BACKMASKING

Posted in Rants on February 7th, 2012 by Ed

One of the first times I clearly remember thinking that the entire world is run by crazy people was during the early 1980s moral panic about "satanic backmasking" in heavy metal music. Various religious groups and self-appointed moral guardians accused groups that were popular at the time such as Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin of hiding secret satanic messages in their songs, messages that would be revealed if the tracks were played backwards. Even at the age of six I understood that this was beyond ridiculous, and I began reconsidering my previous assumptions about the intellectual competence of grown-ups.

To be fair, backmasking is a technique that appears on a number of popular recordings since it was popularized in the Sixties by the Beatles. The problem is that the human brain is good at pattern recognition (it can find things that sound like words from a bunch of random noises) and it's even better at hearing what it wants to hear. If you're convinced that a backward Def Leppard song contains satanic messages, then lo and behold you're going to find some. So we destroy the line between actual backmasking done intentionally by artists and the figments of Jerry Falwell's imagination.

Many of you might not remember this wave of hysteria (complete with high-profile trials against bands accused of inspiring listeners to do horrible things with hidden satanic messages) but you see something very similar today in politics: the insistence that everything is secretly brainwashing people with the hidden liberal/gay/feminist/etc agenda. Remember when Tinky-Winky the Teletubby was secretly pushing the gay agenda? Or when the Muppets were secretly pushing a radical anti-oil agenda? Just two of many examples of creeping liberal brainwashing in action.

As soon as I heard about the Chrysler Super Bowl ad ("Halftime" starring Clint Eastwood) in the weeks leading up to the game, I was pretty sure that it would ignite a shitstorm of ridiculous accusations from conservatves about…something. It wasn't clear what or how, but somehow this commercial was going to be secret liberal propaganda. Sure, it stars lifelong Republican Clint Eastwood pitching cars for a quintessential Old Money megacorporation. That doesn't matter though. It's, you know, a secret Obama ad or something.

And of course that is exactly what has happened. The right's leading intellectual lights are lining up to accuse the ad – which was a parade of Chrysler vehicles under generic "America is awesome and will rise again!" sentimentality and stirring pictures/music/narration – of everything from being an Obama campaign ad to some sort of corrupt bargain with Chrysler executives who need to get Obama re-elected in exchange for the bailout money they received (from George W. Bush). I know that doesn't make sense to you or me, but that is because we are not paranoid wingnuts.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a song just a song, and a commercial for cars just a commercial for cars. Conservatives' wild imaginations ensure that nothing is really what it seems anymore. You can't see the subtle messages, but their trained eyes can detect the liberal agenda everywhere and they're eager to explain to the rest of us that essentially everything except Fox News, John Wayne movies, and old video clips of Ronald Reagan is thinly disguised left wing propaganda.