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  • The Mass Media’s Illusion of Reality
  • Wilson Bryan Key (bio)

Key, Wilson Bryan. 1974. The mass media’s illusion of reality. In Subliminal Seduction. New York: Signet, 1–10. Text and illustration reprinted with the permission of the author.

Subliminal perception is a subject that virtually no one wants to believe exists, and — if it does exist — they much less believe that it has any practical application.

Doubtless, it would be far more comfortable to simply ignore what is going on. After all, most North Americans benefit from what is probably the fattest nation on earth, blessed with riches beyond the wildest fantasies of the Pharaohs, the Ceasars, or the Khans of ancient China. But — perhaps mainly because Americans are overfed, overweight, and overindulged in a world where many people go to bed hungry each night — they should know clearly what has been done to them subliminally, regardless of the pain or discomfort that may result. North Americans, perhaps not uniquely, find it quite difficult to be self-critical, especially when the criticism is directed at their standard of living and life-style, the so-called American way of life.

This story is about subliminal perception and about the ways we think we think. In the concept of subliminal phenomena are included all those techniques now known to the mass media by which tens of millions of humans are daily massaged and manipulated without their conscious awareness.

Every person reading this book has been victimized and manipulated by the use of subliminal stimuli directed into his unconscious mind by the mass merchandisers of media. The techniques are in widespread use by media, advertising and public relations agencies, industrial and commercial corporations, and by the Federal government itself.

The secret has been well kept. The average citizen, as well as most social and behavioral scientists, simply do not know what is going on. Further, and most shocking, they appear not to want to know what is going on. Any investigation of the techniques of subconscious communication involves first an investigation into one’s own fantasy systems, self-image’s, illusions, personal vanities, and secret motives. This is an investigation that might make even the toughest of us extremely uncomfortable. The inquiry, the readers will discover for themselves, can make calm, gentle, considerate individuals defensive, outraged, and aggressive.

Ecological Survival

From another view, however, if what we have self-flatteringly called our civilization is to sustain itself beyond another quarter century, it is imperative that we find out in detail what has been happening both to us and to our world at this level of unawareness.

In thirty years the world’s present population will double. In one hundred years it will quadruple. Moreover, no one living in an industrialized society today is more than a few minutes away from the warhead end of a missile armed with a hydrogen bomb or biological warfare agents. The missiles may already be obsolete. Nuclear bombs can now be manufactured by any nation in the world. The technology is still expensive, but very available. These bombs, it is widely known, can be delivered in a suitcase if necessary.

It is fascinating to wonder how long this world — starving and impoverished as it is — will tolerate the incredible self-indulgence which has come to be known as the American way of life. The United States government has indicated a willingness to sacrifice the entire population of the world, if necessary, to sustain this indulgence in the face of future inevitable international crises. Vastly increased numbers of people are a certainty — like the earth’s orbit around the sun — not a theory. Desperate demands for the growing shortage of world resources are already apparent. An average North American during his life-span will consume 54 times more of the world’s resources than will his East Indian counterpart. According to the recent Rockefeller population study, individual American consumption will double its present level within the next quarter century at the present rate of increase.

In a world such as this one, straining from population growth and resource depletion, the ability to differentiate between illusion and reality will soon become even greater a necessity to survival. It...