understanding media

McLuhan: Pro+Con

Rosenthal, R. (ed.) (1968). McLuhan: Pro and Con. New York: Penguin.

This collection was the second volume of essays on McLuhan's ideas to be published in the late 1960s. Compiled by Raymond Rosenthal, the twenty-four texts date from between 1963 and 1968, and include essays from popular and academic journals, magazine articles, TV reviews, and a number of specially commissioned commentaries. The essays are in fact predominantly con.

Current Biography, pp. 15-22
Short biography up to 1967, including brief summaries of McLuhan's books and key ideas.

Hugh Kenner, Understanding McLuhan, pp. 23-28
Kenner argues that there are three McLuhans: (i) the Genius, a philosopher of genuine insight who defined the study of media; (ii) the Gear-Stripper, who exaggerates these insights by arguing that content is negligible and that the true message of any medium is the change that its existence makes possible; (iii) the Oracle, who embellishes these exaggerations yet further. Kenner is thus, a 'fan' with reservations.

Michael J. Arlen, Marshall McLuhan and the Technological Embrace, pp. 82-87
In this critical TV review from The New Yorker, Arlen suggests that McLuhan is more persuasive than profound. The show is as reverential of the media theorist as McLuhan is of modern technology, but Arlen has reservations with the claim that the alphabet and print have created linear, compartmentalized responses to the world and with McLuhan's cheery acceptance of modern technology. He concludes that McLuhan's comments are superficial and curtail rather than encourage serious contemplation. Also reprinted in Crosby and Bond (1968)

Michael J. Arlen, The Bodiless Tackle, the Second-hand Thud, pp. 87-92
Arlen argues that TV has affected every sport, from the rise of golf to the decline of boxing, and that soccer is televisable in a way that baseball is not. He traces the evolution of baseball as it became increasingly TV-friendly and more of an entertainment than a sport. No explicit mention is made of McLuhan, though Arlen's ideas on sport and baseball follow McLuhan's closely (see McLuhan, 1964, Chapter 24).

Christopher Ricks, McLuhanism, pp. 100-05
A negative critique of McLuhan from The Listener. Ricks argues that McLuhan has no respect for evidence or historical accuracy, that he contradicts himself, that his style is offhand and jargon-ridden, that he overemphasizes the importance of the medium over the message, that he fails to address the question of technological determinism, and ultimately that his antics give media studies a bad name.

Thelma McCormack, Innocent Eye on Mass Society, pp. 199-206
McCormack argues that McLuhan's technological determinism is modelled on depth psychology, in which all behaviour derives from an unacknowledged source. He fails to account, however, for our capacity to use technology without being influenced by it, or to address the relations between what is unique to a medium and the politics of those who run it. He is best considered the first Canadian idealogue of mass society.

Anthony Burgess, The Modicum is the Messuage, pp. 229-33
In this short article from The Spectator, Burgess relates McLuhan's thinking to a particular Cambridge esthetic. He suggests that McLuhan fails to distinguish the medium as a determinant of an art form from the medium as a transmissive device. His analysis of the latter is poor, whereas his insight into the former - Burgess mentions typewriters and advertisements - is perceptive. Burgess concludes that ideas are stronger than the media that convey them, even if it is important that we consider the pressure that these latter exert.