Mind Your Mind proves to be a useful (if brief) introduction to the potential perils of modern persuasive techniques.
PsyD Student, University of Indianapolis
Director: Jason Brett Serle (2012)
In 1929, Edward Bernays was working at the American Tobacco Company, trying to increase their bottom line by targeting female smokers, a largely untapped (but potentially lucrative) market. An established expert in the fields of advertising and propaganda, Bernays decided to stage the New York City Easter Parade, an event whose only goal was to obtain news coverage of his hand-picked female models lighting Lucky Strike “freedom torches” along the parade route. Women across the country began to light up in record numbers, effectively eradicating the taboo against women smoking in public that existed at the time and sending American Tobacco Company’s profits soaring.
Thus began—according to Mind Your Mind, Jason Brett Serle’s 2012 documentary about the use of psychological and neurological principles in commercials, politics, and other forms of persuasion—modern advertising. Bernays had discovered a concept that most companies still use to this day: People are more likely to buy a product if ads appeal to them on an emotional level as opposed to an intellectual one. The problem as Serle sees it, however, is that corporations have moved beyond the comparatively innocent practice of placing comely models in front of cameras for photo ops and are now attempting to record our subconscious thoughts in an effort to influence purchasing behaviors. While this may sound like science fiction, it forms the basis of neuromarketing, a discipline that uses advanced technology such as MRI’s in attempts to identify consumers’ subconscious desires and discover the brain regions involved in buying behaviors. Companies such as Google, Disney, and Frito-Lay have already begun using neuromarketing techniques, and Serle views this new form of advertising research with palpable disdain.
Mind Your Mind’s discussion of that nascent field is likely to be one of the more novel revelations for the audience, as Serle spends much of his time focusing on familiar topics such as political doublespeak, subliminal advertising, and the idea that the vast majority of our mental processing takes place outside of our conscious awareness. (He finds this last idea particularly worrisome, as our ability to process information subconsciously can leave us susceptible to influences of which we’re not only unaware but which may also lead us to behave in unexpected ways.) Though these ideas have been covered numerous times before across a wide variety of media, they still merit serious attention, and Serle approaches them with a deft combination of gravitas and humor. This balancing act contributes greatly to the film’s appeal, which would otherwise only be a brief examination of modern persuasive techniques.
As Mind Your Mind progresses, Serle’s affable personality comes to the fore, especially in a scene where he gives an amusing display of the types of linguistic ambiguities pioneered by Lehigh University’s Robert Thornton, author of the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations (or LIAR). Such segments are present throughout the documentary and prove entertaining enough that viewers may find themselves more willing to forgive Serle when he interjects his own opinions into the film. A notably egregious example of this concerns his nefarious reading of a judge’s statement from the famous 1952 murder trial of Derek Bentley, an intellectually disabled British teenager accused of killing a police constable during a robbery. Serle’s dramatic voicework seems unnecessary here given that simply stating the facts of the case could have gotten his point across equally as well, if not better. (Bentley was granted a posthumous pardon in 1993.) The broad brush with which he paints the political process also comes across as slightly grating, but Serle counters this stridency with an informative and appealing examination of the ways that neurolinguistic-programming techniques such as universal quantifiers can be used by politicians to make voters feel genuinely connected to a political platform.
Serle admits that he views this documentary as an introduction to the film’s topics, and he’s right—extensively covering each of the ideas presented here would likely require an expansive miniseries instead of an hour-long documentary. Still, Mind Your Mind presents some interesting ideas and does so in an entertaining, accessible fashion. Those who are looking for exhaustive coverage of the film’s subjects would be better off looking elsewhere, but it can ably serve as a useful entry point to instructors, students, or anyone else who may be interested in this area of the field.