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Programming the Nation?

Dir: Jeff Warrick

Rating: 1.5/5.0

International Film Circuit

105 Minutes

Programming the Nation? is a mess of a film. There may be more polite ways of saying so, but a movie that equates selling increasing amounts of popcorn with 9/11 and backs it up with expert advice from the singer from Queensrÿche and Dennis Kucinich doesn’t really deserve a lot. Director Jeff Warrick occasionally makes motions towards autobiographical elements by mentioning that his father was, essentially, interested in subliminal messages, but that doesn’t really help a lot.

But, to be fair, there’s a great subject to be mined here. Programming the Nation? hopes to examine subliminal messaging and advertising in America, but takes such a broad target that it can’t possibly hope to hit any of its targets. Historical subjects like Kim Novak films that may or may not have had messages instructing audiences to buy Coca-Cola are brushed past in the same way as political ads from George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, with basically the same level of import. The documentary doesn’t particularly discriminate between fringe political consultants and sporadic bits of shaky-cam documentary film making. It’s just another bit of incoherence that makes up the inconsistently strident tone of this movie.

Aside from its tendency to conflate nuclear apocalypse with a TV ads that flash the word “RAT” in the 2000 Gore campaign, Programming the Nation? comes off as a bit shrill. The combination of “20/20” style visuals, seemingly random references to governmental shames like MKULTRA and lawyers who are pretty sure somebody sold something at some point don’t particularly explain anything beyond the fact that makers of the film are incensed. It’s not to be doubted that the information being transmitted (including the apparently voluntary restrictions on subliminal ads that still exist and the major media outlet’s reluctance to discuss such), is important and valuable, but the documentary has such a haphazard method of displaying it as to be insulting.

Programming the Nation? may not be the worst documentary regarding subliminal advertising in America, but it makes a good case for being the most unfocused and shallow. It’s a subject that is tremendously frightening and important, but this documentary seems more interested in making broad political statements than any kind of actual message. It’s a pity and it doesn’t make a good episode of a politically strident TV show, let alone a documentary.

by Nathan Kamal

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