Superman, Supergirl & Krypto (Art by Curt Swan, 1962)

McLuhan’s Cool Comics

by Guy Leshinski   –   Sept. 28, 2005

In his first book, 1951’s The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan reproached the Man of Steel, calling Superman’s crime-fighting tactics “the strong-arm totalitarian methods of the immature and barbaric mind.” He was more favourable a few years later when surveying the medium as a whole. He devoted an entire chapter of his seminal book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man to unpacking the intangible ways comics ape and infect our culture. (Marymount Manhattan College professor Kent Worcester and Toronto writer Jeet Heer include this chapter in their erudite anthology
Arguing Comics.)

 Superman Cover, Oct. 1967

McLuhan saw comics as extensions of the woodcut and photographic media, “a world of inclusive gesture and dramatic posture.”

“[T]he modern comics strip and comic book,” he wrote, “provide very little data about any particular moment in time, or aspect in space, of an object. The viewer, or reader, is compelled to participate in completing and interpreting the few hints provided by the bounding lines.” These are qualities of what McLuhan termed “cool” media, lo-fi creations that force us to fill in the blanks. They contrast with “hot” media like film, which make the viewer “a passive consumer of actions.” Comics, in his words, are cool.

He scrutinized Mad magazine, which, at the time Understanding Media was published in 1964, was hitting its stride as an agent of screwball subversion. To McLuhan, Mad was “a ludicrous and cool replay of the forms of the hot media of photo, radio and film.”

Mad is a kind of newspaper mosaic of the ad as entertainment, and entertainment as a form of madness.” It exploited the fact that ads, according to McLuhan (who considered Hollywood movies ads for popular culture), were “not meant for conscious consumption,” so that “any ad consciously attended to is comical.”

“The comic strip and the ad, then, both belong to the world of games, to the world of models and extensions of situations elsewhere.”

McLuhan clearly had a soft spot for funnybooks. He contrasted the genteel fine-art world with popular art like comics, “the clown reminding us of all the life and faculty that we have omitted from our daily routines.” He saw in Al Capp’s classic strip Li’l Abner and its “predicament of helpless ineptitude” a “paradigm of the human situation, in general.” And he cautioned that the rise of television, an even more inclusive medium, devalued comics as purveyors of far-flung drama.

All this came decades before the growth of the graphic novel and the Western embrace of comics stories and techniques from France, Japan and elsewhere. McLuhan studied the nascent comic form, its melding of words and pictures, divorced from its content — which he argued was a medium of its own.

In this way, comics haven’t changed in the time since McLuhan published his definitive works. His theories are as provocative to the comics fan as they are to the technophile, even if, like the medium itself all these years, his writing on comics is mostly ignored. (Source:


The best book by far for understanding comics is Scott McLeod’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993), which was, as acknowledged by its title, influenced by Marshall McLuhan.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is a comic (a graphic novel technically) on everything about comic. First published in 1993, it is one of the most famous works of Scott McCloud, American comic artist and author. In this book, McCloud digs deep into almost all comic aspects: the history, vocabulary, the underlying principles, the various elements and how they work. It presents detailed graphical explanation on comics as a form of art and communication medium.

Since its publication, Understanding Comics has gained huge success commercially and critically. Well-known comic and graphic novel authors and artists such as Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Garry Trudeau, and Art Spiegelman expressed their praises for this seminal work of McCloud’s.

Providing abundant knowledge into the world of comic (and graphic novel), from the definitions, history, technicalities, theories, methods, concepts, styles, elements, and many others, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art has become one of the most important and influential works in the modern comic industry.    ( )

Here’s a sample of the book’s approach as read aloud by a Mr. Koch:

Part I of Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics.”

The following is from an essay by a former student of Ong, Dr. Thomas J. Farrell, as an introduction to Ong’s thought and body of scholarship by way of prefacing this last book of his former teacher. Follow this link read Dr. Farrell’s whole essay

Ong’s incomplete sixth book-length study has now been posthumously published as the book Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization, edited by Thomas D. Zlatic and Sara van den Berg (Cornell University Press, 2017). Just to be clear, hermeneutic means interpretation. Ong left the incomplete manuscript in the Ong archives at SLU [Saint Louis University]. Professors Zlatic and van den Berg retrieved the incomplete manuscript from the Ong archives and edited it for publication, with an editorial apparatus to assist readers. This book is a primer in Ong’s thought. As a primer, it could be titled Ong for Dummies. As a primer in his thought, it could serve as a gateway for new readers to enter into the rich world of Ong’s thought in his 400 or so publications.

Professor Zlatic received his Ph.D. in English from SLU in the 1970s. Over the years, he has published numerous essays in which he draws on Ong’s thought, including “Faith in Pretext: An Ongian Context for [Melville’s] The Confidence-Man” in the book Of Ong and Media Ecology (Hampton Press, 2012, pages 241-280). In Ong’s posthumously published book, Zlatic supplied the three essays “Language as Hermeneutic: The Evolution of the Idea and the Text” (pages 123-146), “Language as Hermeneutic: An Unresolved Chord” (pages 147-180), and “Picturing Ong’s Oral Hermeneutic” (pages 195-201).

Professor van den Berg is currently a professor of English at SLU. She is the senior editor with Thomas M. Walsh of SLU of the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J. (Hampton Press, 2011). She supplied the introduction to Ong’s posthumously published book (pages 1-8).

Perhaps I should explain that for years Fr. Ong suffered from Parkinson’s disease. At about the same time, Pope John-Paul II also suffered from it. I imagine that Ong’s decision to stop working on the drafts that Professors Zlatic and van den Berg have collated and edited for publication was based on the impact of Parkinson’s on him. In general, Ong loved to revise whatever he was writing. For him, revision was a labor of love. But the devastating impact of Parkinson’s undoubtedly made this labor of love unsustainable.

Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization

By Walter J. Ong, SJ

Edited & with Commentaries by Thomas D. Zlatic & Sara van den Berg

Cornell University Press

Language in all its modes—oral, written, print, electronic—claims the central role in Walter J. Ong’s acclaimed speculations on human culture. After his death, his archives were found to contain unpublished drafts of a final book manuscript that Ong envisioned as a distillation of his life’s work. This first publication of Language as Hermeneutic, reconstructed from Ong’s various drafts by Thomas D. Zlatic and Sara van den Berg, is more than a summation of his thinking. It develops new arguments around issues of cognition, interpretation, and language. Digitization, he writes, is inherent in all forms of “writing,” from its early beginnings in clay tablets. As digitization increases in print and now electronic culture, there is a corresponding need to counter the fractioning of digitization with the unitive attempts of hermeneutics, particularly hermeneutics that are modeled on oral rather than written paradigms.

In addition to the edited text of Language as Hermeneutic, this volume includes essays on the reconstruction of Ong’s work and its significance within Ong’s intellectual project, as well as a previously unpublished article by Ong, “Time, Digitization, and Dalí’s Memory,” which further explores language’s role in preserving and enhancing our humanity in the digital age.

For a Table of Contents, Reviews &Detailed Information see the Cornell University Press page at

Walter J. Ong (1912–2003) taught at Saint Louis University for thirty years. His many books include Orality and Literacy, Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology; Interfaces of the Word; and Fighting for Life, the latter three from Cornell University Press.

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He is the proud author of the book Walter Ong’s Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word & I – Thou Communication (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000; 2nd ed. 2009, forthcoming).

Marshall McLuhan & Walter Ong seated to his left

By Nick Ripatrazone   –   Dec. 27. 2017

“I make probes,” wrote Marshall McLuhan. “I don’t explain—I explore.” In 1967 he published The Medium Is the Massage, an eccentric journey into how our senses experience electric media. That same year, Walter Ong, S.J.—whose graduate thesis adviser happened to be McLuhan—released The Presence of the Word, a dense but visionary take on our evolution from oral to electronic communication. Also in 1967 Andy Warhol created a silkscreen portfolio of Marilyn Monroe. “The more you look at the same exact thing,” Warhol said, “the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.”

McLuhan, Ong and Warhol offered a profound vision of media, a Catholic vision. Their Catholicism was not incidental to their theories and their art; it was their structure, their spirit and their sustenance. Fifty years later, their simultaneous creations feel somehow both particular to their moment and prescient. We might even call them transcendent.

All oracles must divine from somewhere, and McLuhan’s source was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. Teilhard had conceived of the “noösphere,” an evolutionary phase in which a “thinking skin” covers the world. This “stupendous thinking machine” of a collective consciousness sounds much like a biological internet. Now imagine how Teilhard’s wild theory sounded to an academic like McLuhan, a literary scholar seeking patterns and connections in the history of media and communication…

Unlike McLuhan, Ong is primarily concerned with the mode of sound: “The electronic processes typical of today’s communications world are themselves of their very nature infravisible—not even truly imaginable in terms of sight.” Although the electronic age awakened us to the profound differences between the “old oral culture and the culture initiated with writing and matured with alphabetic type,” he channels McLuhan to say that “simultaneity is a mark of both early oral culture and of electronic culture Primitive life is simultaneous in that it has no records, so that its conscious contact with its past is governed by what people talk about.”

Our digital world is simultaneous, absolute, overwhelming in possibility. What does that mean for communion with others? “The fragmentation of consciousness initiated by the alphabet has in turn been countered by the electronic media which have made man present to himself across the globe, creating an intensity of self-possession on the part of the human race which is a new, and at times an upsetting, experience. Further transmutations lie ahead.”

McLuhan &Warhol

Warhol surrounded himself with Catholic artists, photographers, poets and managers: Fred Hughes, Gerald Malanga, Paul Morrissey, Bob Colacello, Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, Christopher Makos, Robert Mapplethorpe and Vincent Fremont. The same year he created the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” spectacles, Warhol created a silkscreen series of Marilyn Monroe. The portfolio’s varying shades and colors take an endlessly recycled face and imbue transformative life. There is something vaguely liturgical in Warhol’s recursive method.

This is not to say that such pop work was devotional; Warhol saved that for his Last Supper sequence. Alexandre Iolas commissioned Warhol to create a series based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work. For an artist who had made the mundane mystical—think soup cans and soda bottles—this was a different context. It was a print masterpiece resurrected, an artistic word made flesh: draped in camouflage, silkscreened, infused with layers of pop and piety. Warhol created over 100 takes on Leonardo’s creation, his repetition suffused with the rhythm of prayer. McLuhan did not live to see it, but he would have appreciated it”…

These are 3 segments from a longer article which you should read in full at:

See also the following on this blog:-

Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan  –

McLuhan & Ong on the Cultural Shift From Orality to Literacy –

Andy Warhol & Marshall McLuhan: The Artist & the Visionary

Marshall McLuhan, his mother Elsie and younger brother Maurice (“Red”)

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

– Marcellus to Horatio and Bernardo, after seeing the Ghost: (Hamlet, I, i)

Gutenberg Man at leisure – Books, the Toronto Star & a Canadian beer in its stubby bottle

The December 1968 Edition of Playboy Magazine that contains Marshall McLuhan’s essay, Include Me Out: The Reversal of the Overheated Image  

Most people who have an interest in Marshall McLuhan are aware of the 1969 Interview of McLuhan published by Playboy Magazine, but they might not know about the December 1968 essay Include Me Out: The Reversal of the Overheated Image. Here is the full text of that essay and, if you wish, you can download that entire Playboy issue from

Include Me Out: The Reversal Of The Overheated Image

by Marshall McLuhan
Playboy, December 1968

Mind your media, men, or you’ll find yourselves catching
a cold environment—and suffering from overexposure.
“The bark is still there, but the molars are gone.”
The Avis ad reads: “We try harder.”
The Electric Circus ad reads: “We try softer.”

The big reversal of our time is the flip from a service environment of “hardware” to a service environment of “software.” By 1820, well before the telegraph became commercial, England had achieved hardware service environments on a considerable scale. Not just the press and cheap books (“The true university of these days is a collection of books”—Carlyle) but a national postal service based on hard-surface post roads. The application of steam power to printing and manufacture, to boat and train, was well under way. All of these environmental services were tied into metropolitan concentrations and marketing based on uniform pricing and currency. (The LSD of those days meant an outer trip—pounds, shillings and pence: hard money.

The acceleration of hardware technologies assured centralization of power and management, just as the much greater electronic speed-up today ensures the reverse pattern in business and politics, in culture and education, in war and peace. Mechanical, industrial or hardware service environments—print, post, rail or plane, for example—are “hot” because they are tightly tied together as bureaucratic organizations. On the other hand, software environments of information are pervasive, unobtrusive and as decentralized as telephone or radio. Hardware is specialized, requiring much fragmentation of skills. Software is generalized, requiring an interrelated awareness of whole environments. The new word is “ecology.” The organization chart is gone. Today, the higher a man climbs in an organization, the less he has to do with its operation. By the time he reaches the top, he’s a dropout, like L. B.J. Had Robert Kennedy survived the assassin’s bullets and been a Presidential candidate in November, he would automatically have become President. As a cripple, he would have been much “cooler.” F. D. R., as a cripple, was not a mere leader. He was an emperor. Seated in his wheelchair, he acquired the imperial status of Buddha or Raymond Burr’s Ironside. A man standing on his two feet can be a leader. That’s a hot image. But he must shout, trying to find an audience. An emperor, seated in state, doesn’t need to find an audience. He gives audience. He wears his audience, the whole nation, as his mask of power.

Of course, even this posture, pushed to an extreme, defeats itself by reversal. Milton understood this very well in presenting his image of Satan in the opening of book two of Paradise Lost: “High on a throne of royal state, which far/Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,/Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand/Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,/Satan exalted sat, by merit rais’d/To that bad eminence…”As Antony Jay put it in Management and Machiavelli: “The emperor is the stage beyond the creative leader, the position that a few creative leaders graduate to, and this ability to . . . harness the most powerful and influential people to the common cause is the distinguishing feature.” The emperor, that is to say, creates new environments. These are the emperor’s new clothes. They are invisible, because people are able to see only something their own size. Environments surround them and numb them, eluding the perception of all except little Peter Pans.Today, private business can become an invisible environment so large as to be the equivalent of a national state. As makers of service
environments, businesses shape and educate our perceptions invincibly and invisibly. The Greek word for environment is perivallo —”to hit from all sides at once.”

In this age of information environments of electric software, it is the service environments that have become the teaching machines. Education and culture
have become the major part of the business enterprise itself, flipping the entire image of business. One sees ads such as: “ADOPT A COLLEGE.” Business can now take over public education, even though Government is not allowed to assist private education. The laws preventing public subsidies to private educational institutions belong to the old hardware service environment of the pre-electric age. Now that the environment itself has become a major teaching machine, the image of learning has been reversed. The learner becomes hunter, explorer, not consumer. In the electric age, education can no longer be goal-oriented, not in the world of total field information and systems engineering.

Peter Drucker, who has had several diverse careers, says: “Here I am, fifty-eight, and I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” He recommends, for all career men, an abrupt change into a totally different career at the age of 40. Language professors would switch to engineering or medicine, and vice versa.

The children in Watts were heard to say: “Why should we go back to school and interrupt our education?” Our 19th Century school and college systems, based on fragmented subjects and classified data, which derive from the old hardware environment, cannot relate to the new integral electric environments of information.

Sir Francis Drake put a girdle around the world in the 16th Century, but Sputnik enclosed the world in a man-made environment of information, turning it into an old nose cone, a piece of Camp, an archaeological museum. Joyce called it the “Willingdone museyroom.” The allusion to Wellington draws attention to the fact that war and weaponry have been the major drives in creating this planetary museum of artifacts. The willing aspect of the phrase expresses Joyce’s concern with the “burning would” that “is come to dance inane.” Men seem to be impelled by an inner drive that jitters them into
the most self-destructive situations. Macbeth’s fear was his “burning would” that drove him to Dunsinane. Radio in the 1920s created a totally new kind of world environment, substituting the ear for the eye, as it were. This was one of the great reversals of imagery in all human history. Literacy had extended the power of the eye, giving it dominance over the other senses. Phonetic literacy created visual, “rational” space. Never had any culture experienced this kind of space until Fifth Century Athens.

Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato comments at length on the revolution by which the new literati, led by Plato, attacked the educational establishment of the bards. Homer and Hesiod had long been the educators of the Greek youth, teaching them “history as she is harped.” Plato simply denounced this program in the interest of “abc-ed-mindedness.” Joyce’s quip here draws attention to the inevitable price paid for visual dominance over the senses: “an eye for an ear.” W. H. Auden said, “A professor is a man who talks in
other people’s sleep.” The absent-minded professor is simply a sensory specialist with a fixed point of view, in space and in time. In a literate culture, even semiliterate scientists ape this form of literacy, taking great “precautions of a public kind” in order to appear as precise and correct as any grammarian.

The new world environment of radio evoked a unique creative re-sponse from the American Negro. Jazz is not only close to speech, song and dance but it is syncopated. The world of the ear offers none of the continuity and connectedness known only to the eye. The discontinuities of the electric “space-time” had received much advance billing in the arts before Einstein. Lewis Carroll’s Alice flipped out of the hardware world of visual space, of visual uniformity and connectedness, when she went Through the Looking-Glass.

But the telegraph press itself had, even earlier, reversed the pattern of the old book and editorial image. At electric speeds, a point of view is meaningless, even in a newspaper. News items are necessarily unconnected except by a date line. The newspaper mosaic has no story line. Like syncopated jazz or poetic symbolism, it is discontinuous. Negro jazz was quickly accepted in the capitals of the world. Paradoxically, the Negro integrated the world before anybody ever thought of integrating him. In the TV age, the Beatles seem to have made the most effective response to this “cool” medium. They have
gone Oriental, even as the East goes West. The Negro brought in evangelical folk music, but the bottom-wagging Twenties did not seek any inner trip. The Twenties accepted the dominance of the ear, of song and dance, over literacy and civilization. Even the highbrow arts of the Twenties were “Jung and easily Freudened,” and moved enthusiastically toward retribalization of society. The famous family of Stein (Gent and Ep and Ein) presents a good cross section of the new tribalism created by the radio environment.

When radio married the movies, when the movies started to talk, the reversal of imagery from the new heating-up process fed the drive toward the reverse TV image. The extreme coolness and tactility of TV has received its most impressive testimonial in a new painting by Salvador Dali. It appears on the cover of TV Guide for June 8, 1968. Two TV screens appear on two thumbnails. The thumbs are widely separated, looking like cracked sculpture (tactile space is the space of the interval, the icon, the contour). With the advent of TV, the old hardware world began to crumble. Radio and movies had at first seemed to provide the old mechanized world with a hotted-up image even more glamorous than before. It was the moment of reversal. Even sex has flipped. Hollywood photography hotted-up glamor and kisses and long-stemmed American beauties. Skirts were at the knee: “She rolls her stocking at the knee/And when she sits down, you can see/ There ain’t no flies on Auntie.” The greatly improved photography of the Sixties has pushed the sex image all the way into nonsex. The gatefold cuties in PLAYBOY are
sculptural and cool, as nudes must be. As photography goes hi-fi, visual qualities yield to texture and tactility. The hot becomes cool. The detached image, full of visual fantasy and desire (“dreams that money can buy”) becomes an aesthetic object of multi-sensuous involvement. Real cool. The miniskirt is not hot or sexy. It is a tribal costume, long worn by boys, men and women alike. It is not a fashion.

No more disconcerting reversal of image could be imagined. The worlds of reversals created by speeded-up information movement affect every sphere of life. Each could do with a book. There already is a book on The De-Romanization of the Roman Church. When it took months for bishops to travel to Rome and back, the consensus of the faithful, which is called “papal infallibility,” was totally different from the same image in the jet age. In the  old hardware world, “all roads led to Rome.” In the jet age, there are no roads. Rome is in our sitting room as much as Vietnam. The new participation of the faithful in the decision-making process exceeds even the fragmentation of Protestant literacy. Rome seems to be set to perform a judo flip, by which all the schismatic churches fling themselves back into her arms. It is well known that leaders no longer come up from inside an operation, commercial or political. The old bureaucratic structures of big business and civil service are too fragmented to produce leaders. The leader has to be a “dark horse” from outside the old type of structure. Today, the only person who can run a big business is one who has had much involvement in a small business. It is the same with the big city. Big cities were created by the old hardware of steamship and railway. They were highly centralized structures, like the huge armies of World War One. The motorcar tore the big cities apart—into suburbs. The jet planes simply bypassed the cities, leaving them to become ghettos. It is said that three times the
population of Chicago leaves O’Hare Airport each year.

The decentralization of war came with radio in World War Two. Churchill and Roosevelt were big tribal chieftains who used the fireside as the firing line. World War Two decentralized via radio into guerrilla tactics. As for World War Three, a student of mine wrote: “The Vietnam war is the first world war ever fought on American soil.” Thanks to TV, parents have seen their sons killed on the seven-o’clock news. In a word, a hot war cannot be endured on a cool me-dium. This also applies to politics. In all countries, the
party system has folded like the organization chart. Policies and issues are useless for election purposes, since they are too specialized and too hot. The shap-ing of the candidate’s integral image has taken the place of discussing conflicting points of view. The world of education presents the same kind of reversal. Institutions established to prepare students for goals by specialist courses and credits are being rejected and even defied by their clients. The TV generation wants participation in the educational process. It does not want packages. The students want problems, not answers. They want probes,
not exams. They want making, not matching. They want struggle, not goals.They want new images of identity, not careers. They want insights, not classified data.

At IBM, a favorite slogan is “Information overload = pattern recognition,” or sudden structural awareness. A recent report about a dilemma in the Pentagon concerned the excessive influx of data collected by agents of the CIA and others. So great is the unread backlog that even the Pueblo can get lost in the IN basket. There is imminent danger of pattern recognition even in the Pentagon, the biggest filing cabinet in the world. The new Reading Dynamics or “high-speed reading” tends to build on the principle of overload as pattern recognition. The faster one reads, as every exam crammer has discovered, the more one perceives and the more one retains. (But, of course, there is the
exception: “I’ll never forget what’s-his-name.”)

The information theorists are fond of pointing out that a telephone book contains no information. There are too many data and no patterns. In the electric environment of fast-changing, total-field information, a fixed point of view is as useless as a specialty. Today, the training of an engineer or a doctor is obsolete upon graduation. The result is that the artist replaces the bureaucrat. The ivory tower supplants the control tower. Electronic man becomes a hunter, a prober once more. He begins to live by “feedforward,” not “feedback.” (The Eskimo hunter proved by far the best jet-engine
mechanic at Gander in World War Two.)

As Antony Jay points out, when you are on an economy drive, remember: “Economy does not need an actuary, it needs a visionary.” In any operation where excellence and integrity are at stake, budgets are irrelevant. The bureaucrat will insist upon cheaper pencils and carbon paper, sending out messages such as that received by the deep-sea diver: “Surface at once. The ship is sinking.” The principle of reversal of image and structure that accompanies every amplification of power applies everywhere, from trivial
matters such as dance bands, reduced from 40 instruments to five by electric amplifiers, to the very pattern of human identity, reduced by data banks and computer memories to insignificance. The more that is publicly recorded about the actual existence of any person, the more he is diminished in his private existence. Like any public entertainer, he becomes his admirers or his recorders. By a commodius vicus of recirculation, this flips us back to the Circus, in which music is no longer for listening to but for merging

                 The first page of the essay in Playboy, illustrating the layout & graphics. (Click on image for an expanded view.)

“The artist tends now to move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society”. —Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964)

Editors | Adam Lauder and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers

This special issue exploring “Marshall McLuhan and the arts” encourages new approaches to the study of McLuhan’s influential theses on perception, design, and the built environment as well as the artist’s changing role in postindustrial society. Submissions try to excavate previously unknown, or lesser-known, narratives and linkages, and/or engage contemporary resonances and possibilities for intersection with current critical theories and debates.

Recent years have been witness to McLuhan’s re-emergence as a major interdisciplinary thinker whose writings bridge the study of communication, culture, and technology. The computational, materialist and sensorial foci of his thought offer suggestive alternatives to approaches and assumptions embedded in the linguistic turn. Our volume includes papers that explore his work on design, perception, and visualization as well as how his insights continue to inform or otherwise connect up with current art and design production as well as theories about their place and meaning in contemporary culture…

Marshall McLuhan and the Arts after the Speculative Turn | Adam Lauder and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers

Printing a Film to Make it Resonate: Sorel Etrog and Marshall McLuhan’s Spiral | Elena Lamberti

Mansaram and Marshall McLuhan: Collaboration in Collage Art | Alexander Kuskis

Critique, texte et art contemporain. Repenser l’héritage de Marshall McLuhan aujourd’hui | Adina Balint

Songlines, not Stupor: Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s nikamon ohci aski: songs because of the land as Technological Citizenship on the Lands Currently Called “Canada” | Jessica Jacobson-Konefall, May Chew, and Daina Warren

McLuhan’s Photographic Gestalt (and the project of the object world) | Tom McGlynn

L(a)ying with Marshall McLuhan: Media Theory as Hoax Art | Henry Adam Svec

Marshall McLuhan’s Counterenvironment within the Stream of Defamiliarization | Kenneth Allan

Our World: McLuhan’s Idea of Globalized Presence as the Prehistory of Computational Temporality | Mohammad Salemy

Assembling the (Non)Human: The Animal as Medium | Jody Berland

The Designscapes of Harley Parker: Print and Built Environments | Gary Genosko

This issue is located at


Guest Editors: Jaqueline McLeod Rogers and Adam Lauder
Editor-in-Chief: Sheena Wilson
Managing Editors: Brent Ryan Bellamy
English Substantive and Copy Editor: Shama Rangwala
French Translator: Ève Robidoux-Descary
French Editor: Dominique Laurent
Web Editor: Brent Ryan Bellamy
PDF Layout and Design: John Montague
Featured Image: Tom McGlynn, Painted-Over Crosswalk, Jersey City, 2016

8-3 Full Issue PDF Coming Soon |

Date & Time: Thursday, December 7, 2017, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Location: Rogers Communications Centre (The Venn RCC 103), 80 Gould Street, Ryerson University, Toronto

Description: Join the McLuhan Salons series, and Philippine correspondent for Reuters and McLuhan Award for Investigative Journalism, Manny Mogato. Mogato will present the topic: “Journalism under attack: The phenomenon of fake news and challenges of accountability in the new media” in which he discusses the spread of fake news in the Philippines and how this undermines the news media’s role. His presentation would also like to discuss the question: “In a time when human rights and other fundamental freedoms in the Philippines are under the spotlight, what should journalists do to respond to the threats of fake news and the lack of accountability by purveyors of false information?”

Welcome remarks:
Janice Neil, Ryerson University
Paolo Granata, University of Toronto

Special Guests:
Michael McLuhan, Executor Marshall McLuhan Estate
Carlo Figueroa, Public Affairs Officer, Embassy of Canada

This event is presented by the University of St. Michael’s College, Book & Media Studies Program at the University of Toronto, in conjunction with the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines and Ryerson School of Journalism. We are grateful for the support of the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson Rogers Communication Centre, as our venue partner.

The McLuhan Salon series is generously supported by the William and Nona Heaslip Foundation.

The event is free and open to the public. You are encouraged to register online at:

This year’s McLuhan Fellow is Manny Mogato, correspondent for Reuters. A journalist for more than thirty years, Mr. Mogato is the first Filipino correspondent for an international news agency to receive the McLuhan Fellowship. Perhaps one of the most veteran Filipino journalists writing for the foreign press, he started his career in during the last few years of the Marcos dictatorship. During the turbulent democratic transition under the administration of Corazon Aquino, he covered the defense and military beats and became part of the presidential press corps during the Ramos presidency in 1992. In 1997, he was assistant news editor of the Manila Times until it was closed down due to political pressure from then President Joseph Estrada. He later joined Reuters.
Mr. Mogato has been an active member of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) which elected him as its president three times and a member of the board for more than 12 years. As a journalist, he has covered conflicts and insurgencies, health concerns, human rights, international affairs, politics, and general news assignments. He has also been teaching as a professorial lecturer at the University of the City of Manila.
Last May, he and the Reuters team in Manila received the Special Merit Award – English Multimedia Category in the Human Rights Press Awards for their multimedia series, “Duterte’s War,” detailing the current Philippine president’s campaign against illegal drugs. The event was co-organized by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association with Amnesty International Hong Kong. Mr. Mogato won the McLuhan Fellowship for his excellent reportage of issues surrounding human rights and international diplomacy.

The Marshall McLuhan Fellowship is the Embassy of Canada’s flagship public diplomacy initiative in the Philippines. Launched in 1997, this is an advocacy to encourage responsible journalism in the Philippines with the belief that a strong media is essential to a strong democratic society.
Every year, the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility(CMFR) assists the Embassy in choosing a Filipino journalist whose work has contributed to positive changes in the social arena or at least has raised the level of public discourse in a relevant issue usually concerning governance and human rights.

The program provides the winner with a two-week study tour to Canada including at least three major cities. This will be an opportunity for the winner to interact with his media counterparts, and to discuss significant current issues on governance with Canadian government officials, academic interlocutors and members of civil society. The winner will also have the chance to visit as a fellow at the McLuhan Institute in Toronto. Upon the return of the awardee to the Philippines, a series of forums is organized by the Embassy to be held in five key cities around the country to enable the journalist to share his experiences in Canada with students of communication and members of the local and community media.

Aside from contributing to good governance by raising transparency in the public arena, the McLuhan Fellowship also aims to create in the long-term a critical group of influential media personalities with good knowledge and interest in Canadian issues or at least the values Canada stands for: democracy, good governance, and human rights.

Rogers Communication Centre

Blending light, sound, video projections, and movement, Wells Hill explores the prescient ideas of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould. (Photo by David Cooper)

In 1962, Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan effectively predicted the Internet. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, he wrote about an electronic age when technology would unite people in a “global village” where everyone had equal access to information. Two years later, in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, he went on to talk about how the method of communication would become the most influential fact of the electronic age. Hello, smartphones: by 2017, we know more than ever that “the medium is the message.” 

As a dance artist, Vanessa Goodman feels that one of the most eerily prescient things McLuhan said was that technology would become an extension of our physical selves. Consider the way we jump to attention when our cellphone buzzes in our pocket. “With what we’re experiencing now, I feel there’s a strong relevance to revisit what he said,” the Action at a Distance artistic director tells the Straight over the phone before rehearsal at SFU Woodward’s. “So much of what he predicted has come true.”

In fact, Goodman has devoted three years to exploring those ideas physically, sonically, and visually in her multimedia Wells Hill.

But Goodman’s fascination with the theorist goes far beyond the artistic and into the realm of the personal. She grew up in the Toronto house where McLuhan once lived—the Tudor-style residence at 29 Wells Hill Avenue.

“My parents were always interested in art: my dad owned a jazz club for a short while, my mom was an art conservator. And I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know it was Marshall McLuhan’s house,” Goodman says, recalling that her parents never painted over a basement wall where McLuhan’s son Michael had scrawled his name.

She also clearly remembers the day a commemorative plaque was dedicated at the house site. “That’s when they revealed to my family just how many amazing people had come to the house and met with Marshall in his study. And one was Glenn Gould.”

Here’s where the story gets even more bizarre. It turns out that Goodman’s parents had also lived in Gould’s former Toronto apartment before she was born. “It was one of those weird moments and intersections,” says the choreographer, who explores the way McLuhan and Gould’s theories intersected and contradicted throughout Wells Hill—and the way they altered how we consume art and information. (Photo below by Ben Didier)

Flashforward to a few years ago, and Goodman was relaying that anecdote to Michael Boucher, director of SFU’s Cultural Programs & Partnerships, when he encouraged her to take on the two icons and their complex concepts in her next work. At first, Goodman, who had just won the 2013 Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award, admits she felt trepidation. “They’re both such prolific characters and icons in their own right,” she says. “But when I started to read their material, I realized I could apply these theories to create dance. I began to find my way through: my medium is movement and my message is that I’m interested in embodiment.”

Goodman slowly began building the work, integrating low-fi and high-tech elements, from the electronic soundscore by Scott Morgan (of Loscil) and Gabriel Saloman to projections that include sometimes glitched-out black-and-white footage of McLuhan and Gould speaking. (Goodman collaborated with Ben Didier and Milton Lim on the projections.) For those video elements, she applied multiple processes, working from original film of the two men, and then employing everything from an old cathode-ray projector to VHS recording.

“I like to use older technology to make something new,” Goodman says. “I even made a lo-fi hologram for this [version].

“It’s always my goal to make an immersive environment—to make the room dance,” she adds, bringing to mind her 2014 work with the Contingency Plan, What Belongs to You, which created an ethereal, ever-moving environment with just sheets of plastic and a few hundred balloons. “That’s always my puzzle.”

Wells Hill has evolved since shorter versions appeared at the Chutzpah Festival, the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, and Small Stage. It features seven dancers: Lara Barclay, Karissa Barry, Dario Dinuzzi, Bynh Ho, Arash Khakpour, Alexa Mardon, and Bevin Poole. And Goodman says she’s now split the new, full-length rendition into two distinct sections. “The piece works chronologically: the first part is pre-Internet and the second is post-Internet—or at least, where we are today,” Goodman says. “So the second is the hyperspeed essence of our consumption of information today.”

Staging the work at Simon Fraser University, where she earned her degree at the School for the Contemporary Arts, brings her full circle: she presented a short, early work there in 2010 when the Woodward’s site opened its Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. But the program is also part of Celebrate Canada 150+, and joins the international DanceHouse presentation series.

“DanceHouse has been incredibly influential to me: it’s inspired me to study abroad and study with some of those companies,” Goodman says. “They have actually blown my mind with some of their programming, so I’m pinching myself that I’m part of that.”

And the real house that she grew up in? Although it doesn’t make its way into Wells Hill in any literal fashion, it still plays a huge role in Goodman’s personal life. “It’s where I go when I go there to visit family,” she says. “I still sleep in the same bed.”

SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, DanceHouse, and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts present Wells Hill at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre from Friday to Sunday (November 24 to 26).
(Source: )

Action At a Distance: Wells Hill

Nov. 24 & 25 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 26, 2017, at 2 p.m. | Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, SFU Gold Corp Centre for the Arts, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia

According to Vanessa Goodman, a “weird Canadiana moment” inspired her latest work.

The Vancouver-based choreographer grew up in a Toronto house once inhabited by Marshall McLuhan and his family. At a 2011 commemorative plaque ceremony for the house, the McLuhans informed the Goodmans that Glenn Gould, among others, would visit to speak to the esteemed Canadian media critic.

“This struck me,” said Goodman. “Coincidentally, my parents lived in the same apartment building that Gould lived in before they moved into the house.”

This week, Goodman and her company Action at a Distance present the world premiere of Wells Hill. It’s a contemporary dance piece informed by the ideas and philosophies of the two Canadian cultural icons.

Part of the choreographer’s approach has been to look at how technology has influenced not just our thoughts and actions but also our physical movements.

“McLuhan predicted that technology was going to be an extension of our nervous system,” she said.

“And today we have these Pavlovian responses to our devices. Something lights up, like a notification, and we are automatically drawn to it. Our movements are so predetermined by our interactions with technology. For me, there’s a logic to finding those connections through dance.”

Gould’s ideas about performance, as well as excerpts from his recordings, are also incorporated.

In coming up with the piece, Goodman collaborated with seven dancers. They are Lara Barclay, Karissa Barry, Dario Dinuzzi, Bynh Ho, Arash Khakpour, Alexa Mardon and Bevin Poole.

“I gave them an excerpt of text by McLuhan, and I asked them to transpose it into emojis on their cellphone,” she said. “From there, I tasked them with developing those emojis into gestural phrases. And from there we developed them into larger movement phrases.”

Goodman has structured Wells Hill in two parts — pre- and post-internet.

“In the second half, the language of the piece is strongly linked to these emoji phrases, these new ways that we’re figuring out how to communicate. McLuhan was generating a lot of inspiration for his theories from Renaissance pamphlets. In a sense, we’re going back in time to use pictorial images to describe how we’re feeling emotionally. So there is that through-line in there.”

Goodman is also working with lighting designer James Proudfoot, projection artists Ben Didier and Milton Lim, and composers Scott Morgan (who records under the name Loscil) and Gabriel Saloman.

SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs commissioned the piece, which is co-presented by DanceHouse and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The recipient of the 2013 Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award, Goodman has created works for the Dancing on the Edge Festival, The Gwaii Trust, and Vancouver Biennale. The Canada Dance Festival, The Magnetic North Festival, The Dance Centre, and The Chutzpah! Festival have all presented her work.

Although its original inspiration is in ideas, Wells Hill also works on a more visceral level.

“At its core, it’s really about the medium, which is the movement, and the message, which is that at the end of the day we have our bodies,” Goodman said.

“Anytime I start to feel overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information that’s out there on these two individuals (McLuhan and Gould), I come back to what my entry-point is, which is the physical, emotional conversation with the bodies, and the stagecraft. That is the base layer for the whole work.” Source:

Marshall McLuhan’s Last House at 3 Wychwood Park, Toronto

Upon his return [in 1968 from his academic year at Fordham University in New York], the McLuhan family—with most of their six children grown and moved out—relocated from their quiet Tudor-style house at 29 Wells Hill Avenue, near Casa Loma, to 3 Wychwood Park.                                                             The McLuhans’ home was an Edwardian mansion designed by Eden Smith (who had built his own home on the same street) in a wooded area that had been conceived as an artists’ retreat at the turn of the 20th century by landscape painter Marmaduke Matthews. It was described as “baronial” by one visitor impressed by its oak paneling and high ceilings. As Marchand says, McLuhan loved the house dearly and “enjoyed showing it off to visitors with a simple-hearted pride.” Intellectuals and politicians and others were frequent guests, discussing ideas at the dinner table or outside on the elegant stone terrace. “Anybody who came to visit had a tour of the park,” McLuhan’s daughter Elizabeth told the Globe and Mail in 2008. “Nobody left without a walk around.”
It was McLuhan’s ritual that he and wife Corrine walked around the park daily. McLuhan was particularly fond of the park’s pond—created by Taddle Creek surfacing briefly on its southeasterly course through the city. He described the neighbourhood lovingly in a 1969 letter to a friend: “Our house is No. 3 and is the only house on a lovely pond in the heart of Toronto….The pond ripples outward into a heavily treed neighbourhood of twenty-two acres and fifty-four houses. The Park has no ‘roads’ or sidewalks, but simply these ‘Viconean’ circles of homes and people in a most unusual, dramatic relationship.”
Wychwood Park deeply affected McLuhan’s view of urban community. In Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding (Stoddart, 1997), W. Terrence Gordon quotes McLuhan as writing:

Previously, I have only lived on streets, which sometimes have the quality of neighbourhood, but lineality is not compatible with community. The community character of Wychwood Park is a direct result of the circular compositioning of the houses, resulting from Wychwood pond. When houses interface by their circular or oval compositioning, a kind of social resonance develops that does not depend upon a high degree of social life or visiting among the occupants. Rather, there occurs a sense of theatre, as if all the occupants were, in varying degrees, on a stage. Something of the sort happens in any small village, and builders and planners could easily achieve rich community effects (even without a pond) simply by locating dwellings in non-lineal patterns.”

So McLuhan and neighbours, like architect Colin Vaughan, reacted strongly when they learned that proposed concrete apartment high-rises to be built on Davenport Road, immediately south of the park, threatened their neighbourhood. After seeking guidance from Jane Jacobs, who lived nearby in the Annex, they took their fight to City Hall. Ultimately, however, McLuhan and company were unsuccessful in convincing city council to halt the plans. (Source:


This unique website that is dedicated to Marshall McLuhan’s best-selling book is comprised of 6 sections:-
1. The Lecture, which offers an audio capture of Marshall McLuhan’s lecture as delivered on May 7, 1966, at The Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA for the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. McLuhan titled his lecture “The Medium Is the Massage”, a play on his famous aphorism, “the medium is the message”. You can hear the full lecture of 1 hour, 8 minutes by following this direct link This is followed by a large selection of quotes from the lecture, starting with these first 3:-
“I have been introduced quite recently as Canada’s revenge on the United States. You know, from the land of the DEW Line, the early-warning system.”

“[But, this is one of my themes tonight, as it were,] the artist as early-warning system for new media.

“[Another main theme of course will be that] the medium is the massage and not the message—it really works us over, it really takes hold and massages the population in a savage way.


2. The Book which provides a large selection of quotes from the book “The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects” by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and coordinated by Jerome Agel. It was published in March 1967 and became a bestseller with a cult following. Reversing the usual publishers’ procedure, a hardcover volume of the book was published after the paperback. More info via Wikipedia.

“The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and reevaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted.”

Direct link to this Book section:

3. The Film “This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Massage”, an experimental documentary produced by Ernest Pintoff and Guy Fraumeni, narrated by actor Edward Binnes and broadcasted on NBC TV (19 March 1967). For more information see my posting on this blog at

Here is the YouTube video of the film: 

Direct link to this Film section:


4. The Magazine 4th edition of the multimedia magazine Aspen (1967) designed by Quentin Fiore and edited by and devoted to sixties media visionary Marshall McLuhan. Voluminous documentation of “Aspen Magazine – The McLuhan Issue” its contents is available via

Some quotes from Aspen Magazine #4 on Marshall McLuhan:

“McLuhan was able to say ‘The medium is the message’ because he started from no concern with content.” — John Cage, “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)”

“A strange bond often exists among anti-social types in their power to see environments as they really are.”— Marshall McLuhan

Direct link to the Magazine section:


5. The Record (Audio) section contains the LP recording of “The Medium is the Massage” by Marshall McLuhan, released by Columbia Records in March 1967, conceived and coordinated by Jerome Agel, and produced by John Simon. Listen to Side A and Side B via

“Drop this jiggery-pokery and talk straight turkey.”— James Joyce, “Finnegans Wake”

“This last week was like a total breakdown.”— Franz Kafka, “Diaries”

There ain’t no grammatical errors in a non-literate society.— Marshall McLuhan, see also “The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man”, p. 238

Direct link to the Record section:


6. The Website section where all the quotes by Marshall McLuhan and others are listed from “The Medium is the Massage” (the lecture, the book, the film, the magazine and/or the record, single and remix).

“And the nun thanked the lad who replied: That’s all right Madame, any relative of Batman is a friend of mine!”

“The mass media are turning the globe into a village and catapulting 20th century man back to the life of the tribe.”— Marshall McLuhan


—John Cage, “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)”

Direct link to the Website section:

 The Back Cover
Link to the Homepage: