I am so rarely in on the joke that it makes me sad. I'm almost always on the periphery, wondering at the secret whisperings of others. "What happened to Bill? Oh, he put on weight; his wife is cute though." No metaphor illustrates this unfortunate social marginalization better than that of the accursed Magic Eye Painting. I hate you, Magic Eye Paintings; I am smarter, more complex and special than you'll ever be. Still, I don't have an ethereal image of a schooner or a terrier "hidden" inside of me.
For example, in the pattern of roses to the right, one supposedly can see a ghostlike image of "Your Mother After I Fucked Her" – just not working for me. In the "trippy" pattern below left, if one takes great care not to look too hard, supposedly the image of "Bums on a Chow Line" will eventually reveal itself. In the third image down on the right, if one presses one's nose to it and then slowly backs away while "unfocusing" one's eyes, the magical image of "Michael Moynihan Fan Base" will show up. NO IT WON'T! It just won't. Ever.
People will tell you, "Don't focus your eyes!" – "Don't look directly at it!" – "OK, do you want me to tell you? It's a clown—don't you see it?" Nope. No clowny for William. What I do see are the manufacturer's deliberately obfuscating "instructions" for "3D viewing" here. The truth, however, and by this I mean an objective, The-Beatles-were-pretty-darn-good kind of truth, is that there's NOTHING THERE! Excuse the caps, I forget myself...but really, come on: there simply are no hidden images within Magic Eye Paintings. There are, however, two kinds of people.
Good writing 101 tells us to never use clichés. In fact, Paul R. Hensel, a damn funny guy from the Department of Political Science at Florida State University says, "Avoid clichés like the plague." But in this case I couldn't resist saying that there are really only two kinds of people (I also couldn't resist starting this sentence with a conjunction—See! Anyone can write advertising copy!): (1) Those who pretend to see the hidden images in Magic Eye Paintings, and with a wink and a nod conspire to continually mock and subjugate person type two; (2) those, like myself, who are honest people, freely admitting that there's simply nothing there and getting treated the fool for it.
Magic Eye Paintings are also a fine metaphor for all conspiratorial shams that pit one sector of the public (the "seers," if you will) against the other ("non-seers"), similar to the classic Emperor's New Clothes, but a move executed not out of courtly propriety, but rather a subtly malicious need to forge an elite subgroup (which is usually in fact the socially dominant majority.)
Take this sentence: "Wilco are the Magic Eye Paintings of Rock." This simply says that some are "in on" the less obvious, deeper meaning of the subject, and some are not—the perfection of my metaphor suggesting of course that there may indeed be no inner meaning to glean. Philip K. Dick once said when asked for "a short, simple definition of reality": "Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away."* You all have my permission, in fact I encourage you, to stop believing and then see what's still there.
With respect to the fact that Magic Eye Paintings as a phenomenon are somewhat passé (and the perception of them as frustrating unquestionably the fodder of 90s sitcoms), this has been brewing within me for several years; I choose not when the information is ready to be released. Let us not forget the multi-million-dollar industry in books, prints and other Magic Eye ephemera; the allusion to some sort of postmodern, sci-fi, Sharper Image-style psychedelia (whose blasphemy simply cannot be tolerated); and most importantly the cabal that unites those irritating ball-busters in a movement against us honest, truth-seeing and truth-telling people.
*from VALIS, copyright © 1981 by Philip K. Dick.