Sunday, May 16, 2010

McLuhan's Animal Farm

When you believe in things you don’t understand then you suffer.
Superstition ain’t the way. -Stevie Wonder

At Ruth Kaplan’s show, “Some Kind of Divine” I read the usual gallery blurb til I got to the word “McLuhanesque.” I walked away. Nothing in Kaplan’s work is McLuhanesque and I wondered aloud what McLuhanesque could possibly mean. McLuhan wasn’t a photographer. He was an academic.

I mentioned it to someone and she said “The medium is the message.” Wow. Yup. That’s the name of one of his books alright and I remember the old fart saying how the content of any medium is meaningless: the real meaning of anything was the medium itself. Got it. But is it true? Who says so? And where's the proof?

I remember his writing a lot of things that I believed: that technologies were extensions of men’s organs into space and that, in extending them, those faculties and organs were amputated. Really? With the advent of musical notation, mathematics and verbal literacy (among many other media) human beings were able to work, not just inside their heads anymore but “out there” on paper where music became infinitely richer and communicable to each orchestra member. Did the notation of music amputate the ear? The ability to conceive and imagine music? Really? Where is the proof? All of the evidence tends to the opposite direction.

Did the famous blackboards of movies amputate the ability of mathematicians and physicists to work on their ideas? Really? And the train, plane and car. Did that really amputate our legs just because we feel bandy-legged after a long trip? Did the ability of sprinters suffer after flying so fast to other continents for track and field events? Or did they break world records, just as before?

Each new technology forced a change in sensory adaptation to the world McLuhan said. TV was a cool medium, and an extension of the eyes which blinded us; radio was hot, and extension of the ear that deafened us; the computer an extension of the brain that made us duh. So that’s what causes war! First the invention of bronze caused the bronze wars and then the invention of iron caused the iron wars. But what of the rain in Spain? Didn’t it rain mainly in the plain in Spain just before each and every war? By George I think I’ve got it!

But it’s food for thought, that rain in Spain being the cause of war and since everyone wants an end to war, I can hear the cash register ringing and singing somewhere in the mountains and the plain, each of which are their own medium by the way, and whether slaughter or love happens there, because the medium itself is the message, it doesn’t matter if there are tears or peals of laughter but no matter, the cash register rings like the bells in yon meadow whose message was:“Aye! Coom and milk the cows Donat and stop lingering with the sheep.”

War is the tragic result of natural aggression and the inclination of that not always nice animal, man, to take advantage of the weaker position of others to take what he needs from him and the countermeasure: to maintain a strong defense against such trespass. That technologies cause war is dubious. Less dubious is that many technologies are a response to war. But I’ll let it lay like a chicken on the other side of the road where the egg goes splat. War will end when man himself changes: not his technologies (sorry Bucky Fuller) not his politics but his soul.

My conversation partner said that it was really not nice of me to “attack a dead man's ideas.” Well, I'll be damned! That’s chutzpah isn’t it? I can't think of a single dead person’s ideas that are not argued against, discounted, disproved, discredited and razed to the ground daily. For what reason exactly would McLuhan of all people be exempt from intellectual examination?

Is it because his work is a hollow shell that he should be canonized and treated with solemn piety? A Zardoz* phenomenon?

Because McLuhan's ideas are so empty, people can put whatever they like in them and no one can challenge them because the medium is the message and the message is therefore the medium and since you’re using words to say what you’re saying it doesn’t matter what words you use they’re just words after all and all you’re saying is words? Bullshit.

© Dan Goorevitch 2010 (A red rag to Bullshit™ since 1951)

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