Marshall McLuhan – The Medium is the Me(a)ssage: Art is anything you can get away with

I wouldn’t be seen dead with a living work of art.

According to Marshall McLuhan any anxiety experienced with the complexities of ‘being’ is mostly related to the redundancy of the outdated mental and psychological abilities we are using to make sense of the world.  In many ways, certain philosophers and most artists (worth their salt) are exploring the inadequacy and the redundancy of words also. In this wonderful recording, and its accompanying book, the theories are given a greater depth and presented as the art McLuhan believes is the best way to look at the ‘now’ of who we are.

When Marshall McLuhan proposed his idea to create an audio companion piece to his landmark 1967 book The Medium Is The Massage, no one quite knew what to expect. The book itself brilliantly captured McLuhan’s theories on media and technology, arguing that the medium by which information is transferred to people was more important than the actual content being relayed. McLuhan hoped that an audio recording would give greater depth to his theories, and in the late 1960s, he and producer John Simon went to work on a record of the same name. Using audio clips of McLuhan speaking, often interrupted by discordant sounds and other voices interjecting, they created a thought-provoking, sometimes whimsical patchwork of sounds and ideas that illustrated the complex relationship between people, media and technology. Over 40 years since it release, The Medium Is The Massage continues to challenge listeners to think about media and communications in new ways. Five Day Weekend is proud to present the definitive compact disc editions of this rare and important album in a brand dew relsease.

” In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember

that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from

sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the

perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all

costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode

in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings

grasp at straws for premises and float on

gossamers for deductions.”

—A. N. Whitehead, “Adventures in Ideas.

The tracks here are a spliced hotchpotch of McLuhan speaking and various media dumpings intended to give us a condensed idea of what McLuhan is talkin about. We receive information in sound bites, bumper stickers and advertising for advertorials.  All of this is accompanied by a funky 60’s track that lulls and seduces you into a comfortable place of acceptance – precisely McLuhan’s point.


“How much do you make? Have you
ever contemplated suicide? Are you
now or have you ever been… ? Are you
aware of the fact…? I have here before
me…. Electrical information devices
for universal, tyrannical womb-totomb
surveillance are causing a very
serious dilemma between our claim to
privacy and the community’s need to
know. The older, traditional ideas of
private, isolated thoughts and actions—
the patterns of mechanistic technologies—
are very seriously threatened by
new methods of instantaneous electric
information retrieval, by the electrically
computerized dossier bank—that one
big gossip column that is unforgiving,
unforgetful and from which there is no
redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes.”
We have already reached a
point where remedial control, born out
of knowledge of media and their total
effects on all of us, must be exerted.
How shall the new environment be programmed
now that we have become so
involved with each other, now that aM
of us have become the unwitting work
force for social change? What’s that

electric circuitry,
an extension of
Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us
unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension
of any one sense alters the way we think and act—
the way we perceive the world.
men change.

I’ll end this post with words from the accompanying booklet – the words of McLuhan himself:

We have now become aware of the possibility of
arranging the entire human environment as a work
of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize
perception and to make everyday learning a process
of discovery. Application of this knowledge
would be the equivalent of a thermostat controlling
room temperature. It would seem only reasonable
to extend such controls to all the sensory thresholds
of our being. We have no reason to be grateful
to those who juggle these thresholds in the
name of haphazard innovation.
An astronomer looking through a 200-inch telescope
exclaimed that it was going to rain. His
assistant asked, “How can you tell?” “Because
my corns hurt.”
Environments are not passive wrappings, but are,
rather, active processes which are invisible. The
groundrules, pervasive structure, and over-all patterns
of environments elude easy perception. Antienvironments,
or countersituations made by artists,
provide means of direct attention and enable us
to see and understand more clearly. The interplay
between the old and the new environments creates
many problems and confusions. The main
obstacle to a clear understanding of the effects of
the new media is our deeply embedded habit of
regarding all phenomena from a fixed point of
view. We speak, for instance, of “gaining perspective.”
This psychological process derives unconsciously
from print technology.
Print technology created the public. Electric technology
created the mass. The public consists of
separate individuals walking around with separate,
fixed points of view. The new technology demands
that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this
fragmentary outlook.
The method of our time is to use not a single but
multiple models for exploration—the technique of
the suspended judgment is the discovery of the
twentieth century as the technique of invention
was the discovery of the nineteenth

The entire album can be heard on Ubuweb here.   Enjoy!