Video Friday: Marshall McLuhan 1977

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Herbert Marshall Mcluhan lecture aired by ABC Radio National Network on 27 June 1979 in Australia.

Marshall McLuhan was a media theorist and visionary of the late 20th Century and I consider him to be one of my largest personal influences.

In this Q&A session, McLuhan talks about a variety of subjects including how electronic media alter our awareness and, although he never uses the term, make us transhuman. The discussion ranges into information warfare, the age of the super-empowered man, our quest for identity, and much more. We learn McLuhan’s granddaughter aspired to be a cyborg as a child and that cricket is a”very organized form of violence”. Indeed.

As usual McLuhan’s lectures include  aphorisms, some terrible puns, obscure terminology, and oblique references that may not be obvious to the uninitiated. His answers here are intended as “probes”, that is, they are a sort of tool for thinking and not intended as closed and final statements about things. His intention was to provoke thinking and conversation about these developments. He answers with questions.

Consider the discussion of the “rear view mirror” at the beginning of Part 2 where McLuhan argues that what you see in a rear view mirror is the future. If you aren’t a little bit confused, watch it again. 🙂 McLuhan famously stated that the “medium is the message” by which he meant that it is the effect of the medium as a mechanism or way of learning that matters more than the specific content or program transmitted via the medium.

However his famous book is entitled The Medium is The Massage, and this is not just a typographical error. The use of the term “massage” was originally accidental however McLuhan asked the printer to keep the error. He argued that media “work over” their audiences and change them. He describes this as very direct “tactile” contact or “massage”. But also the word massage is a pun, and McLuhan will sometimes say the word as two words “mass age” to underline the point. I won’t comment on the pun in his discussion of the 1970s phenomenon of “streaking”.

The audience here is hyper-intelligent and ask some great questions. I note the question about large screen televisions and the spiritual effects of new media in Part 2 as examples.

In Part 3, McLuhan explains his idea of “put ons” and how he employs the idea of put ons himself . At the end of Part 3, he explains the difference between “visual space” and “acoustic space” as it relates to thinking modalities in the East and West.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Peter – enjoyed your comments. So you know, “massage” in the title of that book was, in fact, a printer’s error, or if not error, addition. Marshall liked it though (obviously).



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