Grant McCracken, a research affiliate at MIT and the author of Chief Culture Officer, writes about the appeal of "hidden messages" in popular culture. Fnord.
The medieval world took for granted that the universe was filled with
secret messages, placed there by God and the correspondences on which
the world was built. What did not come from God or nature was made by
man in the form of emblems, icons, and insignia insinuated into public
life. The home of Sir Francis Bacon was covered with arcana. Only
people with a keen eye and a university education could make sense of
By the 20th century, all of this was stripped out by the modernist
impulse that said form should be about manifest function, not secret
meaning. This world was rendered perfectly clear, rational, and
transparent. No decoding necessary. Consider Mies van der Rohe's
Seagram building. Or Charles and Ray Eames' lounge chair. What you saw
was what you got.
Marketing was created in this moment. And the idea was complete
transparency. Marketing came to stand for big, bold, simple messages,
fired repeatedly at a mass target. "Keep it simple, stupid" was the
order of the day. This was a world of absolute clarity and shameless
How things change. The 21st century loves a puzzle. We have the skill
and the patience. We have quicker eyes. No couch potatoes, we. Perhaps
it's that we now live with so much noise that we are better at
decoding signals. We are ready for secret messages. To judge from the
rest of popular culture, we are hungry for them.