Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everyman's McLuhan

Sometimes, reading makes me feel stupid. There are some smart people in the world, linguists and philosophers and political theorists, who can say things that sit in that area just outside the realm of my understanding. I sorta get what they're saying, but not entirely, and the fact that they are taken seriously, debated and proffered as great thinkers, makes me feel like I have a defect.

That said, there are people whose words I came across at a young age, whose ideas stuck with me and made me want to try and understand them. In my teens I came across a pair of paperback designed to appeal to the hipsters of the early 70s, books full of soundbites and quotes richly supported by free-form photo-collage work. One was a book by Buckminster Fuller called I Seem To Be A Verb and the other The Medium Is the Message by Marshall McLuhan. Of the two I was better able to grok, mostly, what Fuller was saying because the message was all about preserving what he called Spaceship Earth. The McLuhan book on the other hand stood just outside the boundaries of my brain's comfort zone. I could tell he was saying something important about the effect of media on society but I couldn't quite find a way to condense his message into talking points for conversation.

Every once in a while I've tried to dip back into McLuhan and thought I found an entry point when I came across Douglas Coupland's biography. Coupland, who popularized the term Generation X and is of my generation, crafted a readable biography but only glanced at McLuhan's theories. Still, I felt like I was getting closer to understanding if nothing else the evolution of how McLuhan came to see the world the way he did. Then, days after I finished Coupland's biography, I came across Everyman's McLuhan and my brain sighed Finally.

Linguist W. Terrence Gordon and graphic designers Eri Hamaji and Jacob Albert have essentially created a modern version of the McLuhan book I remembered from long ago. Whether they were inspired by the Jerome Agel and Quentin Fiore-designed original and given it a modern spin or whether McLuhan simply inspires this sort of presentation, Everyman's McLuhan is a handsome introduction to the thinking and ideas of the man who coined the phrases Global Village, Culture Is Our Business, and the oft-quoted-but-little-understood-by-those-who-quote-it The Medium is the Message.

Taking McLuhan's words from the past and applying them to our present times it becomes clear that McLuhan truly understood the effect of media on mass culture. Interestingly, McLuhan was able to do this by studying past linguists to understand the trends that could be applied looking forward. Even saying I get it now doesn't mean I can fully explain it. Reading Everyman's McLuhan is like gaining flashes of images in a dream that make sense in the moment and then drift away just as quickly on waking. Instead of imparting ideas that stick the book provides insight that have the ability to change as a reader's experience with media changes. The text invites revisiting and re-evaluating what McLuhan said and thought within the context of our changing daily experience.

Everyman's McLuhan
by W. Terrence Gordon
designed by  Eri Hamaji and Jacob Albert
Mark Batty Publisher 2007


Sarah Stevenson said...

This sounds really cool. Hopefully not too-cool-for-me cool...

david elzey said...

the thing is, it LOOKS really cool, which helps. the images don't exactly illustrate the point or quote of the moment, but on the whole everything fits together to form an on-going visual and verbal environment.