The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein & the Discourse of Technology

18Jun18

What do Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Canadian popular culture have in common? This is the question that Mark A. McCutcheon seeks to answer in his new book, The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein and the Discourse of Technology, published in 2018 by Athabasca University Press. In this unique and penetrating analysis, McCutcheon argues that Shelley’s 1818 novel essentially reinvented the word “technology” for the modern age, establishing its connections with ominous notions of man-made monstrosity. In the twentieth century, this monstrous, Frankensteinian conception of technology was globalized and popularized largely through Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and its numerous, diverse adaptations in Canadian popular culture. The Medium is the Monster establishes Frankenstein, and its various adaptations, as the originating intertext for a modern conceptualisation of technology that has manifested with a unique potency in Canadian pop culture, informing works as disparate as David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the fiction of Margaret Atwood, and even electronic dance music. Furthermore, McCutcheon undertakes an incisive of analysis of how Frankensteinian constructions of technology have shaped real-world discussions of science and industry, an intertextual discourse which he sees as most powerfully encapsulated in the rhetoric associated with the Alberta tar sands industry.

Over the course of the interview, McCutcheon provides some fascinating insights into changing cultural attitudes towards technology, the influence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the novel’s relationship to McLuhan’s media theory, and the surprising scope of Shelley’s cultural impact. (Source: https://goo.gl/w5hWBp)

About the Author

Mark A. McCutcheon is professor of literary studies at Athabasca University. His scholarly publications include articles on such subjects as Canadian popular culture, Frankenstein adaptations, and copyright policy in English Studies in CanadaDigital Studies/Le champ numériqueContinuum, and Popular Music, among other scholarly journals and books. Mark has also published poetry and short fiction in literary magazines like EVENTExistereCarousel, and subTerrain. Originally from Toronto, Mark lives in Edmonton. His scholarly blog is www.academicalism.wordpress.com.

 First Ed. 1818

From Mark McCutcheon’s Review of the Study

The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel, Frankenstein. In the two centuries since its appearance, the book has taken on the mantle of a cultural touchstone, having been adapted, referenced, recapitulated, and retold in an apparently endless succession of books, movies, graphic novels, and other media. Itself loosely based on the Prometheus and Pygmalion myths, Shelley’s novel has become one of the most influential books in the western canon.

It is also a volume capacious enough to encompass a dizzying array of interpretive approaches. The text has been seen variously as a warning about humanity’s hubris in attempting to play God, a cautionary tale about the limits of scientific knowledge, and an early meditation on the nature of technology and industrialization. Literary critic Wendy Steiner writes that Shelley “was clearly horrified by the cold, overreaching adventurism of science, industrialism, colonization. Even art was not immune from dehumanization. … Frankenstein’s monster is a symbol of art as inhumane manufacture.”

Athabasca University professor of literary studies Mark A. McCutcheon extends this investigation – not altogether convincingly – in his new volume, which posits a kind of Venn diagram of influence among Shelley’s novel, the writing of media critic Marshall McLuhan, and Canadian pop culture, most especially in the realm of science fiction movies and literature………..

But his investigation of McLuhan’s influence on postmodernism and our current technology-besotted society is vigorous and provocative. It is also interesting to note the similarities between McLuhan and a current Canadian academic currently making waves in the popular culture. McCutcheon cites W. Terrence Gordon, who suggested that McLuhan was interrogating “the feminization of the North American male” in The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. When McCutcheon later refers to McLuhan’s “cult of personality as a maverick academic” and his status as a “theoretical guru,” it’s almost impossible not to make a comparison with Jordan Peterson. (Read the entire review at https://goo.gl/GPxcFi)



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