Ron Popeil's Subliminal Messaging Machines

YouTube
YouTube

While perusing Ron Popeil's history on Google's patent library—it's fun, you should try it—I stumbled upon what I like to interpret as a brief obsession for America's favorite inventor and infomercial host. In the late '80s and early '90s, Popeil Industries filed a number of patent requests for subliminal messaging technology and the machinery to implement it.

US 5017143 A, a patent filed in 1989 by Popeil Industries that lists Ron Popeil as an inventor (along with longtime collaborator Alan Backus) doesn't mince words:

The field of this invention is the production and generation of visual subliminal images, and in particular, video subliminal images intended to alter behavior, attitudes, moods and/or performance.

Another Popeil patent, this one simply titled, "SUBLIMINAL DEVICE," is even a little blasé about light mind control:

Theories behind changing behavior through subliminal communications, as well as systems of message thought to be effective in subliminally changing behavior, are well known to those knowledgeable in the art and thus are not discussed here.

Reading that makes Popeil sound like a subliminal messaging snob—First of all, it's an art.


US 5221962 A

Popeil's patents point to a subliminal messaging device made for home use. This invention is adjustable and allows the user to determine how subliminal they want their messages, which is hilarious because, well, then they're not subliminal.

From WO 1992003888 A1:

Many problems are presented by these subliminal devices. First, there is no way an individual may verify if any subliminal messages are being presented by such devices. By definition, the messages presented are at levels which are not readily detectable.

Continuing, there is no way an individual may positively verify what subliminal messages he or she is receiving. This is a major drawback because an individual must trust the manufacturer to place correct and positive subliminal messages on the tape. Some of these devices supply scripts and/or recordings of what they claim has been subliminally recorded. But there is no proof that these are accurate.

...

The preset invention provides means for an individual to manually adjust, from supraliminal to subliminal levels, the level of obviousness of subliminal signals he or she is receiving.

This is a very interesting demographic he's going after here: Consumers who want the benefits of subliminal persuasion but are worried they're not getting all the messaging they paid for.

The actual technology is somewhat complicated, so I reached out to both Ron Popeil himself and the man who served as his patent lawyer. Popeil never got back to me, and his lawyer said he did not advise him on the subliminal messaging devices and could be of no assistance.

What I gather about the nuts and bolts of this invention (which, to my knowledge, never got past the patent stage) is that it dealt with rasterline frames and superimposed images while automatically adjusting them for contrast so they could fade into the screen. There's pretty advanced stuff going into this machine, even if all it did was let a compulsive eater adjust how sharply the text "EAT LESS" appeared on their TV.

While this is remarkably silly, we shouldn't forget that, in the 1980s, subliminal messaging was frequently marketed as a popular self-help gimmick. A 1988 New York Times business section article reported on these high-selling audio tapes and alluded to a "cultural phenomenon." (They also uncovered the script to one of these tapes' subliminal messages: "It's O.K. to do better than Dad. I do better than Daddy. I deserve to do better than Dad. I deserve to succeed. I deserve to reach my goals. I deserve to be rich." God, the '80s were awful.)

Still, Popeil clearly had interest in subliminal messaging, and I couldn't help but wonder whether or not these patents were part of a sinister plan to brainwash Americans into buying Pocket Fishermen and electric pasta makers. Why wouldn't he try using this technology in some of his infomercials and ads? Like many paranoid obsessives before me, I went to the tape to find out.

After closely watching Ron Popeil ads for the better part of an afternoon, I could only find two instances where it looked as if subliminal messaging was used, and both occurred during a commercial for The Buttoneer (a plastic pincer-like device that secures buttons onto fabric with an obtrusive little nub). First, there was the presence of a stray exclamation point for one frame, and it appeared in the middle of the product itself:

YouTube

Even more scandalously, I thought I stumbled upon a brief pornographic clip later in the same commercial. I thought I had tumbled down the rabbit hole and uncovered the Queen of Diamonds of this infomercial Manchurian Candidate. That was until, after stopping and pausing the clip for over an hour straight, I realized what had really happened: I had gone slightly off my rocker. This ad for The Buttoneer was produced in 1973. All the stray text and blurry cuts had to be attributed to the low production value.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have been stricken with an insatiable desire to re-button all my dress shirts.

Patents:
-US 5017143 A: "Method and apparatus for producing subliminal images"
-US 5221962 A: "Subliminal device having manual adjustment of perception level of subliminal messages"
-WO 1992003888 A1: "Subliminal device"
-CA 2002933 A1: "Apparatus for generating superimposed television images"

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10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

This 1000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle Honors 11 Unforgettable Women Who Made History

You can plot your own plan to make history while you assemble the puzzle.
You can plot your own plan to make history while you assemble the puzzle.
Galison/Amazon

The assertion that “well-behaved women seldom make history” has been an oft-quoted feminist slogan ever since historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich first wrote it in the 1970s. This 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Galison ($18) honors women from all eras who truly embody the phrase.

The image, illustrated by creative designer Ana San José, depicts a woman walking through a portrait gallery, gazing up at gilt-framed paintings of 11 icons who have pushed the envelope on what society thinks women can (or should) do. Some, like Amelia Earhart and Jane Austen, are household names, while others haven’t been as well-represented in education and popular culture. Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei, for example, became the first woman to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1975; and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson was instrumental in sending astronauts to the Moon. The puzzle includes a living legend, too: Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani education activist and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate in history.

herstory museum 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle
Not a single well-behaved woman in sight.
Galison/Amazon

The completed puzzle measures 27 inches by 20 inches and comes with a printout showing the full image, which you can use as a guide. The pieces are printed with no-glare ink, so you won’t have to constantly reposition yourself (or the pieces) to keep your light source from obscuring your view. And when you’re finished, you can either pack the puzzle back into its box, or seal it with puzzle glue ($13) and hang it on a wall to create your very own mini feminist portrait gallery.

You can purchase the puzzle for $18 from Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.