MARSHALL MCLUHAN – “THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE” (1968)
I had this one for years on LP, hospital and then I’ve had it sitting in my iTunes for years after that — and I’ve only gotten around to listening to it last night.
This is an audio version of Canadian media theorist McLuhan’s 1967 book of the same name — which itself was, according to Wikipedia…:
…160 pages in length and composed in an experimental, collage style with text superimposed on visual elements and vice versa. Some pages are printed backwards and are meant to be read in a mirror (see mirror writing). Some are intentionally left blank. Most contain photographs and images both modern and historic, juxtaposed in startling ways.
The book was intended to make McLuhan’s philosophy of media and communication, considered by some incomprehensible and esoteric, more accessible to a wider readership through the use of visual metaphor and sparse text.
Marshall McLuhan argues in The Medium is the Massage that the dominant communication media of our time will shape the way humans think, act, and ultimately perceive the world around them. Technologiesâ€”from clothing to the wheel to the book, and beyondâ€”are the messages themselves, not the content of the medium. In essence, The Medium is the Massage is a graphical and creative representation of his “medium is the message” thesis seen in Understanding Media.
It’s had to believe something this wacky and borderline incomprehensible could’ve been released by a major record label (Columbia, in this case,) but McLuhan was so influential at the time, that it probably seemed like a good idea to someone. I don’t mean to knock McLuhan’s work, which is pretty top-shelf and still highly regarded as prophetic — but it’s the production style that makes the ideas contained within barely cohese. Picture Zappa, The Firesign Theater and Malcolm Gladwell all circle-jerking onto the face of Ionesco, and you’ve got somewhat of an idea of what this album sounds like. Again, from Wikipedia:
The recording consists of a pastiche of statements made by McLuhan interrupted by other speakers, including people speaking in various phonations and falsettos, discordant sounds and 1960s incidental music in what could be considered a deliberate attempt to translate the disconnected images seen on TV into an audio format, resulting in the prevention of a connected stream of conscious thought. Various audio recording techniques and statements are used to illustrate the relationship between spoken, literary speech and the characteristics of electronic audio media. McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand called the recording “the 1967 equivalent of a McLuhan video.”
“I wouldn’t be seen dead with a living work of art.” â€“ Old man speaking
“Drop this jiggery-pokery and talk straight turkey.” â€“ Middle aged man speaking
That said — the album is kinda cool.