by Jake McGanney, WHF Intern
“Neuromarketing” sounds undeniably scary, largely because it combines two things that we are all utterly afraid of: advertising and science. I’m sure those are your two biggest fears, right after germs and support groups, because those are definitely my biggest fears, and everyone knows that I am probably the best resource for determining what is normal and universally applicable. Ha!
But really, neuromarketing sounds like scary business, especially as it’s currently being used to market movie trailers through the monitoring of brain activity, potentially wielding sinister mind control powers to maximize the emotional and adrenal responses of audiences everywhere. Yikes! Somebody page George Orwell, and Kurt Vonnegut, and everyone who helped write the Patriot Act (wait, that wasn’t political satire? That’s a real thing?). It might be said that we’re on the slipperiest of slopes, and that’s saying something, as there are a lot of unstable hillsides lying about. The article in question (see above hyperlink) suggests that if we’re willing to use neuroscience to market movies, we might soon be using it to help make them. But why stop there? The subconscious manipulation offered by neuromarketing opens up any number of possibilities: voting patterns, medical decisions, and even general behavioral traits might be influenced by this creepy mental coercion. Yikes again!
The more I think about it, though, I’m not particularly afraid of science, and I’m certainly not afraid of all-too-ominous neuromarketing. Movies, like any other artistic endeavor, must try to pull at some emotional chord or another, and it turns out (SHOCKER!) that that’s kind of a difficult feat to pull off. It takes a pretty well-crafted film to actually get an audience to invest in its characters enough to produce genuine emotion – and most of the time, Hollywood seems to fail us (unless you’re one of those people who cries every time someone vaguely attractive looks vaguely sad, in which case there is no helping you. Please accept my sympathies). That said, there are and will continue to be movies so well-done as to produce that effect, and that’s great. There should be more of them! If less-than-spectacular film-makers need to turn to Science (with a capital S) to learn how to be truly provocative, then they should do it. Maybe they’d make better movies.
The more obvious objection, I think, is that this science simply doesn’t work. No matter how many brain scans they’ve run, movie trailers continue to be terrible. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m a total movie snob, and the movies I like tend to be marketed less heavily (and thus I never see trailers for them), or maybe it has to do with the fact that it’s pretty difficult to get me emotionally engaged in 90 seconds of footage (I have no soul!). Enough! Watch this trailer for a totally serious big budget movie:
I’m obviously not an expert on emotions (HA!), but I’m pretty sure you’d be hard-pressed to feel anything but horror and disgust after seeing that trailer. I mean, I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but a movie based on a board game with no narrative structure whatsoever doesn’t push my emotional buttons; it just compels me to tell producers to go back to the Idea Factory™ – clearly, the neuromarketing experts need to be better at their jobs (“You’re fired! Everyone is fired!” -Society). And if science actually progresses to the point where a movie like this is genuinely provocative, then hooray! Maybe I won’t suffer so much at the thought that things like this exist. Speaking of which, Candy Land: The Movie is on its way. Get excited!
In any case, the Orwellian fear is a long way off. Maybe it’s coming – but I doubt this is how we’ll get there. So, for the time being, let’s stop viewing science as opposed to freedom: if we’re so terrified of the modern age and its subconscious encroachments on our autonomy, it’s time we took some responsibility and seriously evaluated how it’s impacting our lives. Science is a good thing (profound!) – don’t let it be so scary and foreign. Take charge of your health care! Reject bad movies! Our Personal Health Advocates, as always, are here to help.