After the Global Village – An Essay by Andrew Crystall


Sketch of McLuhan by Sorel Etrog

This paper offers a retrospective of the images McLuhan used after the “Global Village” to characterize and illuminate the evolution of late-twentieth century media landscapes. A variation of this article was published 2011 in the Canadian Journal of Media Studies 9(1):

The McLuhan revival of the 1990s saw the retrieval of Marshall McLuhan — the post-pop-icon — and his transformation into the “spin doctor for the digital revolution, the ghostly booster for virtual communities and the prophet and patron saint of business on the internet” (Ostrow xvii). Despite Kroker’s earlier assessment, that McLuhan’s works are obsolesced by the new digital environment, McLuhan’s famous phrases began operating as “globally recognizable jingles for the work of multinationals trading in digital commodities” (Genosko 10).1 Since the revival, McLuhan’s phrases have been fetishized within the academy too. In The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media and Communications, for example, Danesi reduces McLuhan’s legacy to that of a communication “theorist,” who argued that electronic technology has transformed the world into a “global village,” best known for coining the phrase “the medium is the message” (140).

Danesi’s treatment of McLuhan is not an anomaly. Since the revival, McLuhan has rarely been afforded escape velocity from his earlier aphorisms and phrases. His critics and commentators all too frequently seek to encounter McLuhan and his oeuvre in a similar manner — through the lens of one or more of his famous aphorisms or phrases — treating the medium solely in terms of a fragment of his message. The fragment of McLuhan’s “message” invoked above all others has been the image of the global village (Dery). McLuhan’s critics and commentators have sought to leverage the global village to inform and focus a variety of critiques of McLuhan’s corpus. Andreas Huyssen, for example, makes the global village an integral part of a reading experiment created to critique McLuhan. According to Huyssen, a truer account of McLuhan’s “media theology” can be seen if we substitute Holy Spirit for electricity; God for Medium; and planet united under Rome for global village (183). Fawcett too hangs his commentary on McLuhan off the global village. He uses the phrase to launch a critique of McLuhan’s apparent optimism for television, over-estimation of the pedagogic possibilities of video, propensity to ignore criticism, Christian optimism, inadequate diagnosis of re-tribalization, misreading of James Joyce, use of overstatement and/or hyperbole, relationship to the wealthy, carelessness, belief in an orderly world, and ignorance of financial and fiscal matters.

McLuhan’s global village has also been a prominent feature in discourses catalyzed by the explosive growth of the Internet. Antecol, for example, looks at the media and communications scene of the late-1990s through the lens of McLuhan’s global village. The crux of his inquiry is “are we there yet?” Has McLuhan’s “prophecy” been realized? Tom Wolfe’s approach is not dissimilar. According to Wolfe, McLuhan is something of a prophet and the global village is the first and most memorable name for the digital universe McLuhan predicted. Cohen offers a similar assessment. He argues that while McLuhan’s acoustic space was not, precisely, cyberspace it appears to have been close enough for those within the sphere of its development to have made the links to McLuhan and to foster the popular belief that McLuhan had prophetically anticipated a world that bore witness to his vision….. (Read the rest at ).

About Dr Andrew Chrystall – Dr Andrew Chrystall teaches in the School of Communication, Journalism & Marketing, Massey University, New Zealand. His research unfolds from the aesthetic-historical and interdisciplinary approach of Marshall McLuhan, the Toronto School of Communication, and Media Ecology. His research portfolio demonstrates sustained attention to the effects of media and the interrelations between culture and technology. In addition to his primary discipline(s)—Media and Communication Studies—Dr. Chrystall has a background in Public Relations, Sociology and Theology. He also had a vital and exciting career in a variety of “cultural” industries prior to becoming an academic. Dr Chrystall also likes surfing, playing judo and is an underwhelming jazz guitarist.

See also on this blog The Metaphor Morphs: From Global Village to Global Theatre – .

Global Theatre

2 Responses to “After the Global Village – An Essay by Andrew Crystall”

  1. 1 Marg Stewart

    Better check the title of your post … Its Andrew Chrystall not David Crystall #Doh

    • Thank you for noticing, Margaret, and especially for taking the time to inform me. And shame on me for my lax editing. I’m surprised that my friend Andrew didn’t pick up on this. It doesn’t pay to engage in work that requires accuracy when you are tired. Thanks……..Alex

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