Reading Project

By Jessica Pressman, Mark C Marino and Jeremy Douglass

Reading Project


One of our major discoveries was a reference to the subliminal words as "spam."

Specifically, the subliminal words are loaded into a variable named "spamVar" from the BP.txt file.  The code includes several additional references to spam, including spamArray and spamLimit.   The discovery of this frame for the subliminal words changed the direction of our reading entirely.  

from Reading Project
Spam: A Short History (Jessica)

Spam interrupts. It is unwanted and abject, but it is a central part of digital communication and culture. Spam is unsolicited mass correspondence that, in our contemporary culture, is often automated: it is written, read, and filtered by machines. A recent statistic shows that as much of 40 percent of global e-mail traffic is spam, or unsolicited bulk e-mail; this means that some 12.4 billion spam e-mails are sent (and read, filtered, or parsed) daily.21 That’s a lot of spam. According to Brad Templeton, the term “spam” applied to unwanted and iterative bulk electronic mail as early as 1990.22 But “spam” is also the trademarked name of a processed, canned meat product (a portmanteau of “spiced ham”) manufactured by Hormel Foods since 1937.23 The popular appropriation of this name from a processed food product to the description of unwanted e-mail is probably due to a Monty Python comedy sketch (which premiered in 1970). In this skit, a couple sit down in a restaurant filled with Vikings (yes, Vikings) and inquire about the menu. They are told that everything on the menu is served with Spam, and the Vikings then burst into a song comprised solely of the word “spam.” The skit mocks the ubiquity of Spam and the difficulty of avoiding it. It also works at a semantic level to show how the repetition and proliferation of this mass cultural runoff—the word “spam”—creates a shared cultural experience and expectation. In the skit, the word “spam” sutures and supplements; it is the ingredient added to every item on the menu.24 Similarly, in digital communication spam is the supplemental, added-on aspect that infiltrates nearly every electronic mailbox and thus requires filtering.
(Reading Project, 107)

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