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.

41 thoughts on “BACKMASKING”

  • So this is political discourse now. Pundits discuss what other pundits said about hidden messages in TV commercials. It's not halftime in America, the game's already lost.

  • John Wayne was such a badass he managed to avoid going to WWII when other actors like Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart were volunteering.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Not sure it is just wingnuts paranoia. Rush invents the most evil things knowing pretty well that he lies. Newt is a cold blooded professional prevaricator who doesn't believe for a minute in the liberal black magic he is attacking.

    Of course, you have the Dobsons, Falwells, Robertsons and many others who are so far from we stand that one cannot tell whether they are crazy or Satan's bosses or both (my choice).

  • Republicans have decided to add the US auto industry to their ever- growing list of Enemies of All that is Good, American and Holy. This should guarantee Michigan and probably also Ohio to the Democrats for a generation

  • (rest of comment was cut off for some reason – Ed, fix your site)

    – that’s 37 electoral votes right there. Can add this to other recent GOP-gifted goodies, like the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the votes of women who aren’t crazy and the votes of all young people under the age of 40. Assuming, of course, that Democrats play their cards right (they won’t).

  • Calling Clint Eastwood a "lifelong Republican" isn't anywhere near accurate. Sure, he voted for Eisenhower and Nixon, but he's not been a Republican cheerleader since then. He's supported various Democratic candidates and is publicly pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage, and a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. I'm not saying he's a leftist – I mean, he did endorse Jowls McCain and doesn't seem to mind Ron Paul* – but painting him with the loony brush doesn't really get the whole Clint Eastwood picture.

    *Why do so many self-professed liberals like Ron Paul?

  • It may actually be worse than that. Contemporary conservatives have been persuaded (may not be the right word) that everything has a political/social message–essentially, that everything is propaganda–and thus, if it is not rightwing propaganda, then it's leftwing propaganda. I.e., if it doesn't have a "pro-family" message, then it's anti-family. The contemporary conservative mind cannot cope with ambiguity, irony, or complexity. Look at their attempts to list "the 50 greatest conservative rock songs", which is always laughable if you actually know what some of those songs are "actually" about. Many young conservatives have to re-interpret pop culture that they like to have a conservative message, no matter how procrustean the interpretation, because they couldn't like it, otherwise. Whereas a pinko lefty like me can greatly enjoy some things (like "The Lord of the Rings") that have blatantly non-left elements (e.g., blatant racism).

    Methinks this has something to do with that authoritarian personality theory some folks are so enamored of . . . ?

  • They are going to rail against the ad because it is spell-breaking–that is, it is a presentation by a charismatic figure who is believable to the right wing base suggesting that Americans still have something in common, that we're all still neighbors and fellow citizens, and that by implication the current administration is actually working for all of us. All of this is of course quite true–but it is not the account one hears daily on hate radio, or from all (ALL!!!!) Republican politicians and candidates. The GOP's success currently depends on an all out, generalized, lie. For it to be accepted, the public cannot be running into credible truth-tellers in unexpected places, such as while watching a big football game. This is why Rove is "offended."

  • Just more shit conservatives accuse liberals of doing of which they are the ones actually doing it. They accused Planned Parenthood of having some switch they flip to activate the 'liberals' who will then force Susan G Komen to send them money. They actually have that conservative switch called the 'think tanks', right-wing radio and Fox. Didn't they run an anti-union ad during the SB? I wish we could use backward-masking to indoctrinate the masses, they just use their propaganda media. My favorite was how they accused all liberals of thinking the same, and how conservatives were the real party of debate and ideas. They all agreed on that position as well.

  • everything has a political/social message–essentially, that everything is propaganda

    That would be because the Koch Borthers are funding the message!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Well, it seems pretty clear that Miss Piggy's crush on Kermit the Frog, was a Liberal plot.

    Pigs should stay with pigs. Frogs, with frogs.
    Because if you can advocate Muppet miscegenation, why not black and white people?

    And don't even get me started on a Vampire Muppet trying to teach math to children. MATH!

    Where was the "Faith" Muppet teaching Jesus to all the little chillen's of the world? Huh?

  • During the "backmasking" hysteria, I was able to acquire most of my Beatles' vinyl collection (from the fiancee of my mother's co-worker, who'd recently been born-again). I wasn't able to stop him from reflexively destroying a signed copy of Hotel California, before I could buy it off of him. (And yeah, he insisted that both my mother and I read a book about backmasking, before I made the purchase.)

    The point is, when others were unable to think for themselves, I benefited.

    My challenge, then, is to figure out how to benefit from the current paranoid right's delusions… [Maybe I can sell stickers, or t-shirts, which say "I stand with Americans, against Obama. That's why I buy Toyota!" or something.]

  • My Sean Hannity secret liberal message decoder ring must have gotten lost in the mail because I didn't hear the secret liberal propaganda message in the commercial.

  • At the time of 'back masking' I just made the simple observation:

    "Little Leroy don't 'git it' when we say it 'frontwards.' How the hell is he gonna get it 'backards'?"

    I think this is 'silly season' as we say in NASCAR when its time for drivers and crew chiefs to find a new team.

    Take heart me Lefites, I think Rove and the gang just might have just 'jumped the shark.'


  • Re: Ron Paul and progressives:

    Stopped clocks. Bush's imperialistic overreach convinced a lot of progressives that they had allies on the isolationist fringe-right. Anti-war = principled humanism, even from paleocons who just don't think the rest of the world is worth it.

    As for antagonizing cops, teachers and Detroit in the interests of plutocrat protectionism: Go on with your bad Social Darwinist selves. You're lending the Democratic party all kinds of populist support it is incapable of garnering on its own.

  • The funny thing is that if you listen to Rush Limbagh backwards he keeps repeating 'Obama is God' over and over.

  • scott (the other one) says:

    I'm a big Obama fan, but when I finally saw the Eastwood ad yesterday…yeah, I thought it sounded like an Obama ad too. I think freaking out about it was a really stupid move on the GOP's part, but I see why it upset them. Clint's a national treasure, one of our greatest artists as well as an icon, and a well known conservative. And it sure sounds like he's lauding Obama for a job well done.

    Also too: Tinky-Wink may not have been pushing the gay agenda, whatever that is, but come on. Dude was totally gay. (So's Spongebob.) Where conservatives are wrong is in thinking that's a bad thing.

  • I believe the term we're looking for is helter stupid (props Negativeland)

    Who was it on here a couple of weeks ago said "A libertarian in just a conservative who occasionally likes to get high."? –loved it, stole it!–

    So who are these pundits? Rove. How old is Rove exactly? Hmmm… yup he'd have been coming of age in the 60s if not the 70s.

    Now let's give this some thought. Are we talking about people who are truly legitimately, have a 'roo loose in the top paddock, crazy? Or could this be the result of getting some really bad acid?

    So perhaps what we're dealing with is not true delusional schizophrenic paranoia, but rather the effects of doing bad drugs in the 70s (my understanding is the drugs in the 70s weren't as high a quality as what you could get in the 60s) So kids, drugs is bad m'kay! It's about the only logical explanation for this behaviour. Whoever thought it would come to where waving an American flag would brand you a commie, pinko, queer!

    This is almost a reprise of your post in "America First". There seems to be such a hatred towards that dark fella (who doesn't seem to get the idea) in the White House (it has the word **white** in it for a reason), that those in power for the Right will commence a scorched earth party of such a magnitude that everyone loses. I've heard of dogs in the manger, but this is crazy. I have a cousin who's as hippy, save the ants as you can get, but is the only one on this side of the family who owns gun as he lives on a farm. Even he says that there's only one solution for feral dogs. Unfortunately, until they either bundle this crop off to the home or bury 'em, we've got to deal with them and their drug affected minds.

    This is what happens when parties play to the single issue voters, and all Gingrich is, is what Ronbo was without the façade.

    @Basilisc: The only reason your prediction won't come true is that all of the relevant demographics will be unable to vote due to the new Jim Crows that have been brought in.

    @#3: Took a look at said list. It more than proves that Americans do **not** understand irony. Surprised Circle Jerks didn't make it with, "When the Shit Hits the Fan". Offspring (twice) and the Sex Pistols. Sex Pistols?? ¿Qué? Yep. Leave rock out of it, it's way too intelligent for you Bippy, stick with your Hillbilly music, at least the allusions to beer, pickups, football, and being left by your girl friend for being a dumbshit won't be lost on you.

  • @acer, only because to many minds the blue shirts are the only other game in town, or at least the only other game the 1% has told us we can play. Any pickup for them is certainly not on their whorish merits as they're clearly the good cop to the GOP's bad cop.

  • Fiddlin' Bill is right: instilling optimism of any kind in an election year is deadly for any hopes of getting Romney et al elected. Furthermore, there is a subtext that probably most Americans will not pick up on, but Republicans are shit-scared they will: that Detroit turnaround is due almost entirely to government bailout and government-mandated restructuring. Without Obama at the helm, Chrysler, GM and probably even Ford are on life support at best.

    And I also agree with others above that this freakout is fucking stupid, on two levels:

    1. They are essentially trashing the ideals of the ad itself, which highlights their idiocy to everyone who isn't a raging wingnut.
    2. They are calling attention to the "subtle message" of the ad, meaning that maybe people who thought it was utterly apolitical will think that maybe it is political…and then think about the policies that lead to the turnaround.

    These people simply cannot help themselves.

  • @ Hazy Davy: Right after Sept. 11, I lost a friend after I refused to put an American flag sticker on my Subaru. He just couldn't see the irony. He was really upset that I refused to "support America" with his sticker (also, I'm pretty sure the sticker had been made in China).

    So anyway, if you do start selling "I stand with Americans, against Obama. That's why I buy Toyota!" stickers, I will happily buy one! I'll put it on my Subaru alongside by Gin and Tacos sticker.

  • E, by not supporting America with that flag sticker, you allowed the Taliban to take over and conquer the US. Good job.

  • Well don't forget people, that Chrysler is co-owned by Fiat. Which is a dirty socialist Italian company. Europe=bad.

  • Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a song just a song, and a commercial for cars just a commercial for cars.

    Sometimes, sure. Like when liberals detect it, you know like how we all were so crazy to see those crosshairs on that Sarah Palin ad when everybody knew they were surveyors marks! Silleeeeez!

  • @E, imo the absolute best ironic image from the post-9/11 flagwaving craze was about a year or two later, when I saw a pickup truck with a "these colors don't run" sticker clearly dating from the immediate aftermath of 9/11. As happens when cheap ink is exposed to sunlight for a long time, all the red had faded completely out of the image. I only wish I'd had a camera with me.

  • @Southern Beale

    Interesting that you brought up the scope reticle in the Palin ad….

    Mr. Bob Beckel, famous TV 'liberal' who was the Mondale Campaign chief in 1984, claims to be the originator of this technique in political ads.


  • I think it was the guys in Judas Priest who said something to the effect of, "If we were going to add subliminal messages to our songs, they would say 'Buy more copies of our records!'"

  • When the Right can't control the message, it's all a "liberal Plot." Fiddling Bill has it right.

    the danger to have any American think for themselves is what really scared Rove. that alone was enough for him to lose it.

    it so much fun to see these Fascists lose it. after all the shit they have done to America, to see any part of their Shtick go awry is just sweet Jesus come home to Mary heaven manna.

    i just hope i get to see their "BS" explode more often. I can dream can't i,? lol.

  • I see two main elements here:

    1) the extreme conservative paranoia. You know, the FEAR of everything NOT conservative. The way they took their kids out of school and "ran for cover" when Obama made a video address to school kids

    2) the projection. Every soundbite coming from conservatives having a "purpose", they feel every one coming from elsewhere else HAS to have a hidden purpose against conservatives.

    Both lead to an overall issue: the constant VICTIMIZATION of conservatives. They see a "war" on every issue they cling on at every turn. It's a social and political hypochondria: "they're going to come for our (insert obsession: money, guns, religion, foetus, etc.).

    When NOT talking about gun control is Obama's powerful strategy to achieve control guns, that's way past being completely delirious! This is padded room and straightjacket material!

  • @ blahedo: I love your "these colors don't run" story! I have a one of my own. About a month after 9/11, I was in Salmon, ID. Someone had erected a giant homemade wooden sign that said, "These colors don't run." Underneath were three colored stripes, blue, white, and red, in a beautiful rendition of the French flag.

    To this day, I don't know if the sign's creator was actually too stupid to realize that other countries may have the same colors, or if they were making fun of their fellow townsfolk, but I laughed until I cried.

    Talk about subliminal messages…

  • Sorry Ed but video of Ronnie Rayguns is out too. How dare those dirty hippies try to destroy his memory by showing him actually saying stuff he said (or did).

  • Ahhh, backmasking. Now there's a blast from the past. What was the secret backwards message in "My Sweet Lord" again? I forget, but I know there were grown-ups playing it backward for me, trying to convince me of the evils of rock music. I was just a kid, but I could tell it was magical jibber jabber. How dumb did they think I was? Apparently, they still do.

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