Marshall McLuhan on Video: A Pop Philosopher (1965)

24Jun13

The world’s first expert on pop — the culture of mini-skirts and hula hoops — discusses his theories on “hot” and “cool” media. Marshall McLuhan adapted these references from the TV jargon “high” and “low definition.” High definition means well-defined, sharp and detailed visually, such as a map. Low definition refers to indistinct images scanned by the eye, with which the viewer is left to fill in the blanks, such as a sketch. 
McLuhan says television is a cool or low definition medium, offering little information but the user participates with most of his senses. He explains that a book is a hot or high definition medium, presenting the user with lots of information at a level of lower sensory participation. Another of McLuhan’s pop idioms, “the medium is the message,” borrows from the era’s abstract artists who place the highest importance on the medium with which they work. 
According to McLuhan, television is the canvas for a new environment of all human association and perception. ( http://tinyurl.com/nahzr7q )
McLuhan exemplified hot media as: radio, print, photographs, movies and lectures; and cool media as: the telephone, speech, cartoons, TV and seminars. 
• The CBC says McLuhan first verbalized the term “the medium is the message” in 1959 at a Vancouver cocktail party he attended after hosting a symposium on music and the mass media. But McLuhan said he coined the phrase two years earlier at a radio conference. 
• Attempting to calm those alarmed by the coming of TV, he said his words were, “You have nothing to fear at all. Your medium is unique, and the medium is the message and will relate to any new medium.

The embedding of the video code does not work, so please follow this link to view the 5 minute, 21 second video from CBC: https://goo.gl/h6bJHT

Key Themes & Ideas: Duplicating image on TV over & over (an Andy Wharhol effect) – transforms image into a corporate, mass image, not a private one – more corporate iconic images are taking over private ones – an icon is corporate & participatory – it is liturgical for a worshipping participatory public – slang word “cool” borrowed from jazz & pop music –  a mystical term similar to Hindu idea of detachment – complete involvement in an action, but also detachment in action – “hot” or square means involvement in an action, but without detachment from it – a cool medium uses all of you, but leaves you detached in the act of using you – the “medium is the message” is a commonplace among the symbolists (painters, poets, musicians) of abstract era – the medium being used by an artist is the message – they don’t use that precise term, but they take the dominant fact of any art form to be the medium being employed    – whether electric light, radio or TV, a new medium creates a new environment, situation for human association & conception – works upon the whole man, whole society – the content of a new medium is never the message because the content is always the old medium.

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