Acute & Abstruse Things Marshall McLuhan said in Australia in 1977

                                    By  on June 5, 2013

The following collection of quotes uttered by media theorist Marshall McLuhan comes from a live audience Q&A session hosted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on June 27, 1977, in what looks to be a relatively large conference room located within the Hilton Hotel, Sydney.

Through the wonders of YouTube, you can watch McLuhan dispense his special concoction of clairvoyance and confusion in part onepart two, and part three of the televised program on your laptop or smartphone or Google Glass if you’ve already got a pair and enjoy wearing them.

1. “What you print is nothing compared to the effect of the printed word.”

2. “I think radio people are far more literate than TV people.”

3. “The word read means to guess — look it up in the big dictionary. Reading is an activity of rapid guessing because any word has so many meanings — including the word reading – that to select one in a context of other words requires very rapid guessing. That’s why a good reader tends to be a very quick decision-maker.”

4. “The concern of the advertiser is to make an effect. Any painter or artist or musician sets out to create an effect. He sets a trap to catch somebody’s attention.”

5. “TV is a popular folk art, and we have no criteria for measuring it.”

6. “The effect of TV — the message of TV — is quite independent of the program. That is, there’s a huge technology involved in TV, which surrounds you physically, and the effect of that huge service environment on you personally is vast. The effect of the program is incidental.”

7. “The alternative to violence is dialogue, which is a kind of encounter interface with other people and situations.”

8. “In the old days you could pull a trigger on a revolver and hurt people, but today when you trigger these vast media that we use you are manipulating entire populations.”

9. “Cricket is a very organized form of violence … Baseball or football, any kind of sport is a dramatization of the typical and accepted forms of violence in the business community … All these games are huge ways of discovering and dramatizing what the society you’re in is all about. By the way, without an audience, these games would have no meaning at all.”

10. “Nostalgia is the name of the game in every part of our world today … When people have been stripped of their private identities, they develop huge nostalgia. And nostalgia for the jeans and Levi’s of the young today are nostalgia for granddad’s overalls. His work clothes now become the latest costume.”

11. “Paradoxically, the clown is a person with a grievance. His role in medieval society was to be the voice of grievance. The clown’s job was to tell the emperor or royalty exactly what was wrong with society. He often lost his head in the process.”

12. “One of the peculiarities of electric speed is that it pushes all the unconscious factors up into consciousness.”

13. “The hidden aspects of the media are the things that should be taught, because they have an irresistible force when invisible.”

14. “You may be surprised to hear that Finnegans Wake of Mr. James Joyce is one of the top guides to the effects of media. The work is entirely devoted to that theme … Very few Joyceans know this.”

15. “All forms of mystic meditation have become very popular in our television age.”

16. “Jane Austen, of all people, has quite a big comment on that inside/outside. She said that people go outside to be alone just to prove their inner resources. That they don’t need people. We can make it alone.”

17. “The moralist, by the way, is always a person who never studies effects, so much as studies the content of situations — studies the figure and not the ground.”

18. “I put people on. Putting people on means teasing them, challenging them, upsetting them, befuddling them. Any comic puts on his audience by hurting them … A ‘put on’ is a sort of situation that I study a good deal.”

19. “The best seller is a mysterious thing that is mainly created, not spontaneous. Publishers have methods for creating best sellers at any time they have to.”

20. “TV politics do not permit very much interest in the policy or the party, but the individual candidate must have charisma. Now charisma means looking like a lot of other people.”

21. “The tendency of any medium is to attract to itself types of content which are consistent with its limits. In the long run, as people get the government they deserve, so the medium gets the content it deserves.”

22. “The commercial sponsor of the media is naturally more sensitive to the audience than anybody. The commercial sponsor is going to demand a kind of rapport between his investment and the show, which will ensure a great deal of popularity and representativeness to the show. If you can think of a sponsor who ignores the audience, maybe the CBC in Canada, a big bureaucratic organization which feels it’s quite above the needs of the audience. And, so, it creates a great many unpopular shows.”

Paul Hiebert is the Editor-in-Chief of Ballast Magazine     –     Republished by permission from Ballast Magazine found at

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