Marshall McLuhan,  The scriptwriter's paradoxes

Audiovisual extensions

Understanding new audiovisual media 2

Marshall McLuhan (Associated Press, 1968)
Marshall McLuhan (Associated Press, 1968)
Understanding New Audiovisual Media (Daniel Tubau) Read first: Why the Seventh Art?

Marshall McLuhan, who became famous after the publication of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), proposes very interesting theories, but also a great number of inventive sentences and paradoxical ideas, which gave him great media coverage in a very short time. Forinstance: “Look behind without turning back, you
are in an acoustic space”, or “We live in a global village”.

According to McLuhan, the world got out of the Gutenberg galaxy and entered the Marconi
galaxy, which means, it went from the printed media to reach the pictorial media, a picture connected to electronics. Thanks to new information transmission systems, during the 60s, the world has become a global village in which someone living in Paris can know
what happens in Tokyo better than what happens at his neighbour’s.

McLuhan’s most famous paradox is: “The medium is the message”. Until then, it was acknowledged that several factors intervened in the communication process, like the transmitter and the receiver of  the message, the medium with which the message is transmitted and the message itself. Hence the paradoxical meaning found in McLuhan’s claim, which identifies the message to its medium. This expression that travelled all around the world can be interpreted in different ways. One of them, following Andy Warhol’s famous line, maintains that each one of us is entitled to have fifteen minutes of television glory. It was even said that what is not on TV does not exist.

However, the current interpretation of McLuhan’s sentence, does not exclude the one quoted above, but it illustrates the author’s fundamental intuition. What McLuhan says is that any human creation is an extension of one’s body:

“Clothes are an extension of the skin, a house is an extension of the control mechanisms of the body’s temperature, the stirrup, the bicycle and the car are extensions of Man’s feet; the computer is an extension of our central nervous system (2)”.

Eric Norden “A candid conversation with the High Priest of Popcult and Metaphysician of the Media” (Playboy , 1969)

Human’s most important extensions are undoubtedly communication media, amongst  which are objects as diverse as printing, a Russian icon, a road sign, television or cinema.  In addition, McLuhan puts forward the idea that communication media do not only transmit messages, but transform them at the same time:  the same message appears differently according to the chosen medium and each medium compels the message to adapt to it.

To cap it all, the transmitter itself (Television-viewer, cinemagoer or newspaper reader) perceives things differently according to the medium through which the message is received.


To be continued…

lasparadojasThis article is a selection of passages taken from my book, The scriptwriter’s paradoxes: rules and exceptions in the practise of a scenario (Las paradojas del guionista, Alba Editorial, 2007) aimed at people interested in scriptwriting, and narration in general. The book explores the different theories and manuals existing on the subject, while listing forty paradoxes with which a scriptwriter might be faced.

Web page: Las paradojas del guionista


The scriptwriter’s paradoxes

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