For those unfamiliar with the concept, subliminal advertising is the insertion into a movie of a single frame of some product. A single frame, out of the 24 frames per second a movie needs, is allegedly long enough for the subconscious to pick up, but too short for the viewer to be aware of it. The theory was that the viewer would go out and subconsciously be drawn to buying that product. It was first tried out in the fifties. I think it was quickly banned. Whether it actually works or not is another story.
In the 1870s Eadweard Muybridge used multiple cameras to capture motion in stop-action photographs. This was ground-breaking stuff. The photographic breakdown of movement was a revelation, and from here it was just a short leap to the invention of film. His photos of rapid movement showed things that could not be picked up by the human eye, most famously his sequence of a horse galloping. Artists had always depicted this movement with the front and back legs extended simultaneously. Muybridge showed that this never happens. Silly artists. Several of them were prosecuted for fraud and received lengthy jail sentences. I think one was executed.
I was tickled with the idea of Muybridge and subliminal advertising but agonised over how to present it. Does he notice the cola bottle? How could he not? How does he react? What does he think/say? There are also lots of other angles; the implications of advertisers seeing the potential immediately and weaseling their products into stop-motion photographs was a funny angle I explored for a bit,. But, of course, if you take separate photographs and develop them yourself, there can be nothing subliminal going on. It’s very liminal. Very, very liminal. I have heard it said that it is, in fact, extremely liminal. In the end, I think I got the joke down to it’s essence, which is always the aim. It’s weird though – I’ll get the sniff of something funny but it can often take a lot of circling to pinpoint the exact source of the humour. Once it’s done it seems so obvious and inevitable. Occasionally, however, a cartoon of mine is published and I realise I was one step away from a better joke but didn’t quite see it in time. There’s no worse feeling.