Marshall McLuhan Predicts That Electronic Media Will Displace the Book & Create Sweeping Changes in Our Everyday Lives (1960)

"The electronic media haven't wiped out the book: it's read, used, and wanted, perhaps more than ever. But the role of the book has changed. It's no longer alone. It no longer has sole charge of our outlook, nor of our sensibilities." As familiar as those words may sound, they don't come from one of the think pieces on the changing media landscape now published each and every day. They come from the mouth of midcentury CBC television host John O'Leary, introducing an interview with Marshall McLuhan more than half a century ago.

McLuhan, one of the most idiosyncratic and wide-ranging thinkers of the twentieth century, would go on to become world famous (to the point of making a cameo in Woody Allen's Annie Hall) as a prophetic media theorist. He saw clearer than many how the introduction of mass media like radio and television had changed us, and spoke with more confidence than most about how the media to come would change us. He understood what he understood about these processes in no small part because he'd learned their history, going all the way back to the development of writing itself.

Writing, in McLuhan's telling, changed the way we thought, which changed the way we organized our societies, which changed the way we perceived things, which changed the way we interact. All of that holds truer for the printing press, and even truer still for television. He told the story in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which he was working on at the time of this interview in May of 1960, and which would introduce the term "global village" to its readers, and which would crystallize much of what he talked about in this broadcast. Electronic media, in his view, "have made our world into a single unit."

With this "continually sounding tribal drum" in place, "everybody gets the message all the time: a princess gets married in England, and 'boom, boom, boom' go the drums. We all hear about it. An earthquake in North Africa, a Hollywood star gets drunk, away go the drums again." The consequence? "We're re-tribalizing. Involuntarily, we're getting rid of individualism." Where "just as books and their private point of view are being replaced by the new media, so the concepts which underlie our actions, our social lives, are changing." No longer concerned with "finding our own individual way," we instead obsess over "what the group knows, feeling as it does, acting 'with it,' not apart from it."

Though McLuhan died in 1980, long before the appearance of the modern internet, many of his readers have seen recent technological developments validate his notion of the global village — and his view of its perils as well as its benefits — more and more with time. At this point in history, mankind can seem less united than ever than ever, possibly because technology now allows us to join any number of global "tribes." But don't we feel more pressure than ever to know just what those tribes know and feel just what they feel?

No wonder so many of those pieces that cross our news feeds today still reference McLuhan and his predictions. Just this past weekend, Quartz's Lila MacLellan did so in arguing that our media, "while global in reach, has come to be essentially controlled by businesses that use data and cognitive science to keep us spellbound and loyal based on our own tastes, fueling the relentless rise of hyper-personalization" as "deep-learning powered services promise to become even better custom-content tailors, limiting what individuals and groups are exposed to even as the universe of products and sources of information expands." Long live the individual, the individual is dead: step back, and it all looks like one of those contradictions McLuhan could have delivered as a resonant sound bite indeed.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Complete Digitization of Eros Magazine: The Controversial 1960s Magazine on the Sexual Revolution

Last year we told you about the digitization of Avant Garde magazine, a short-lived but influential 1960s magazine, which featured lithographs by John Lennon and artistic photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Today, we're pleased to announce the digitization of Avant Garde's sister magazine, Eros. Also a collaboration between Ralph Ginzburg (editor) and Herb Lubalin (art director), Eros positioned itself as a quarterly magazine on love and sex in America. Authorities, however, didn't take kindly to a magazine covering the sexual revolution. Not in 1962. And when Eros published its fourth issue, Robert Kennedy, the U.S. Attorney General, indicted Ginzburg for distributing obscene literature through the mail and violating federal anti-obscenity laws. Ginzburg was convicted (a decision later affirmed by the Supreme Court) and sentenced to five years in prison. Ultimately, he served eight months.

Thanks to Mindy Seu, a newly-created website lets you read digital copies of Eros. All four issuesSpring 1962, Summer 1962Autumn 1962, and Winter 1962. When you visit the site, click the word "Index" in the top right corner, and then you can easily navigate through individual pages.

As you do, keep one thing in mind: Eros was no flimsy magazine. According to The New York Times, it was a "stunningly designed hardcover 'magbook'," covering "a wide swath of sexuality in history, politics, art and literature" and featuring articles by the likes of Nat Hentoff.

Also, if you click on "Resources" once you're on the new site, you can read articles about Eros magazine and the controversial trial.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Watch a Reading of Steve Bannon’s Screenplay Which Attempted to Turn Shakespeare’s Coriolanus Into a Rap Musical

Somewhere between working at Goldman Sachs, and calling the shots for Breitbart and Donald Trump, the Voldemortian Steve Bannon went to Hollywood and made 18 films, many of them political. Described "as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement" (by Andrew Breitbart himself), Bannon helped produce the Ronald Reagan documentary In the Face of Evil and Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman. But he's perhaps best known for writing a treatment for the never-made documentary, Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Fascism in America. The eight page draft, writes The Washington Post, proposed "a three-part movie that would trace 'the culture of intolerance' behind sharia law, examine the 'Fifth Column' made up of 'Islamic front groups' and identify the American enablers paving 'the road to this unique hell on earth.'" Looking back, it's no wonder that Bannon tried to engineer a ban of Muslims immigrants upon entering the White House.

For anyone interested in revisiting another unrealized Bannon production, you can now watch (above) a table read of his screenplay for The Thing I Am. Co-written with Julia Jones during the late 1990s, it's a "rap musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus set in South Central Los Angeles during the 1992 riots after the LAPD beating of Rodney King." Put together by an organization called Now This, the read features Rob Corddry, Lucas Neff, Parvesh Cheena, Daniele Gaither, Gary Anthony Williams, Charlie Carver, Cedric Yarborough, and hip hop artist A.J. Crew. And, as the website Refinery29 warns, it's "full of cussing, the n-word, and mentions of crotch grabs."

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The News Is Broken, and Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Plans to Fix It With His New Site, Wikitribune

"The news is broken and we can fix it." That's the idea driving the creation of Wikitribune, a news platform being built by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Borrowing tools and concepts from the influential online encyclopedia, Wikitribune will be free and supported by readers, not ads. It will feature professional journalists and community members, working side by side, to produce fact-checked journalism that's readily supported by evidence and sources. And anyone can flag mistakes or submit revisions for review.

Watch Wales outline the vision for Wikitribune in the Kirby Ferguson-made video above. Then, consider making a financial contribution to the new news platform here. They're now raising money to get operations started and hire 10 journalists.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

5 Animations Introduce the Media Theory of Noam Chomsky, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stuart Hall

We watch it happen in real time, aghast as the media cannibalizes itself, turning reality into a parody of the kind we laughed at in goofy dystopian scenarios from Back to the Future, The SimpsonsIdiocracy. A brave new world of hypercredulity and monstrous disingenuousness arrived on our smart phones and TVs. It was gaudy and pernicious and lied to us like we couldn’t trust our lying eyes. We saw reality TV mainlined into reality. The response was to shout, “Fake News,” a phrase almost immediately redigested and spun into flimsy conspiracy theories. It now serves little purpose but to get the snake gnawing its tail again.

How?, many wondered in despair. Haven’t people read the theory? Noam Chomsky, Marshall McLuhan, Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Roland Barthes.... Didn’t we see them proven right time and again? But chances are if you know all these names, you’ve spent time in university English, Communications, or Media Studies departments.

You’ve hung around hip bookstores and coffeeshops in cities and puzzled over critical theory, pretending, perhaps, to have read at least one of these writers you hadn't. You gave up your TV years ago and kept your kids away from screens (or told people you did). You fit, in other words, a certain profile, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it was, in the scheme of things, a pretty narrow niche, and an often pretty smug one at that.

Maybe academics, critics, and journalists need to be better at talking and listening to ordinary people? Maybe fashionable waves of anti-intellectualism need to be resisted with almost religious vigor…? Whatever the solution(s) for mass media illiteracy, we can treat the video series here from Al Jazeera as a step in the right direction. Called “Media Theorized: Reading Against the Grain,” the project takes as its subtitle a quote from Roland Barthes, the French philosopher and literary critic who distilled cultural studies into highly readable essays, dissecting everything from wrestling to tourism to advertising. Barthes showed how these genres constitute symbolic texts, just like romantic novels and morality plays, but purport to show us unmediated truth.

“Media Theorized” surveys five cultural critics who have, in five different ways, made similar analyses of mass media. Marshall McLuhan famously declared the medium as the message: its signal inseparable from its noise; Noam Chomsky demonstrated how popular consent is engineered by a narrow set of shady special interests with influence over the media; Stuart Hall showed how mass media manipulates discourses of race, class, gender, and religion to misrepresent outsiders and marginalized people and keep them in their place in the social imaginary; and Edward Said documented the long tradition of “Orientalism”---a totalizing Euro-American discourse that estranges, belittles, and dehumanizes whole countries, cultures, and religious communities.

While it’s impossible to do justice to the richness and depth of their arguments with quick summaries and pithy animation, what “Media Theorized” does well is to present this handful of academics as accessible and uniquely relevant to our current situation. This works especially well because the presenters are people used to putting theory into practice, communicating with the public, and critiquing mass media. Activists and journalists from all over the world, who have not only contributed short videos on YouTube, but thoughtful supplementary essays and interviews at the “Media Theorized” site (which also includes high resolution posters from each video.) The project is an invitation for each of us to take several steps back and ask some highly pertinent questions about how and why the stories we're told get told, and for whose benefit.

Millions of people have had enough and are demanding accountability from individual figures in the media---a positive development, to be sure, though it seems like too little too late. We need to understand the damage that’s been done, and continues to be done, by the systems mass media enable and sell. This series introduces “critical tools” we can use in our “everyday encounters” with such salesmanship.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Every Front Page of The New York Times in Under a Minute: Watch the Evolution of “The Gray Lady” from 1852 to Present

Buckling under information overload?

The long view can be soothing, as filmmaker Josh Begley proves in just under a minute, above. The data artist reduced 165 years worth of chronologically ordered New York Times front pages---every single one since 1852---to a grid of inky rectangles flashing past at lightning speed.

You won’t be able to make out the headlines as the front page news whips past to the somewhat ominous strains of composer Philip Glass’ ”Dead Things.”

Instead the impression is of watching something---or someone---steadily bearing witness.

Obviously, any reputable new source does more than simply note the unfolding of events. Its readers look to it as a source of analysis and critique, in addition to well-researched factual information.

The Gray Lady, as the Times has long been known, has recently weathered an uptick in slings and arrows from both the left and the right, yet her longevity is not easily dismissed.

Blogger Jason Kottke watched the video with an eye toward some of the paper’s most notable design changes. His findings also remind us of some of the historic events to appear on the Times' front page---Lincoln’s assassination, Nixon’s resignation, and the election of our first Black president, which it described as a “national catharsis---a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies.”

How many of the over 50,000 front pages featured above were deemed personally significant enough to squirrel away in a trunk or an attic?

Have digital archives decreed that this practice will soon gasp its last, along with the print media that inspired it?

What will we use to wrap our fish and line our bird cages?

Read the New York Times 2012 (non-front page) coverage of Apple’s rejection of Josh Begley’s Drone+ app here.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker in New York City.  Her play Zamboni Godot is playing at The Brick in Brooklyn through tomorrow night. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Introduction to Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent and How the Media Creates the Illusion of Democracy

For nearly as many years as he’s occupied the public eye, famed linguist and anarchist philosopher Noam Chomsky has made claims that might have discredited other academics. Perhaps his many books, articles, lectures, interviews, etc. carry such weight because of his “famed linguist” status and his longtime tenure at MIT. But there’s more to his longevity as a respected critic of U.S. state power. His voice also carries significant authority because he substantiates his arguments with erudite, granular analyses of economic theory, history, and political philosophy.

We’ve seen him do exactly this in his fierce opposition to the Vietnam War at the beginning of his activist career, and in his critiques of proxy wars, imperialistic repression, and corporate resource grabs in Latin America and Southeast Asia in decades since.

When it comes to the U.S. domestic scene, one of Chomsky’s most pointed and continually relevant critiques addresses the way in which we’re led to believe the country’s actions overseas justify themselves, as well as its actions upon its own citizens. We might debate whether the U.S. is a democracy or a republic, but according to Chomsky, both notions may well be illusory.

Instead, Chomsky argues in Manufacturing Consent—his 1988 critique of “the political economy of the mass media" with Edward S. Herman—that the mass media sells us the idea that we have political agency. Their “primary function… in the United States is to mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector.” Those interests may have changed or evolved quite a bit since 1988, but the mechanisms of what Chomsky and Herman identify as “effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function” might work in the age of Twitter just as they did in one dominated by network and cable news.

Those mechanisms largely divide into what the authors called the “Five Filters.” The video at the top of the post, produced by Marcela Pizarro and narrated by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, provides a quick introduction to them, in a jarring animated sequence that’s part Monty Python, part Residents video. See the five filters listed below in brief, with excerpts from Goodman’s commentary:

1. Media Ownership—The endgame of all mass media orgs is profit. “It is in their interest to push for whatever guarantees that profit.”

2. Advertising—Media costs more than consumers will pay: Advertisers fill the gap. What do advertisers pay for? Access to audiences. “It isn’t just that the media is selling you a product. They’re also selling advertisers a product: you.”

3. Media Elite—“Journalism cannot be a check on power, because the very system encourages complicity. Governments, corporations, and big institutions know how to influence the media. They feed it scoops and interviews with supposed experts. They make themselves crucial to the process of journalism. If you want to challenge power, you’ll be pushed to the margins…. You won’t be getting in. You’ll have lost your access.”

4. Flack—“When the story is inconvenient for the powers that be, you’ll see the flack machine in action: discrediting sources, trashing stories, and diverting the conversation.”

5. The Common Enemy—“To manufacture consent, you need an enemy, a target: Communism, terrorists, immigrants… a boogeyman to fear helps corral public opinion.”

Chomsky and Herman’s book offers a surgical analysis of the ways corporate mass media "manufactures consent” for a status quo the majority of people do not actually want. Yet for all of the recent agonizing over mass media failure and complicity, we don't often hear references to Manufacturing Consent these days. This may have something to do with the book’s dated examples, or it may testify to Chomsky’s marginalization in mainstream political discourse, though he would be the first to note that his voice has not been suppressed.

It may also be the case that media theory and criticism like Chomsky's, or the work of Marshall McLuhan, Theodor Adorno, or Jean Baudrillard (all very different kinds of thinkers), has fallen out of favor in a 140-character world. In the late-80s and 90s, however, such theory received a good deal of attention, and Chomsky appeared in the many venues you’ll see in the short video above, excerpted from an almost 3-hour 1992 documentary called Manufacturing Consent, a film made by “die-hard fans,” wrote Colin Marshall in an earlier post, that “curates instances of Chomsky going from interview to interview, debate to debate, forum to forum, making sharp-sounding points about the relationship between business elites and the media.”

Our desire for instant reward and settled opinion may have overtaken our ability to subject the entire phenomenon of mass media to critical analysis, as we leap from cliffhanger to cliffhanger and crisis to crisis. But should we take the time to watch this film and, preferably also, read Chomsky’s book, we may find ourselves somewhat better equipped to evaluate the onslaught of propaganda to which we’re subjected on what seems like an hourly basis.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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