Look, I’m going to be honest with you. I’m no expert on what The Medium is the Massage is about. A friend of mine who is*, recently sneered at it on my pile of books to read and said, I wouldn’t bother reading that if I were you, if you want to learn about social theory I’d recommend-
But I interrupted him before he could do so and told him that I know nothing about social theory and am not looking to learn. I just want to read this book because:
a) It looks “cool”
b) My girlfriend’s copy just reappeared in our house
c) It’s mainly pictures so I can read it very quickly.
All of these, I suppose, are true. I read the whole thing in less than the time it took me to travel to and home from work today, so about forty/fifty minutes. That’s a short book. A very short book. And thus more material for my blog about books I’ve deigned** to read.
The Medium is the Massage is a trendy, sixties pop academic book about the rise of electronic media (and does, I suppose, have relevance to the rise of “digital media” thirty years later) and how television, for example, affects the way people think. But not in much depth. Or with much detail.
It makes some interesting points, maybe, and has a few snappy soundbites, but mainly it offers generalising comments that are (to someone as FUCKING SWITCHED ON as I am) glaringly obvious and dull in their simplicity. The idea that people think in certain ways because of the way they get their information is, yeah, quite interesting. The idea that writing created narrative that created certain behavioural and sociological patterns is, perhaps, could be, perhaps, interesting, but that idea is floated and not really delved into.
I didn’t really feel I learnt anything from this book, though did (maybe) enjoy the experience of reading it. It pushes buttons and asks questions regarding serious and deep ideas, but never really gets round to EXPLORING them properly, the book is too ready to move on to another “cool” picture and another quotation from someone shithot, contemporary and relevant like John Cage or Bob Dylan.
But it’s a book from another era, a book made (one feels) as a conversation starter for cyclical, stoned conversations in some New York squat forty five years ago, not for casual consumption during a walk down the Pentonville Road in whatever fucking decade this one’s called.
Saying that, though, I did love its discussion of people living in the modern age as if it is the same as those before it, an idea expertly captured in the line:
We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
Which is, on many levels, rather an accurate description of the many people, still today, who refuse to accept the irrevocable and GOOD changes that have happened in recent history.
But, all told, The Medium is the Massage is a museum piece – a fun little pop-cultural artefact of dubious intellectual validity. Give it to a birthday present to a pretentious teenager. Fun, quite deliberately and impressively a certain type of sixties cool, but if I’d paid for it I’d have probably torn it to pieces in disappointment.
* The sometimes facial-haired Ed Kiely: @EddKiely
** Never has a word been used so accurately.
Try reading “Understanding Media”, dipshit. All the ideas are explained in-depth, whereas The Medium Is The Massage is an artistic artifact. Everything you think is “glaringly obvious” and “dull” is because McLuhan laid it all bare in shockingly simple terms, when every other intellectual was too busy debating whether the CONTENT of media could be reformed.
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This was seven years ago and I’m much wiser now. Your point seems fair.