Subliminal Messages In Stories (Part V)

Today, we have another round of subliminal messages in stories. It has been a while since Part IV on the subject, and I hope you enjoy reading these subliminal messages in stories that I have taken note of.

What It Takes To Be The Best

If anyone thinks that he can simply walk into a profession and blow his audience’s mind without effort, he is a naïve at best and a fool at worst. To be the best at something, you not only need to be naturally gifted at your profession, you also have to dedicate yourself to it and sweat for it.

On top of that, you almost certainly need a manager, mentor or coach, who can push you to the next level.

Example – Whiplash

What it takes to be the best? Blood, sweat and toil, as seen in Whiplash.

Damien Chazelle’s 2015 thriller is about Andrew Niemann (Myles Teller), a young drummer, who wants to be a great, like Buddy Rich (1917-80). Moreover, he comes under the tutelage of Conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons, who won his OSCAR for this role). Fletcher is terrifying, manipulative and borderline sadistic when he criticises his pupils. Still, Andrew yearns to please him and forces himself to work ever harder, even to the point of giving himself a nervous breakdown.

Does someone need to go to such extremes to become the best? Probably not (as it certainly isn’t healthy). But the message from the film is clear: to be the best, you need to practice relentlessly, sweat like a sportsman, and bleed to perfect your craft.

Telling Someone “Good Job” Is A Killer

If someone is extremely talented and motivated to be the best, having a manager, mentor or coach tell him “good job” on a regular basis will prevent him from being the best. This is because the talented individual (regardless of his discipline) will think he’s done enough to be the best. As soon as such a mindset kicks in, the talented one will become complacent and will lose that five percent that makes him the best at what he does.

Thus, having a manager, mentor or coach, who demands more from you (and shows you how to improve) is an absolute necessity to be the best.

Example – Whiplash

In Whiplash, Terence Fletcher sits down at a bar with Andrew and tells him that “good job” are the two worst words in the English language because it kills talent.

Does that make Fletcher’s methods acceptable (bearing in mind that Fletcher hurled a chair at Andrew, used sensitive information about Andrew’s mother against him, and drove Andrew to the point of a nervous breakdown)? In my opinion, no. Fletcher’s methods are illegal and explain why he gets fired from his job.

Nevertheless, Fletcher is right when he says that telling a talented/motivated that “good job” is a talent-killer. It is a recipe for mediocrity, thereby making it the worst thing that a manager, mentor or coach could say on a regular basis.

Enhanced Interrogations & Torture Have Their Limitations

When legal methods fail to extract information, one may be tempted to think that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (or torture, to put it another way) will do the job. After-all, what person in his right mind would withhold information when confronted with thugs and/or tools that could dismember him?

However, it’s not usually that simple. A man may say anything to relieve him from torment, or worse he may laugh when pain is inflicted upon him.

Example 1 – Rendition

In this 2007 political thriller, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is allegedly linked to a terror attack in Egypt and is taken into custody by the authorities. CIA agent Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) oversees the brutal interrogation that Anwar endures.

Yet, no matter what methods the Egyptian authorities use on Anwar, he does not reveal crucial information about the plot. He talks a lot and gives up names, but when Douglas checks who they are, they most certainly are not terrorists.

Does Anwar not reveal any names related to the terror plot because he doesn’t know and is innocent? Or is it because torture is ineffective?

Example 2 – The Dark Knight

subliminal messages in stories - the Joker laughing at Batman's enhanced interrogation techniques
The Joker laughing at Batman as Batman tries to get information out of him, using enhanced interrogation techniques.

In The Dark Knight, Batman is interrogating the Joker to find out what he has done with Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Batman shouts at him, punches him round the face, and bashes him against the wall. But it is to no avail. The Joker just laughs at him, mockingly, and reminds Batman of his one rule (not to kill).

Indeed, the Joker only tells Batman where Harvey and Rachel are when it suits him. And even then, he plays a ‘joke’ on him. He switches the addresses, so that Batman and the police go to the wrong places (but neither get there in time anyway).

This scene highlights that against a peculiar kind of person, enhanced interrogation techniques and torture do not work.

The Price of Decadence & Debauchery

On the surface, a life of luxury, filled with riches, adulation, holidays, parties, drinking and sex looks oh so appealing. Seemingly, those that live a life of decadence and debauchery have it all.

However, if one is not careful, one pays a dreadful (and self-inflicted) price: the corruption of the soul. Indeed, when a man loses their soul, he loses all sense of worth and value, as well enjoyment in life. Poetically, the punishment is fitting.

Example – The Picture of Dorian Gray

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the titular Dorian enters into a Faustian Pact, whereby his portrait will grow old and he will stay young. Subsequently, Dorian enjoys a life of pleasure that is only bettered, literarily, by those attending the parties of Jay Gatsby.

Nevertheless, Dorian may not age a day, despite all the alcohol and drugs he consumes, but he has the pain of literally watching his soul rot. It acts as a check on his immorality and his crimes (including murdering his girlfriend); a horror that he does not want to see, yet knows it is lurking in his own shadow.

Ultimately, Dorian grows tired of his life. In the 2009 film adaptation, he says: “Do not confuse pleasure with happiness.” Thus, he is the architect of his own misery and his internal conflictions. In the end, Dorian cannot live with himself anymore, so he stabs the portrait, killing himself.

It’s What You Do That Defines You

In the 21st-century, people are obsessed with labelling themselves (and others) with a term or several to fit their agendas. This misses the point. It is not what you call yourself, it is your actions that count. Actions always have been and always will be more important than mere words.

Example – Batman Begins

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) tells Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), after spending some time in a pool with two ladies, that there is more to him on the inside than a billionaire playboy.

Rachel smiles pitifully at him, before telling him somewhat patronisingly: “It’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you.”

This is such an important and timeless message. In short, it does not matter what you say you are, or how you identify. It’s what you do – your actions – that count. That Rachel delivers this message in the second person means that it speaks directly to the audience.

The Dishonesty of Journalists & The Media

Long before Donald Trump created the term ‘fake news,’ the media were well-known for spinning facts to forge a narrative to suit their agenda. (Indeed, the only real surprise was that it took someone so long to come up with the term ‘fake news.’)

For journalists, the only real question for them sometimes is: how far will they go to bend the truth to their (or their boss’) desire? The answer can make for depressing reading/viewing and we see this through subliminal messages in stories.

Example – Lions For Lambs

In this 2007 war drama, the left-wing TV journalist, Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) interviews the Republican Senator, Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), about his new war strategy for Afghanistan. Senator Jasper talks in depth about the strategy, with all its nuances, and what it entails.

At the end of the interview, Roth and Senator Irving leave on amicable terms. Then, Roth gets in a car and we see her notebook. She has doodled across the page, with the only quote from Senator Irving she has written down being: “Whatever it takes.”

In other words, Roth had no interest in giving Senator Irving a balanced report or article of his strategy. She just wanted to portray him in a negative light to suit her agenda. Now, she has the quote she needs (and wanted) to slander him.

subliminal messages in stories - Meryl Streep as a dishonesty journalist in Lions for Lambs
Meryl Streep epitomises the dishonesty of journalists and the media in Lions For Lambs, as she looks all attentive and appears to be taking notes, studiously. But she’s not.

Law And Morality Are Not A Happily Married Couple

Alas, this will have to wait until Part VI. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this blog post and that it helps to make the writing process a little easier for you.

Let me know what you think of this round of subliminal messages in stories in the comments below,


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