Some Marshall McCluhan Discourse

If the Medium is the Message…

While yes I agree that one cannot separate the medium from the thing that it’s trying to accomplish or communicate, the content is still important and the message is very much a thing all it’s own. The “medium”, while completely capable of being that message, is instead usually a facilitator and an amplifier. As most media have their own language and context, if we study and have awareness of this, we as artists are capable of making stronger work through knowledgable use and manipulation. It is much easier to subvert something that one knows well. However, If your message is weak or proper attention isn’t given to the tools being employed, you leave yourself open to being overpowered by that medium.

In the same vein in regards to that Sarnoff quote –

“We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them”.

No, we can’t blame (or applaud) tools for being effective. But a certain understanding is perhaps necessary to look through this effectiveness and see the people who employ them. It is also often a lack of understanding on the side of the wielder that creates accidental sins, on what occasions is it appropriate to blame or forgive ignorance? Can we remove “blame” from the equation by stressing study as the equalizer. If you know how certain paints interact with light or how story builds tension, it becomes easier to recognize the skills and agenda of the painter and the writer. Social media, the news, twitter, they are also all just tools, if we recognize how they work, we more easily see the mechanicians of the actual people behind them. We are also more capable of working against them and using them to our own devices. And admittedly, It’s impossible for everyone to know the workings of everything and I would guess that’s why regulation is often employed, as protection from ignorance. Or would it be protection of the ignorant? Off topic maybe. The merits of regulation? A different blog post…

As an aside, as far as this program goes, a lot of people who know me also know that I’m incredibly sceptical of VR. And that’s for many reasons but in regards to this reading, it stands out to me that virtual reality is one of those “technological instruments” that is not widely understood and is relatively speaking – very new. Currently more people are going to see the medium (VR) as yes, part of (if not the entire) message. And this will be satisfying! Because it is novel and harder to look past. But my hope is that eventually we’ll get to a point where that’s not enough; novelty alone won’t carry an experience or be able to serve as content. When everyone can acknowledge what it is and isn’t good for we’ll see better and more thoughtful work created in that space.

But first! Like many things It must be played with. It must be explored and broken down in order to see what it lends itself to. And that is where the artists come in. The artist is great at tearing things apart while passing them off as novelties. And as illustrated in this passage in particular –

“The sudden visibility of sound just as sound ends is an apt instance of that great pattern of being that reveals new and opposite forms just as the earlier forms reach their peak performance.”

It is perhaps when something has been completely revealed or deconstructed that it it at it’s most powerful and most revealing. I suppose he even addresses most of my points later – “Just as higher education is no longer a frill or luxury but a stark need of production and operational design in the electric age, so the artist is indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and structures created by electric technology.” Sure we may (let’s not get full of ourselves and assume it’s an always) be able to see through the But the idea that artists are supposed to steer society with vision is incredibly optimistic. If the artist is supposed to “move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society” a lot more people will need to pay attention to art. Usually the vision of an artistic movement is only recognized years down the line…

And a lingering question that is much larger than vr, art, or the media, must we tear the world down in order to best understand it as well?