The Mob Fruit Machine

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The Mob Fruit Machine

'Fruit machine' is a term for a device developed in Canada by Frank Robert Wake[1] that was supposed to be able to identify gay men (derogatorily referred to as 'fruits'). The subjects were made to view pornography; the device then measured the diameter of the pupils of the eyes (pupillary response test), perspiration, and pulse for a supposed erotic response.

The 'fruit machine' was employed in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s during a campaign to eliminate all gay men from the civil service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the military. A substantial number of workers did lose their jobs. Although funding for the 'fruit machine' project was cut off in the late 1960s, the investigations continued, and the RCMP collected files on over 9,000 'suspected' gay people.[2]

The chair employed resembled that used by dentists. It had a pulley with a camera going towards the pupils, with a black box located in front of it that displayed pictures. The pictures ranged from the mundane to sexually explicit photos of men and women. It had previously been determined that the pupils would dilate in relation to the amount of interest in the picture per the technique termed 'the pupillary response test'.[3]

People were first led to believe that the machine's purpose was to rate stress. After knowledge of its real purpose became widespread, few people volunteered for it.

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Faulty test parameters[edit]

The accuracy and functional mechanism of the 'fruit machine' was questionable. First, the pupillary response test was based on fatally flawed assumptions: that visual stimuli would give an involuntary reaction that can be measured scientifically; that homosexuals and heterosexuals would respond to these stimuli differently; and that there were only two types of sexuality.[4] A physiological problem with the method was that the researchers failed to take into account the varying sizes of the pupils and the differing distances between the eyes.[3][4] Other problems that existed were that the pictures of the subjects' eyes had to be taken from an angle, as the camera would have blocked the subjects' view of the photographs if it were placed directly in front. Also, the amount of light coming from the photographs changed with each slide, causing the subjects' pupils to dilate in a way that was unrelated to their interest in the picture. Finally, the dilation of the pupils was also exceedingly difficult to measure, as the change was often smaller than one millimeter.[3]

The idea was based on a study done by an American university professor, which measured the sizes of the subjects' pupils as they walked through the aisles of grocery stores.[3]

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In popular culture[edit]

Brian Drader's 1998 play The Fruit Machine juxtaposes the fruit machine project with a parallel storyline about contemporary homophobia.[5]

An abandoned attempt to employ a fruit machine during the interrogation of Canadian diplomat John Watkins was shown in the 2002 TV film, Agent of Influence.

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Alex Brett's novel Cold Dark Matter (2005) uses the project as a plot device.[citation needed]


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Sarah Fodey's 2018 documentary film The Fruit Machine profiled the effects of the project on several of the people affected by it.[6]

See also[edit]

  • Lie detector polygraph, a device to detect the physiological responses indicative of lying
  • Blade Runner#Voight-Kampff machine, a fictional device to detect non-human emotional responses


  1. ^'Carleton called on to apologize for gay 'testing''. Ottawa Sun. 8 April 2016.
  2. ^Kinsman, Gary William; Buse, Dieter K.; Steedman, Mercedes (2000). '10'. Whose National Security?: Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies. Canada: Between the Lines. ISBN1-896357-25-3.
  3. ^ abcdThe RCMP Security Service. (Doubleday Canada, 1980) ISBN0-385-14682-5, chapters 10 and 11.
  4. ^ abThe Current, CBC Radio, 9 May 2005
  5. ^'Opposite eras attract in gay history story'. Vancouver Sun. 23 October 1998.
  6. ^'The Fruit Machine: Why every Canadian should learn about this country's 'gay purge'. CBC Arts, May 30, 2018.


The Mob Fruit Machine Recipes

  • Gary Kinsman et al.,Whose National Security?: Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, (Between the Lines, Canada, 2000) ISBN1-896357-25-3,chapter 10.
  • John Sawatsky. Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service. (Doubleday Canada, 1980) ISBN0-385-14682-5, chapters 10 and 11.
  • CBC Radio 1 The Current, 9 May 2005
  • Gary Kinsman, 'Character Weakness' and 'Fruit Machines': Towards an Analysis of the Anti-Homosexual Security Campaign in the Canadian Civil Service,' Labour/Le Travail, 35 (Spring 1995).

External links[edit]

  • Fruit Machine - radio interview. CBC Radio 1 The Current, 9 May 2005 (begins at 2:25 into clip)
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