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McLuhan for the masses

The Story


In 1967, University of Toronto English professor Marshall McLuhan publishes a book entitled The Medium Is the Massage. McLuhan, a punster who is comfortably self-mocking, makes a play on his own phrase "the medium is the message." The famed phrase was first published in his 1964 book Understanding Media. But his critics call the work a cop-out, simply a consumer version of the earlier publication. Toronto Daily Star columnist Robert Fulford disagrees, saying the book is very much in McLuhan's style. "You don't need to read all of it. You read bits and pieces. You [can] start in the middle of his book and go to the back."

Medium: Radio
Program: Speaking of Books
Broadcast Date: March 12, 1967
Guest(s): Dennis Braithwaite, Robert Gray, Thelma McCormack, Dean Walker
Host: Robert Fulford
Duration: 8:00

Did You know?


• The term "a McLuhanism" was coined to describe the professor's use of aphorisms. Lying on a couch watching television, McLuhan once explained a McLuhanism, "There's a sign hanging on a Toronto junkyard, which reads: 'Help beautify junkyards: Throw something lovely away today.' This kind of bizarre, would-be cynical and paradoxical sort of remark has, I think, some of the characteristics of a McLuhanism."

• McLuhan's son Eric said his father used aphorisms and puns in order to preserve grammar and rhetoric. It was an attempt to warn of the destruction of literature even though his critics believed he promoted it.
• In his 1998 book, McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand claimed "writing books was not McLuhan's forte" and suggested the professor relied on assistants and co-authors to piece together his notes for publication.

• One biographer called 1967 the unofficial Year of McLuhan. That year, he was offered endless corporate speaking invitations, including from IBM, the American Marketing Association and AT&T, as well as three honorary doctorates to add to the two he already had. In March, NBC aired a report called "This is Marshall McLuhan," and he signed contracts with New York publishers for his books Culture is Our Business and From Cliché to Archetype.


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