Tagged: Identity

Marshall Mcluhan – ‘The Medium is the Massage” 19052015

3 Part Lecture:



This lecture, and of course the rather erratic book, has had a profound influence on me in recent days. Many of his ideas surrounding different media distribution are fascinating, given it was the 70s. His accuracy in discussing the impacts of these media on the audience have, in some cases, proved themselves true over time. The discussion in these videos is truly eye-opening. To think that in the space of 40 years, the social attitudes and understandings of media effects and possibilities are so radically different. I’ve included some of the questions and the dialogue with the audience as well. Professor McLuhan seems to have his facts straight in the long run, however his views on the rearview mirror as nostalgia, and the costumes of the young, I wouldn’t entirely agree with. Yes, there is a sense of nostalgia in re-fitting and re-fashioning the clothing of the past, and yes it is part of an international “motley” or trend, but in many cases these cant be linked to such exploratory attempts of understanding identity, and instead can be linked to the excitement of new fashion through television and colour printed media.

Please excuse ay spelling mistakes, I’ve typed these extracts out from the video, and will edit it later in the day.

Italics – Questions / Audience

Bold – Professor Mcluhan

“The quest for identity, The person who is struggling to work out ‘who am i’, by all sorts of mal-adjustments, all sorts of quarrels, all sorts of encounters, such a person is a social nuisance of course, but the first the quest of identity goes along with this bumping into other people, in order to find out who am i, how much power can i exert? how much identity can i discover that i possess by simply banging into other people/ That’s what i had in mind when i said The quest for identity is always a violent quest, its a series of adventures and encounters that create all sorts of disturbance. You dont have to go very far in literature for example, Don Kyote, and Flash Gordon, and Superman. Were now beginning together, I m thinking of this new show, the Star War, thats based on Flash Gordon comics. The bionic man, bionic woman, these are bi-curious forms of violence where young people are trying to discover who am i? I once asked my granddaughter who was 6 what she wanted to be when grew up, she said instantly “Bionic Woman”. This is a form of violence that permits one to discover who you are. i was using violence in a rather large sense, simply abrasive encounters.”  

“Cricket is a very organised form of violence”

“I would insist on studying the game of cricket as a manifestation of the controlled forms of violence in the community. Baseball or football, any kind of sport is a dramatisation of acceptable violence in the business community. You can learn a lot about the business community by studying the rules and procedures of cricket, baseball or golf. These games are huge ways of discovering, dramatising what the society your in is all about. Without an audience these games would have no meaning at all. They have to be played in front of the public in order to acquire their meaning. A baseball game without an audience would be a rehearsal only, a practice. The game requires the public, and the public has to resemble a whole cross section of the community. Im very interested in games as the dramatising of violent behaviour. Under control.”

On Nostalgia – “When people are stripped of their private identities they develop huge nostalgia and nostalgia for the jeans and the levis of the young today are the nostalgia of grandad’s overalls. His workclothes now become the latest costume. But this is a rather mysterious thing. The costumes worn by the young, the fashionable costumes are really very old hat, and nostalgic. Someone called it International Motley. Thatthe costumes worn by the young today, are an international motley or clown. Paradoxically, the clown is a person of greivance. His role in medieval society was to be the voice of grievance. The clowns job was to tell the emperor or the royalty exactly what was wrong with society. He often lost his head in the process, but the clown, the international motley of our time. The clown is trying to tell us his grievance. The beards, hairdos and the costumes of the young are a manifestation of grievance and anger. You’ve heard about the streakers, a kind of manifestation of anger of lack of jobs and opportunities in out world. In America we call them Passing Fannies.”

Q: Professor Im asking this question which i think is very relevant today, for people who are looking for an identity who are searching for a kind of responsible attitude towards the media. Since in the 20th century we are so conditioned and hemmed in by the media. Should we be teaching our children what value judgements they should really make concerning  what different programmes they watch on TV or listen to on the radio , as part of their development of achieving adult maturity.

The answer is yes. but one of the peculiarities of the electrical speed is that iT pushes all of the unconscious factors up into consciousness. This began with Freud and Einstein back in the 1900. but the hidden aspect of the media are the things that should be taught. because they have an irresistible force when invisible. When these factors remain ignored and invisible they have an absolute power over the user, so yes the sooner the population, or the young or old can be taught the effects of these forms, the sooner we can have some sort of reasonable ecology amongst the media themselves. What is desperately needed is a kind of understanding of the media that would permit us to program the whole environment. so that literate values wouldn’t be wiped out by new media. If you understand the nature of these forms, you can neutralise some of their adverse effects, and foster some of their beneficent effects. This, We’ve never reached this level of awareness.

Q: We can never reach that level of awareness.

I’ve been working for that for a long time. You may be surprised to hear that the Finnigans Wake, by James Joyce is one of the top guides to the effects of media. The work is entirely devoted to that theme, and the thunders in finnigans wake are statements of the effects of particular media. The last thunder in finnigans wake on p424 is television. With all its effects social consequences carefully dramatised. Finnigans wake is a drama, its a play, and the actors in the play are the media themselves. Very few Joycians know this.

Q: Professor McLuhan, up til now, while television may have dominated our minds and our lives, the actual box in the corner hasn’t dominated our living room but large screen television sets are being developed, screens say the size of a living room wall. What effect do you think that will have? Will we tolerate giants watching us?

“It’s a very important thing to keep in mind, very important question. I am not, personally I haven’t seen those big screens. They tend to have them out on the play-fields in America, they tend to have these great big screens for the game itself so that you can watch the game on television whilst the game is in process.”

Audience Laughs              

“This is a kind of situation that invites enormous awareness of process, to participate in the kind of replay of the thing whilst its still ongoing. Participation in replay is a form of pattern recognition which is new in the media and has id say has rather large consequences, mostly cognitive, mostly consequences that will effect our nature of our cognition and awareness and i would think only in the direction of extreme self-awareness. I once asked a famous quarterback in american football on TV what the effects of the instant replay on the game of football. We now have to play the game in such a way that the audience can watch the actual process that were performing. They’re no longer interested in just the effect of the play, they want to see the nature of the play, so they’ve had to open up the play on the field to enable the audience to participate more fully in the process of football  play.   Its an unexpected effect, I think its an effect that will also extend to the classroom. The future of education requires that we pay much attention to the media were employing, as forms of study. not necessarily just the hardware skill and use of cameras and microphones but awareness of the nature of the operation 

When you said that Television uses the eye as the ear? what did you mean?

Its a phrase of Tony Schwartz in a very interesting book called the responsive chord. What he means literally is that the image is constituted by millions of these resonating particles. There are no pictures on television there are no snapshots, no shutter,m no camera/ There is an outpouring of these small bits of information in patterns that are entirely active, and dynamic, so they resonate. So he was really saying that the TV image was not a visual but a resonating form of experience.

Professor McLuhan, Is television the ultimate medium, or is there worst to come?

You’ve heard of the hologram? the hologram goes completely around you, TV only goes a little bit around you. the hologram is 360degrees. but its been anticipated by the rock music, in which you have to be enclosed in a sound bubble, the hologram does for TV what rock does for auditory entertainment. The hologram is technically here.

Professor Mcluhan, earlier you spoke of us as going out for our privacy, and coming home for the social aspect. id like to hear you comment on that in relation to electronic mans new thirst for mediation, contemplation, mystical experience.

When being asked about the relation of this inside outside on the life of meditation. As you know the transedential meditation has become exceedingly popular. All forms of mystic meditation have become very popular in our TV age. We have gone very far into the East since TV. Just as an exercise in awareness, meditation has come very big since TV. I’m nbot sure if its good or bad at all, it just has happened. Do you think of it as a very significant event?

I think its very significant. it seems to me almost like a nostalgia for a return to that private self without going outdoors to find it. Return to an inner union with god, with yourself, which electronic man seems to need and is looking for in this way.

Quote from “Medium is the Massage” Book:

“Real, total war has become information war. It is being fought by subtle electric informational media – under cold conditions, and constantly. The cold war is the real war front – a surround – involving – everybody – all the time – everywhere. Whenever hot wars are necessary these days, we conduct them in the backyards of the world with the old technologies. It is no longer convenient, or suitable, to use the latest technologies for fighting our wars, because the latest technologies have rendered war menaingless. The hydrogen bomb is history’s exclamation point. It ends an age-long sentence of manifest violence.”