Let me tell you about my favourite subliminal. It’s set to a Lana Del Rey song—you know the one, the Sublime cover that sounds like dead summer, the one where the bridge goes: “she’s evil, most definitely.” Most of the screen is taken up by the angel numbers, 444, and cut-off text that reads “surrounded by 100,000 miracles…” Hot girl imagery morphs and flashes through a heart-shaped inlay as the song plays. Cigarettes, kiss-prints, It Girls, and blood-red birthday cake. But the visuals are beside the point.
Would you believe me if I said I started using it accidentally, when it surfaced through Youtube’s autoplay function between Say Yes to Heaven and Queen of Disaster? I wondered why there was a flickering undertone to the music, the sound of flames eating up paper. That was, apparently, the sound of affirmations recited at a sub-auditory level, delayed and layered so that only their sibilance remained perceptible. Not tongues of flame, then, but just tongues—@vixen’s tongue, whoever she is, multiplied and fine-tuned through a voice modulator. I start playing the video daily, usually when I’m getting dressed or putting on eyeliner. I think I’m in love with her, in a way. As in, I absorb everything she says, on a level that runs below how I think I see the world—her words are inlaid, engraved on the flipside of my reality. Her video hits six million views, then it’s gone. Someone uploads a bootleg under another, less mesmerising name. i’m gonna miss vixen for the rest of my life, writes one commenter. Does anyone remember the benefits, writes another.
⋆ ˚｡⋆୨୧˚ looking into ur eyes feels like pure euphoria and ecstasy, everyone falls in love with u right when they make eye contact with u even if its just for .000001 seconds. (1)
I’m no stranger to trying to bend the world through sheer will, whether kneeling in prayer or daydreaming with force. If I was taught to thank the universe for bringing more life in my direction, I was also responsible for yanking good luck forward with momentous conviction. Manifestation cynics say the practice is pointless because thinking about something often, and with vehemence, isn’t going to change the world. I would say that it is less about world and much more about will—denying its inherent susceptibility to tell yourself a different myth, a total fiction: the one where the force of your determination is the singular vector around which your life is constructed.
“I was hoping to reprogram my mind/subconscious to think of myself as pretty, hot, attractive,” writes one soul on the 85k-strong peer-reviewed prayer circle r/Subliminals. Metaphors mixing mind with machine proliferate across pop psychology—not least in subliminal fan communities, where the videos are seen as programmes that can delete, rewrite, and generate new “programming.” That a behaviour can be ‘soft-’ or ‘hard-coded’ is useful shorthand for nurture and nature—programming from parents, society, and environment subject to varying degrees of change. Believing in the power of subliminals means accepting one’s own malleability in the face of an immovable world. It’s a therapeutic trick, faster-acting than CBT, that makes good of reality’s least stable qualities—zones of pure subjective judgement, from beauty to confidence and likeability—in order to expedite one’s rise up the social or self-worth ladder. OP details the ways they feel that they’ve been dealt a bad hand—people never swipe right on them, they know they carry a lot of anxiety and trauma, they have an unusually sensitive back. They say they can’t find the right subliminals to address their problems, but they really want to find them “before their mind starts telling them they’re going to die (again).”
⋆ ˚｡⋆୨୧˚ u have the cutest and biggest eyes ever. ur eyes have such a doe and fawn like look to it. ur eyes are like a doll but slightly upturned. u have the biggest and prettiest upturned eyes. the inner corners of ur eyes are sharp and downturned.
As they permeate the web at present, subliminals are a form of DIY brainwashing. I have an untested theory that much of my generation’s fascination with them stems from the media environment of our childhood—even the Josie and the Pussycats (2001) movie pushed a plot around a government brainwashing scheme mobilising pop girlies to control the markets. There were scandals about salacious imagery embedded in Disney movies, the word ‘SEX’ engraved in politicians’ campaign portraits to induce voting in their favour, and imperatives to buy chocolate bars and iced tea—the advertising industry forever inclined to use fascinating techniques for inane means—flashing up between movie trailers and radio shows. Boomers were still tuned to the faint residue of Satanic Panic, and the belief that the technique of ‘backmasking’—where a message, recorded backwards, is layered into a normal audio track—was one that could bypass perception and its subsequent encoding processes, allowing messages to simply be ‘accepted’ by the unconscious mind. Historically, then, subliminal messaging has been adversarial. Brainwashing, psy-ops, persuasion and seduction: all positioned as sneaky tactics of a clever antagonist, whether geopolitical, profitmongering, satanic or gendered. Consuming media of any type comes with the risk of giving your enemy unfettered access to the soft underbelly of your mind. The craze for DIY subliminals doesn’t deviate from this pattern—to wilfully turn to these videos is to recognise that one’s worst enemy is oneself.
In terms of basic psychology, a person’s “schemata”—or sets of world-views and perceptions—are self-perpetuating. The mind will usually try to distort new information to fit old schemata, so that it doesn’t have to re-architect the whole system; undergoing construction of a new set of understandings is, in a way, a final resort. That’s what gives us all kinds of cognitive biases, and that’s generally how positive self-perception is reinforced. If you have a relatively decent self-image, you’ll find that direct positive feedback is absorbed more readily, while negative feedback, even if it’s encoded with the same intensity, is less likely to penetrate memory structures.
In the realm of the subconscious, however, this apparently works in reverse—a 2009 UCL study found that negative subliminal messaging had a more immediate impact, most likely because of subconscious tooling to pick up on threats. There is, naturally, a dark side to subliminals—those intentionally created for negative purposes are referred to as “underground subliminals” or “ugs” for short. Some are designed to induce nose bleeds, bruises, scars, mental illness and revenge; others, paler skin, eating disorders, digestive problems that waste physical form. The transparency of ug creators makes one aware of how much trust users place in the benevolence of ‘aboveground’ subliminal creators. In 2019, a scandal erupted around the creator Mind Power, who people accused of embedding negative and harmful messaging below her general affirmations. But even supposedly beneficial videos will often warn users to drink water or take painkillers if their brainwashing effects feel too strong—wishful thinking, perhaps, on the side of creators who want to believe in their own efficacy. Reprogramming wetware, it seems, isn’t painless. But if it hurts, it’s working—right?
⋆ ˚｡⋆୨୧˚ I'm feeling like a trillion dollars
I have sexy facial expressions
I'm blessed with looks
I am safe at all times
I'm immune to being in scary situations
I'm safe and protected
I'm immune to attracting the wrong people
All I need is myself (2)
I get into the habit of playing she’s evil, most definitely subliminal before parties and dates. If I were the type to comment, I’d add to the testimonials that flood the section under vixen’s and vixen-like videos: “I TOLD YOU! DAMN THE BENEFITS GOT ME SMILING FR 😻😦🙏🏻” Studies that prove the ease of reinforcement when it comes to positive self-image also underscore the intensification of negative self-image. In other words, someone starting out with less confidence and more self-hatred will be more likely to encode negative expressions—making the loop between self-perception and expression apparently integral. This simple understanding, packaged in videos like THE ULTIMATE SELF CONCEPT SUBLIMINAL, has been leveraged for vast profit by New Age figureheads of varying benevolence. The mantras of iconic Louise Hay have resounded across American board- and living rooms since the 1990s. “Every thought we think is creating our future,” goes one of her most ‘encoded’ affirmations. And: “My happy thoughts help create my healthy body.”
Hay is mommy to most contemporary thinking around affirmation and manifestation that just feels like it’s in the air or all over the platform. Her belief that positive thinking is the first step to reshaping one’s reality was reinforced by her own story of overcoming the pain of childhood abuse and adulthood trauma—and even later, in her telling, cancer. Hay’s beliefs draw from a discipline pseudo-scientifically called “neuro-linguistic programming” or NLP—developed during the height of 1970s West Coast spiritualism and founded in the idea that language itself is the key to reshaping neurological processes and thus behavioural patterns. The link to computation—the desire to describe the mind as a computer was already gripping academics of all stripes—stands out, not only because of the disambiguation from “natural language processing.” NLP’s most successful practitioners brought the practice to the mainstream with the belief that behaviour of “exceptional people” could be codified and replicated as a discrete and legible schema. The physical discipline of a tennis champion or the brilliance of a Nobel Prize winner could be installed in your own (implicitly inferior) brain like a programme on a PC.
⋆ ˚｡⋆୨୧˚ ur skin is so clear omg can i use it as a mirror? people wish they had skin like u, its too perfect to be real. ur skin literally looks like its computer generated, no way its real.
That the platform age has occasioned a sudden boom of subliminal content is no coincidence. It’s common knowledge that algorithms shape behaviour, and vice-versa—to the point, now, that users accept the algorithm as a kind of ‘knowing force’: the inhuman companion that knows dimensions of one’s personality invisible even to oneself. On Tiktok—the platform with the most finely tailored yet chance-based algorithm—certain audios possess a mysterious charge. Spend enough time on there, and you’ll come across creators who think your encounter with their content is a form of destiny, saying into the camera with complete earnestness: “If you see this message, it’s meant for you.” The comments section flood with people equally eager for cosmic-machinic intervention, reacting “claimed” (fingers crossed emoji)—wishing for money, good looks, surface-level changes to enable a high-rolling lifestyle purveyed by the platform to begin with.
Platforms like Tiktok and Instagram are, at their core, architectures of desire. They are designed to feed you seemingly random images until one strikes you in the heart. That strike is the key that unlocks the platform’s ever-receding rewards: the hype jackpot that legions still believe in, in spite of diminishing actual returns, because reality’s conditions are too depressing. Why absorb that the ladder of social mobility is actually a slip-n-slide to the bottom—regardless of how much you’re on your grindset—when you can aspire, manifest, and affirm your way to a higher calling—even if that calling still is cold hard cash?
⋆ ˚｡⋆୨୧˚ Money loves me....
Money is obsessed with me
Money always finds its way to me
Luck is on my side (3)
One truism about the platform age is that everything is advertising. Another is that beauty reigns. Not just beauty, but operational beauty: beauty in the shape of the strike. While my favourite subliminals speak to cultivating an aura, whether ethereal or fatal(e), many others claim highly tailored benefits that read like a cosmetic surgeon’s consultation: “slim nose tip, triangle alar base, short alar base, defined nose, small nostrils, upturned nose, smooth nose bridge, barbie-like nose, perfect golden ratio nose, ideal columella, ideal nose.” These creators are gripped by the Hay-like delusion that reprogramming the mind can reshape the body: that codified language can rearrange anything, even DNA. The goal is to design a face for better capture—to design a face destined to float away from its bodily context into pure currency and symbol—using categories that make that face legible to an inhuman operation that is constantly being retooled to induce desire. The window by which we learn beauty in real-time—the standard cyclically diffused and reinforced through visual communication—is not an inert pane of glass. That understanding is constantly co-constructed with machines; attraction and desire shaped in dialogue with an algorithm that acts like a subliminal, benefits unknown.
Wanting your life to change so badly it loosens your grip on reality: a universal experience. By now, it’s popularly accepted that behaviour-targeting algorithms have eroded sustained attention and self-discipline—even if they have generated alternative forms of mainlining culture at scale. Much of consumer culture has been designed around the interplay of confidences and insecurities, animal drives and noble restraint, and it’s exhausting. Everyone is so stimulated and so tired; the bones of the whole thing are beginning to show. I have abundant sympathy for those who see subliminals as a legitimate opt-out—using an existing architecture of manipulation to coax themselves towards some kind of ideal, however externally formed, instead of fighting what they feel won’t change. Their programming, or the world’s. The result is a deluded optimism: to accept mind and body as so fundamentally weak that they can be reconfigured by the force of thought alone. A strange reversal of how the mind submits to subconscious urges, which doesn’t require anyone to tame those urges at all.