." The part of the boss that must be hit to kill it is John's head on a stake as can be seen with the no clipping cheat.
This was also done in the Id/Ravensoft collaboration Heretic; the vocalisations of the Disciples of D'Sparil, and of D'Sparil himself, are all reversed English phrases such as "Destroy the Heretic".
In the video game Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Dahaka of Time occasionally yells backmasked phrases at you while chasing you. If you use the game's built-in "reverse time" feature during these phrases, you can actually hear what he's saying.
WarioWare Touched! is famous for containing a (supposed) subliminal message. Selecting gothic character Ashley's theme in the jukebox and running the record faster than normal distorts the words, which supposedly forms phrases like "I have granted kids to hell" and "I work in a kitchen". Both are probably coincidence. A backwards message video for Ashley's theme he saw that interpreted one part as "Ear! Shut up!"
The Nightmares in the Milkman Conspiracy level in Psychonauts sometimes shout things that sound like gibberish while you're battling them. In reality, they're actually saying things like "Death, I'll get you" backwards, possibly to play with the whole conspiracy theme of the level. (The Nightmares that appear in other minds Like Milla's speak normally)
Halo: The music tracks "Mausoleum Suite", "Dread Intrusion", "Black Tower", and "Gravemind" all contain backmasked speech: http://halo.wikia.com/wiki/Reversed_Messages. Not all of the speech is decipherable, though. eg. in the third part of Mausoleum Suite, the voices are just backmasked gibberish.
This is also how they got the Elite language in the first game (which is pretty much the only appearance of said language before the humans developed Translator Microbes). The Elites' phrases are Johnson's phrases played backwards. For example, the famous "Wort wort wort" said by the Elites is "Go go go" played backwards and a couple octaves lower in pitch.
The music heard at the entrance to the control center on The Great Journey is a reversed version of "High Charity".
Diablo contains the satanic message (at least in the game files): Eat your vegetables, and brush after every meal. (backwards, of course)
The irritating squawk made by the Doozers from Creatures 2 turns into a crowd shouting "HELL NO WE WON'T GO!" when played backwards and slowed down. The voices are employees from Creatures Labs.
Fiddle around on the menu screen of Manhunt after beating it on the hardest difficulty and a voice says something backwards. Turned around, the voice says, "Daddy didn't see what would happen if she left me. Mommy would've cared, but she was never there." Then the voice recites a series of buttons. Input that sequence in reverse and you get God Mode.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has you playing certain songs backwards to do different things (the Song of Time Reversed slows down the progression of time by half; and the Double Song of Time pushed half of a day forward in time). The CreepypastaBen Drowned features a reversed Song of Healing nicknamed the "Song of Unhealing".
In Deus Ex, in the VersaLife offices on the Hong Kong level, over the programmers heads are screens that repeatedly flash single words in black and white, such as, "OBEY", "TRUST", and "LOYALTY."
In Mass Effect 1, the battle theme for the first battle against Saren whispers the words "listen to Sovereign" while you are fighting.
Subliminal communications (including infrasound and other, more discreet methods) are among the tools the Reapers use to Indoctrinate individuals, often without the victims being consciously aware until it's far too late. (As the example above indicates, they're not above using soundtracks, either.) It's implied that the Foghorn from Hell sound they emit while attacking is also intended to subliminally influence people, although it causes terror and panic rather than obedience.
In the Atari Lynx version of Rampage, one of the gag newspaper headlines shown at the start of the level read "There are no (Buy a Lynx) subliminal messages (Or two) in this game (Buy a Lynx)."
In Leisure Suit Larry 5, the Des Rever Records corporation places literally seductive backmasked messages in their recordings, which you can actually hear in-game if you play the golden record in their headquarters backwards.
The Neverhood soundtrack has a song called "Sound Effects Record #33", in which the first sound effect is "Man Facing Backwards in the Shower Whilst Singing". The sound is just a man singing Kumbaya in a shower.
Batman: Arkham City contains a very easy-to-miss example. If you get Catwoman's Non-Standard Game Over by leaving Batman to die, the credits play for a couple of minutes before the game itself rewinds back to before you made the choice. Just before the rewind stops, you can hear high-pitched backmasked speech; reversing it and slowing it down reveals the Joker saying "Thanks for the entertainment, Bats!"
There's a longstanding rumor about an arcade game called Polybius, which variously mention the high scores being monitored by The Men in Black, as well as players suffering night terrors and suicidal thoughts. The only existing ROMs and cabinets seem to be inspired by the legend, though.
Play as a Malkavian in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and use the Dementia skill in dialogue and soft whispers can be heard telling you hidden plot points. i.e. the boardwalk slasher can be spoken to in the Surf Diner, appearing as an unassuming man, but refuses to talk to you even after using the skill, and the whispers tell you vaguely that he is the boardwalk slasher.
Rule of Rose, a survival horror game, also has an example of this with the imps that whisper a muffled message throughout the game. When their sounds are played backwards, it is revealed that they are saying "A Bright Red Crayon Just For You!"
Mortal Kombat: Deception has a few backwards-talking characters in Konquest Mode. Along with containing a few in-jokes and the obligatory "Why are you decoding this?" line, one of the backwards lines hilariously subverts the whole sinister agenda thing you see with backwards message all the time with "Drink milk. Get plenty of sleep. Listen to your parents. Do your homework."
In Minecraft, the noises made by calm Endermen consist of "here", "hiya", "what's up?", "this way!", "forever!" and "uh oh!" played backwards, sometimes with the pitch changed.
On Alpha Earth, the Betty Crocker company seems to have putOBEYsubliminal messaging in everything with the brand name - and considering it'sCEASE REPRODUCTIONa multi-global corporation, it's got a lot of merchandise.
This is part of the schtick of The Felt's album, what with the characters this album is based on having forms of time manipulation powers and all. Reversed versions of each song can be found here. Exemplified with the palindromic "English", and taken to its logical conclusion with "Rhapsody in Green" (where reversing the track reveals the actual song).
In an early College Roomies from Hell!!! arc, Dave embedded a subliminal message in his shirt in a failed attempt to get Margaret to like him.
Hamster NOM, an online game, forces players who play it to become addicted to it. Then the programmer who made it hacks the game and starts a zombie apocalypse to get back at the company that stole the code from him. Fortunately, only animals are zombie-fied. Unfortunately, the main cast has a whole host of animals in their house, and they're ALL playing Hamster NOM.
An early arc of S.S.D.D had Norman first attempt to embed a subliminal message to spread anarchy and chaos in a webcomic, which didn't work too well. So he tried to put it in a TV ad, but Kingston accidentally swapped the tape with the message with one of Richard and Anne's sex tapes so all the ad did was give people boners.
Little Kuriboh throws in a message in Yugioh: The Abridged Movie. During Yugi's "thinly veiled foreshadowing" dream, where Yami and Kaiba duel, Yami loses, and Kaiba is attacked by a gibberish-spouting Anubis, the gibberish, played backwards... "Watch Naruto The Abridged Series!"
In the Clip Show episode, Rebecca's teddy bear also spouts a backwards message. It says "You have too much time on your hands"
Yahtzee does this a lot though, half his episodes have 'blink-and-you-miss-it' frames saying something or other.
The specific image in the 50 Cent game review is of Yahtzee with his arm around a black guy, with the message "not racist." pointing at Yahtzee with an arrow.
In an early story arc of S.S.D.D Norman tried to make a commercial with a subliminal message to go on an anarchic rampage, but Kingston accidentally replaced the tape with the message being spliced into the commercial with Richard and Anne's homemade porno so all it did was give viewers a boner.
Derren Brown uses this is many of his routines. The audience thinks they're choosing things at random, and he's been influencing them by seemingly-random phrases throughout the routine. Naturally, some people don't believe it, and there's usually a controversy. The man tried to use what was ostensibly a personal development course to make people rob an armoured car with a toy gun. It worked for most of the candidates.
In "Trick Or Treat", he offers a young woman £500 if she doesn't kill a kitten in a glass box. Not only is there a Big Red Button which will kill the kitten, but he tries to regress her to a more childlike state where she will be more susceptible. And slapping the coffee table he's sitting next to, in a motion much like that of pressing the button, which is on a similar table. And clicking his pen rapidly. And making a clicking noise when he leaves the room.
A lot of Doctor Steel's videos will have momentary words flashed on the screen such as "Dr. Steel Loves You." The multimedia displays during his stage shows also contained such subliminal messages.
Vete A La Versh. A parody of Ocarina of Time has a sign that says "Obligatory Subliminal Message. Errm......Sex."
RFC 1097, an April fool's RFC from 1989, gives us the TELNET SUBLIMINAL-MESSAGE option.
In an episode of The Brak Show, Thundercleese sings "The Robotic Hymn of Doom". Played backwards, the lyrics are "Why are you listening to this song backwards? You could have been on a date with a girl."
The G.I. Joe episode "Sins of Our Fathers" featured villainous character Destro performing a strange chant to lure away a monster. When played backwards, it is clear that the chant is just Destro's voice actor saying "Anybody listening to this backwards for a secret occult message is a real dweeb."
Another G.I. Joe episode featured Cobra Commander hiding a secret message in a small town's 6:00 news report, by putting one frame of his message into every 20th frame of the news report.
In an episode of Justice League Unlimited, the balance is disrupted by a bad guy taking over Hell, causing all the League's magic-users to start writhing in pain. Zatanna, who always speaks her spells backwards, says this if the episode is played in reverse: "All is lost. Faust sits on the throne of hell."
Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons which focuses on Bart joining a boy band that gets caught up in the US Navy's evil scheme to corrupt the minds of the youth into supporting and joining the Navy through subliminal messages in the band's lyrics ("Yvan eht nioj! Yvan eht nioj!" - not really the message played backwards, but the message written backwards and the result sung phonetically). Upon being confronted with this, the officer in charge explains that it's part of a three-pronged approach to increase enlistment, with the prongs being subliminal, liminal and superliminal messages — with superliminal messages essentially boiling down to him shouting "Hey you! Join the Navy!" out of his office window at people passing by.
Also on The Simpsons, Paul McCartney claims that playing his song "Maybe I'm Amazed" backwards reveals a "really ripping" lentil soup recipe. The song itself plays at the end of the episode; a version that indeed has a lentil soup recipe backward-masked into it (and it's not bad.) "Oh, and by the way, I'm not dead."
Also parodied in one of the blackboard segments in the titles: "I will not plant subliminal messagores.
And then there was Homer's ad for Marge's political party, which featured several really, really obvious appearances of "NO ON 232". Homer being...well, Homer, Marge's party needed a YES on 232, a NO on 242.
A literal example of subliminal seduction comes with Artie Ziff's snore-sound converter, in the form of a message aimed at Marge, urging her to leave Homer for Artie. It fails when he sings out "I'm watching you through a camera!"
In the middle of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Eurythmics.
At the end of one Rex The Runt short, a picture of some bizarre looking burger is shown that you have to freeze frame to catch. There is no reason for this other than the show just being weird as usual.
On a similar note, in "Adventures on Telly, Part III" the dogs (riding the deflated Earth) zoom past an asteroid with a sign. Bad Bob claims the sign reads "You are now entering a black hole, please drive carefully", while Wendy says it is "Dogs must be kept on a leash." You have to freeze frame to see what it really says. "Neither of those two"
In Family Guy the tobacco executive responsible attempted to do so in real time, but so obviously as to be impossible to miss.
Are you smoking yet?
Disney's Doug: During an investigative-journalism trip to the makers of Nic-Nacs (a product that's meant to parallel tobacco products), Doug is shown an "informative" film laced with these. Of course, they're just long enough to be noticed and read by the real-life audience.
In an episode of Recess, the protagonists try to get other kids to start accidentally calling their teachers "mama" and "daddy" to stave off the infamyfrom Spinelli doing it. Gretchen's method involves a tape of "Mama. Daddy. Mama. Daddy." being played at ultra-high speed over the PA system. It doesn't work. (Correctly.)
During Orel's climactic near-death experience in Moral Orel, he says "I don't need a building to tell me that. I'm a church!" backwards. This was the point of his vision, but his father forces Orel to reject the message.
Intentionally done in an episode of Invader Zim, due to Executive Meddling a shot of GiR covered in blood was removed. This has led to Johnen Vasquez inserting the image of Bloody GiR in random shots for a quick second.
When Dave the Barbarian and his family form a rock group, Chuckles uses this to turn their listeners into a zombie army.
Clone High has JFK fall through the roof of the school and begin gurgling on the ground. The bump before the commercial is played backwards. When the whole scene is played backwards, the gurgling Kennedy urges the audience to nominate Clone High for an Emmy.
Also, the original ending credits sequence for the show had a backwards message near the end, which turns out to be creator Maxwell Atoms saying "No, no, this is the end of the show. You're watching it backwards!"
In the middle of the BLAM-ish hallucination sequence in Beavis And Butthead Do America, Beavis briefly starts talking backwards. When reversed, it turns out he's actually saying "I recommend that everyone go to college and study hard".
Parodied (of course) on an episode of South Park, where it's revealed that all Broadway musicals use this to get women to give men blowjobs. In practice, it's just the actors inserting the word "blowjob" into every other line.
An episode of Danny Phantom revolves around an instrumental written by Ember McLain that, when played backwards, contains the message "Leave your kids. Come to the cruise" and is used in a mind control plot.
Apparently, Amon in The Legend of Korra is hiding a rather interesting phrase in his Revelation speech. Subliminal messages tie in perfectly with his character.
The Alf cartoon caused a minor stink when a single frame containing no less than three American symbols (the American flag, the Statue of Liberty, and text reading "America") was found slipped into one episode during a space battle. The animators apparently put the frame in as a gag and had no idea it would be seen as a subliminal message.
Although Gravity Falls has been known for slipping in secret messages here and there (mostly involving the potential abnormality of Grunkle Stan), the speech of one of the Flavor Pups in Mabel's Smile Dip hallucination in "The Inconveniencing" (implied as being either gibberish, or German), sounds like he's saying "Must distrust Grunkle." (or "Must destroy Grunkle.") when played backwards.
The issue was brought up directly in the episode "Boyz Crazy", where Robbie finds a song on a CD that, when played backwards, can hypnotize girls. He uses it on Wendy and she breaks up with him when she finds out.