Net Nuggets 4: Marshall McLuhan's Unhappy Ending

Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage [mp3]

In 1967, original media theorist Marshall McLuhan joined forces with graphic designer Quentin Fiore and slapped together The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, a book that used illustrations of McLuhan's points to… er, illustrate the… uh, point that each medium has a different effect on the senses.

To reduce the theory to simplistic idiocy: one page would contain a picture, the other a complementary text, the different media of pictorial visuals and words each «massaging» the reader differently. («Massaging», because media are extensions of the sense organs and so the human body.) In this way, McLuhan took inventory of the effects upon the mind by some of the media, by actually using these media in order to give rise to these effects in the reader, even as he expounded on them (as opposed to only referring to them). I'm tempted to say he
didn't only «talk the talk,» but also «walked the walk,» but it's more as if he were talking the walk, or walking the talk, or something… (Kind of like setting fire to a person while lecturing that person about being on fire.) In any case, back in 1967 all of this must have been far out, man.

To labour the point, McLuhan then released the album The Medium Is the Massage, which similarly illustrated how another medium—sound, radio, music—massaged the mind.

I could research and write more about McLuhan's theories, but the subject bores me. His message massages me like a dainty rub given by a gentle soul worried they're hurting you (without the common courtesy of giving you a happy ending). But the absurd humour evident on this now deleted album is great, and the manic sampling precedes the Avalanches by 33 years, sounding like a radio jingle on acid (seemingly never-ending due to the time-enhancing effect of the drug)—or like tripping with a professor of human sciences lecturing you from his comfy armchair, boring you so much that your hallucinating mind starts conjuring up its own entertainment. It's like McLuhan understood how boring not only the medium of lecturing really is, but also the over-thinking of his subject, and so tried to make it a little less stuffy for those of us who tend to drift off when we smell bullshit…

When listening to this thing it's hard to actually pay attention; instead it's the textures and variety of sound that capture the listener, with a funny or simply absurd phrase (a child asserting, «It is the business of the future to be dangerous!», or McLuhan himself callling the artist «the enema of society») sometimes making itself noticed, in-between all the intellectual posturing of an academic contriving to invent a theory to which to put his prestigious and increasingly alphabetised name, striving to force-fit facts into his scheme without ever realising that the map just isn't the territory.

To quote McLuhan himself: «Drop this jiggery-pokery and talk straight turkey!»

Still, surely McLuhan was the funkiest stuffy academic ever! Check out this appearance-as-self in Woody Allen's Annie Hall:

1 comment:

  1. I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it's an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio