Reaction to McLuhan

In the excerpt from Marshall McLuhan’s book, “The Medium is the Message,” he has coined the phrase that the “medium is the message” to everything. I have to say putting this to history context, he has some strong points to prove this phrase throughout history. In his chapter he explains what the phrase of “The medium is the message” as not what it is about, but what it tells you from the start. He compares it to cubism, “By seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message.” [1] before this eclectic speed of communications became obvious, many people would look at the specific piece of art and say what it is about instead of looking at the entire painting as a whole and understanding that the piece of art as a whole was the message. [2] Yes, there are ways in which McLuhan’s argument can stand alone in history, but in other ways it cannot.

This can be traced back to the 17th Century when people wrote letters. With the cost of sending a letter was paid when the recipient picked it up, many people would not pick up the letters. Knowing that they had gotten a letter from a loved one was the message of them being ok. So yes, the medium was the message, these mothers, fathers and wives just knew by getting a letter, that their loved one was ok.

Moving forward in time, art became something very informative that didn’t need words to describe what was being said. During war time propaganda was used to get many people to say towards the ‘right thing’. In Puck issue from June 1896 during the Spanish American War, the advertisement The Cuban Melodrama was something of pure art, but had lots of meaning behind it.  Without reading the caption on the bottom, you can see that the state the message is in, is the message itself. You see Uncle Sam protecting a pure Cuban Woman away from the scary old Spaniard. With this message of encouraging men to enlist themselves in the war, is clearly seen with just looking at the ad itself. This was on the cover of Puck magazine, so with the picture being that noticeable and seen, the message was clearly getting understood without even analyzing it. [3]

Other the hand, a message that a TV show gives off is something that you need to watch the entire episode for the message at hand to understand. With the letters, just getting a letter was confirmation that someone you care about was ok, but with an episode about how it is not ok to steal is something that needs to be watched entirely for the message to be understood. The same thing goes with film. If the overall moral of the plot is revealed at the end, then the medium is not the message. You have to watch the film for the moral to be revealed.

So overall McLuhan’s argument is not totally wrong, it can be seen as right throughout time, but in other instances, no the phrase “Medium is the Message” is not correct.


[1] Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message, (England: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited, 1964), 13.

[2]Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the MEssage, 13-14.

[3] Jay Taylor, Puck, 3 June 1896.


4 thoughts on “Reaction to McLuhan

  1. Great post! You touched a lot on what McLuhan had to say. I liked how you pointed out places in history where McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” both worked and didn’t work, which you argue is in most cases. I especially liked how you pointed out that simply receiving a letter was enough for the message to get along. I think McLuhan put too much emphasis on the medium, but that it is still important, which is what I think you were kind of saying when you talked about art and propaganda work. It is good to see where McLuhan’s argument worked and where it didn’t work, which is something that you did very well in this post.


  2. I think you did a great job explaining McLuhan’s argument. For me, I had to read it quite a few times to understand it but after reading it it made me realize how this concept pops up quite a few times in history. I enjoyed how you took specific examples from what we looked at in class, sometimes it helps to understand a new concept when something fimiliar is invovled. Going back to when we discussed just seeing the letter, not even opening it, usually meant that someone is okay is a discussion that I forgot about, and seems very applicable here. You concluded your post very well showing us that sometimes the medium is the message, and sometimes it is not. Good job!


  3. I think your take on “the medium is the message” is interesting, especially in reference to the art and television stand points. When I read his article I had thought about the main forms of media that we are used to (newspapers, radio, television), but never about how messages were conveyed by art. I know in class we talked a lot about the image you discussed, and one thing we said was that in that time people did not have to analyze what the image meant, because they just knew by looking at it. Also, what you said about messages being conveyed throughout the course of a TV show or movie is important, because as you said, if we don’t see it in its entirety we may not grasp the whole message that is trying to be conveyed. The other thing I thought of while reading that was how especially with television now, we can see the same message being portrayed, but with different takes on it. For example, throughout the election Fox news and MSNBC would both be reporting the same material, but putting their own twist on the message to get across their viewpoint. I think that is important to note when talking about modern television as a media source, because there are many instances when the same idea is manipulated to mean different things.


  4. You’re post actually really helped me grasp the underlying message of what McLuhan was trying to say. I had to read his passage a few times to understand what he was trying to say, and after talking about it in class I defiantly had a clearer understanding than what I did before. But your way of relating it to times back in history and what the phrase “the medium is the message” means to you helped me understand it a lot better. Thank you and great job!


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