INS Check-In: If the Medium is the Message, than the Content is its Audience!?!??!!?
- “Perhaps more fundamentally, McLuhan felt that his upbringing on the prairies provided him with a kind of natural “counter-environment” to the great centers of civilization. He felt he had the advantage that any bright outsider brings with him from the boondocks when he comes to the big city: a freshness of outlook that often enables him to see overall patterns missed by the inhabitants who have been molded by those patterns. It was the advantage that he felt accrued to Canadians in general vis-à-vis the United States and Europe.” (9)
I felt intrigued by the idea that McLuhan suggested – that those on the outside have a better understanding of the inside than those in the inner circle themselves. My first response is that I agree with McLuhan, especially in context of my recent trips to Toronto. Being someone from the West Coast, it was jarring to visit such a vibrant and intimidating city. Since Toronto residents were obviously wrapped up in their own business, it was easy for me to assume the mindset of an observer. Also, I think that for one to experience the same state of detachment from his/her new surroundings, their current environment must be vastly different than their upbringing, as the author suggested by “from the boondocks when he comes to the big city”. For example, if I left a group project in Leadership class because I felt like the environment was not right for me, and then entered another group with similar problems, I wouldn’t be able to fully comment on the new group’s dynamics and progress, because I would be wrapped up in the same vortex of issues that I had in the first group.
At the time of the publication of The Medium and the Messenger, which was 1990, Canadians were dealing with several important issues that would shape the nation for years to come – the Meech Lake Accord, a free trade deal that some saw as moving Canada towards ‘post-nationalism’, Quebec separatism, and tighter laws on social issues such as abortion, sexual assault, and gun control. A certain sense of fate was pervading through Ottawa and its politicians, that a giant hand was pushing these deals to a breaking point. Perhaps what might have resonated with readers at the time was McLuhan’s soft encouragement for citizens to take a deep breath, and evaluate national issues with a sense of detachment. Today, I believe that it has become much easier for Canadians to express their views on places different than their own; commercial travel is cheaper, safer, and more accessible than ever before, and social media provides a platform for residents from opposite sides of the country to interact.
- “McLuhan extended the insight to mean that the content of any medium or technology is its user. He would counter the demands of Canadian nationalists for more ‘Canadian content’ on Canadian television, for example, by pointing out that a show such as ‘Bonanza’ became Canadian content the moment it was viewed by Canadians.” (39)
This passage was probably the most eye-opening statement of the first few chapters that I read. McLuhan is essentially stating that when viewers/readers interpret a work, they are basically creating as much of the work as the so-called ‘author’. I disagree with McLuhan, because the creator-viewer-equality outlook places far too much responsibility on the viewer, and gives far too little credit on the actual creator. To suggest that the reader of a book, whose job often consists of reading a text and not doing too much more (unless they are further investigating it for some purpose), is doing as much work as the author of that book, who spent years of research and labour, is not fair at all. I personally believe that the moment a book is published, it is a finished work. Until the book is updated and revised, it is in a stagnant form. In the past, I have found this to be true – for example, when I got to know the author of a biography I loved (Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould), I came to understand that it was his ideas that permeated the book, not my own.
The ‘CanCon’ (or, Canadian content) debate introduced above has been an engaging topic for Canadians in the past 50 years or so. At the time of McLuhan’s career, it was nearly impossible for a Canadian artist to establish a career anywhere other than the United States, and because of that, radio stations were almost exclusively playing American music. Even in the 1990’s, when this book was published, artists from Canada were being overshadowed by American musicians and actors. Today, most critics are not supportive of Cancon, and the younger generation might not even care what country a TV show was made in. In a Huffington Post article, Michael Hennessy, president of the Canadian Media Producers Association, stated that “You like to see bits of Canada reflected but you’ve got to like the show,” he said. “Nobody wants to watch a show just because it’s Canadian.”
- “He felt toward the city of Toronto much the same way he felt toward the University of Toronto – it was an irritant that removed any temptation to complacency. In Toronto, McLuhan felt, culture was considered to be ‘basically an unpleasant moral duty.’ The locals made up for their sense of being outside any important intellectual by maintaining a kind of surly dogmatism.” (101)
Wow! I couldn’t have been more provoked by this quote, as having visited Toronto twice in the last year, nothing could be farther from the truth. Speaking from my own experience, Toronto is a very vibrant, progress-oriented city, more so than Vancouver. I constantly saw construction of new buildings, additions to subway lines, and advertised events that marketed Toronto as ‘the place to be’ in Canada. Culture is not only accepted in Toronto, but also advocated for – last month, I visited a Chinatown, Old Downtown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, and Koreatown in the space of two days. In terms of the University of Toronto, I also saw a strong push for continuous improvement on their own advertising banners – for example, there were questions asking, “What if we could detect cancer in 20 minutes?”, or “What if your heartbeat was your password?”, and then stating that the university was searching for answers to the question.
In the 1990’s, Toronto was quickly developing into the cultural metropolis that we call it today. Most Torontonians who read the quote listed above must have been appalled, since advertisers and tourist companies were using Toronto’s multiculturalism and diversity as a selling point. Check out this website below:
Today, Toronto is considered the most multicultural city in the world (according to the BBC), and the University of Toronto is among the best in Canada. This might be a reflection of the current value of many Canadians that it’s important to spread openness to immigrants from other nations.
- “A change in the type of medium implies a change in the types of appraisal and hence makes it difficult for one civilization to understand another.” (121)
This quote was very revelatory for me, because it was easy to comprehend, but also made a lot of sense. Since different civilizations had different ways of communicating with each other, what they communicated to each other was different than what another society communicated. This ties back to McLuhan’s most famous quote: “the medium is the message”. When the medium changes (ex. from spoken word to writing), so does the message (there might be a stronger focus on detail over feeling, and writing is more precise and can be passed down easier). Personally, I connected this quote to when I research for primary source evidence. For me, it is inherently harder to interpret primary source evidence, because the mediums of past eras like letters or radio speeches are a completely different form of communication than what I am used to. Letters might have more flowery language than today’s communication, and radio speeches are more dry and direct without visual aids.
The quote would have resonated with Canadians reading the book in the years after it was published, as the World-Wide-Web was entering prominence in the 1990’s. Since technology was making information easier to access, that meant that the information itself might have been changing too. For example, websites such as online encyclopedias would have offered more updated information, which would help Canadians become educated on current events. In today’s society, we are seeing another change in how we communicate with each other – through text messaging, we can send anyone anything, from short, terse prose communicating a deadline, to a long essay. This quote then reveals that as Canadians, our values regarding communication are constantly shifting, as the technology used to transmit thoughts continues to develop.
- “‘Canadians are all a very humble bunch […] they take it for granted that everything they do must be second rate. I just blithely assumed that, since nearly everything in the world is second rate at best, there was no reason why we couldn’t do something that was first rate right here.’” (128)
I found this quote particularly interesting because I agree with it so much! From my personal experience, Canadians seem to be less assertive than residents of other countries, such as America. In public, I personally default to saying “sorry”, even when strangers bump into me. This might also be why more aspirational Canadians tend to go to America to start their careers. Because of this, I admire McLuhan’s nationalism. For my 1st Document of Learning, I investigated the effect of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on the Canadian psyche. Canadians made explicit efforts to be more confident, from openly expressing their pride on the streets in Vancouver, to blatantly stating that the country wanted to win the most medals in Vancouver. Even though Canada finished 3rd in the medal ranking, polls still showed the citizens felt a boost of patriotic pride (see my DOL for more information!).
As one can see in the various actions taken by the Canadian government and public in the 1990’s, Canadians were trying to take ownership over defining who they were. This includes the Meech Lake Accord, a free trade deal that some saw as moving Canada towards ‘post-nationalism’, Quebec separatism, and tighter laws on social issues such as abortion, sexual assault, and gun control. Later, in terms of gay marriage rights, Canada was seen by other countries as a pioneer. Today, Canadians are still becoming more passionate about their own issues, such as Murdered/Missing Indigenous Women. Our values have shifted towards having stronger convictions and opinions of what our country should look like.
Thematic statement: It is impossible for one to rely on others to ‘spoon-feed’ their education and learning process; learning is an independent journey that the learner themself must directly initiate.
Marshall McLuhan was always a very passionate learner that initiated his own learning; he read around 35 books a week even when he was a professor at the University of Toronto. Also, when he was obtaining his education, he always took efforts to introduce himself to future mentors and friends, such as F.R. Leavis and Ezra Pound. This hunger for knowledge is what led him to his discovery of the field of communications, which obviously resulted in a long and prosperous career. What I take from this is that if I want to learn and improve in a given area, I cannot wait for teachers to tell me what to do, but take initiative of my own learning and ask them for more specific knowledge that I want to learn. This will not only serve me well in my general education, but also in my future career.