This is the first in our new ‘Eye Don’t Believe it’ series of blog posts – A fun look into quirky trivia and ephemera around the topic of eyes..
What do your eyes say about you? We’ve already taken a look at how eye colour may affect your personality but can it tell us more than that? What if your eyes could determine whether you are straight or gay?
Well, that’s exactly what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, better known as Mounties, tried to do in 1960’s Canada. At the height of the cold war and McCarthyist communist witch hunts, north American Federal governments were terrified that the U.S.S.R may dig up ‘dirt’ on government employees in order to blackmail them into spilling secrets to the Soviet union.
It’s hard to imagine the horse riding, scarlet-suited, Stetson wearing symbol of Canadian twee doing anything sinister, but in these times people were desperate not to be singled out and finger pointing was rife.
Mounties were originally tasked with finding and identifying gay people on the ground, usually visiting known local gay hangouts dressed in plain clothes to spy on suspects. 100’s of pictures of alleged homosexuals were taken, but when they could not be identified, and tailing suspects became too costly, the Mounties turned to stranger techniques.
Using a device dubbed the ‘Fruit Machine’, the Canadian government looked into the eyes of suspected ‘subversives’ to find answers. The Fruit Machine was part of the ‘Special project’ which rooted out homosexuals by measuring pupillary response. The suspect was seated in a chair similar to a dentists and shown images men and women, fully clothed and not, while their pupil dilation was observed. If their pupil dilated when shown a provocative image of someone of the same sex they, according to the test, could be deemed a ‘subversive’. Reactions to unsubtly coded words such as ‘drag’, ‘queer’ and ‘bar’ were also tested alongside the Fruit Machine.
The invention, as you can probably tell, was ultimately flawed. The tests didn’t account for the varying brightness of the images shown, which would automatically cause pupillary constriction or dilation, and no control test volunteers could be sourced – likely because they feared being wrongly accused. However, this didn’t prevent over 100 government employees from being ‘outed’, fired or demoted in the four years that the fruit machine was employed.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969 and with that went the fruit machine. Although our eyes can tell us a lot about people it seems that using a degree of common sense goes along way.
- The fruit machine is actually a Electro-psychometer or E-meter, the same contraption that is used by Scientologists for dianetics testing. It has been described as ‘dangerous’ and ‘thoroughly discredited’. Make of that what you will.
- Canada wasn’t the only country to do this. America also used similar techniques
- Ashamed of these practices, the Canadian government destroyed their fruit machines. The device displayed in Canadian museum is actually American