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Close Up on Media Theory: Marshall McLuhan and Cultural Studies

Many academic researchers of the 1960s became interested in a type of research that came to be kno n as cultural studies! Cultural studies did not depend on controlled e"periments or statistical proof# but rather on careful obser$ations of# and thinkin% about# both media and society! &ne of the best'kno n researchers (althou%h by no means the first) in the cultural tradition as Marshall McLuhan!i * Canadian professor of +n%lish literature# McLuhan rote that it as the nature of the communication technolo%y itself# rather than the content that as carried on it# that chan%ed society in radical ays! The characteristics of a medium such as tele$ision# much more than its content# he said# determine hat a $ie er ill e"perience, or as he famously put it# -The medium is the messa%e!. /or McLuhan# the idea that tele$ision could be either %ood or bad# dependin% on ho it as used# as the stance of a technolo%ical idiot! 0e%ardless of its content# a medium like tele$ision tended to deaden the critical faculties of indi$iduals! 1rint at least encoura%ed lo%ical thou%ht# because it re2uired a step'by'step decodin% that as rational in nature! Tele$ision# on the other hand# encoura%ed irrationality by pro$idin% information all at once# ithout lo%ical order and in an emotional# $isual ay rather than a rational# linear ay! McLuhan as a %reat belie$er in technolo%ical determinism# the theory that states that the introduction of ne technolo%y chan%es society# sometimes in une"pected ays! Technolo%ical determinism as discussed in Chapter T o (p! 00) in relation to the ay printin% and books chan%ed the orld! McLuhan ad$anced his ideas as near'mystical -probes. rather than testable theories! 1uns rather than strai%htfor ard statements became his a"ioms! *t one point# -the medium is the messa%e. became -the medium is the massa%e#. su%%estin% that mass media %ently massa%ed

its user into a state of obli$ion that destroyed rationality and critical thinkin%! McLuhan also ad$anced the idea of the global village# in hich information about people of different cultures# in different countries thousands of miles a ay# become as meanin%ful to media consumers as thin%s happenin% in their o n nei%hborhoods!ii &f the se$eral books McLuhan rote# the best kno n is Understanding Media# hich some critics ha$e described as -so densely ritten as to be unreadable!.iii 3ecause of the profound nature of much of hat he said# McLuhan as referred to as a -media %uru. durin% his lifetime! *fter his death in 1940# many called him a -media prophet. because his su%%estions seem to ha$e special si%nificance to the contemporary orld!i$ The orld ide mournin% that took place for 1rincess 5iana and 6ohn /! 7ennedy 6r!# for e"ample# su%%ested that his idea of a %lobal $illa%e had come true!

See# for e"ample# 8! Terrence 9ordon# Marshall McLuhan: Escape Into Understanding (:!;!: 3asic 3ooks# 199<)! McLuhan rote more than a do=en books# the best kno n bein% Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man# 196>! Stanley 6! 3aran and 5ennis 7! 5a$is# Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment and Future (3elmont# C*:

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8ads orth# 199?)# p! @A6!


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See# for e"ample# 1aul Le$inson# Digital McLuhan:

!uide to the Information Millennium (:e ;ork: 0outled%e#

1999)!