Is TV a crucial force in contemporary society, or is it just another electrical appliance? Do we control it, through Nielsen ratings or does it, through some insidious effect, control us?
Perhaps the most provocative responses to such questions come from the Canadian scholar an dauthor Marshall McLuhan, director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the Universtiy of Toronto, whom Life Magazine called "The Oracle of the Electronic Age" This analysis by Prof. McLuhan, offered in an interview last week in New York with Style critic-at-large Alan M. Kriegsman, suggests there may be much more to television than meets the eye. The Eye as Ear
I SUPPOSE I'M THE only person anywhere who studies the media themselves as a form of violence. My approach is that the violence of the media is enormously bigger than anything on the programs. And let me say, violence people's privacy, to violate people's rights. Pornography, for example, is a huge violence crossing people's right to privacy.
Television has peculiar dimension that are ignored. For example, it's not a visual medium. It is audible tactile. It's something that uses the eyes as if it were an ear. Television uses the eye as an ear literally because the characteristic mode of the image is discontinuous, whereas the movie image is visual and still shots with frames and so on. The TV camera has no shutter and is a continuous pickup just like the sound pickup. The image enhanced to you for participation is mostly acoustic and very little visual.
The effect is that it's an inner trip. TV is addictive, it's a drug. Test have been run, you know - they paid people to stop watching it and then tested them to see wht happened to them. They show all the withdrawal symptoms of drug addicts. And so, for people who have goals in life the inner trip is fatal. Goals and objectives disappear on the inner trip, trip and one becomes involved in role-playing. TV on The Brain
WHAT FACULTIES are involved in TV? I have discovered in the last few years that the acoustic dimensions, the world of the simultaneous since we hear from all directions at once, is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere.Now acoustic world belongs to the right hemi sphere of the brain, and the left hemisphere is visual. The left hemisphere is the world of linearity, connectiveness logic, rationality, analysis, classification and so on. At the present time, and for some decades, we have been living in a world in which the environment , the major environment in which we live, is instantaneous information.
An instantenous information world is one which completely furthers and enhances the world of the right hemisphereof the brain, which is the simultaneous or acoustic hemisphere. The visual hemisphere, the logical, connective, classification hemisphere, has been pushed up into dominance over the centuries by word systems and courier systems and linear systems with all kinds of information. Now, at the speed of light, the right hemisphere is pushed up into dominance.
But all aht institutions - legal, rational, moral - were all invented or devised under conditions of left hemisphere dominance. At the speed fo flight, under electric conditions, the organization chart just collapses. This kind of flip that now happens in decision-making is straight over to the world of Zen, where the big and important problems is what are the questions, not what are the answers. The modern decision maker has first got the need to know what are the questions, and the answeres are not so difficult anymore.
Our left-hemisphere world, which has given us all out typical institutions, literacy, for example, flips with the advent of Xeroxing, into exactly the opposite form. Gutenberg made everybodya reader. Xerox makes everybody a publisher. Now when every body becomes a publiher, strange things begin to hapen. Instant Replay
THE REAPPEARANCE or Mr. Nixon on TV is an example of retrieval. It's like an instant replay. Instant replays are electronic forms of tremendous meaning. They permit not cognition but recognition. So we will now recognize Mr. Nixon, but cognition is elementary compared to recognition. IBM used to have a saying: Information overload equals pattern recognition. At the speed of light what you see are patterns - you don't have a point of view. At the speed of light you can't have a fixed position from which to do anything, therefore there's no point of view possible 'Roots'
ON THE RECENT program "Roots," the attempt of the blacks to rediscover their identity was a quest for not private identity, but group identity. The blacks in America are being pushed into private identity roles, which they don't enjoy, and are now questing for their old group identities. Electronics man is in desperate need of roots. He's lost his body, his physical body and his private identity. HE has a image , but no body.
Violence is one of the manifestations of quest for identity. When you've lost your identity you become a violent perosn looking for identity. The quest for identity requires violence or it involves violence because you have to reach out nd feel around and gropeuntil you find who you are and what your limits are, The great example of that is the Western, out great folklore form. On the frontier, where man is a nobody, he has to prove daily by violence who he is. And it doesn't matter who you are, when you go out West you're nobody, and therefore you hve to prove yourself everyday of the week. And it comes from 200 years war with the wilderness.
That hostile environment out there led our forebearers fo go outside daily to tame and subdue the wilderness. Two hundered years of taming the wilderness developed that pattern of fighting, fighting when we go home to be safe, secure and friendly. But television brings the outside inside to home. It brings that warrior's face into the friendly face of the home The PTA
TEH NIELSON ratings tell the inside story of television. That is, they tell the subliminal, it's extraneous and conscious - the curusading spirit of the conscious person. Now one of hte pecularities of electric services is they force the subliminal up into consciousness. And we are rapidly losing our subconscious. It all being pushed up into consciousness. This means, of course, the end of Mr. Freud. He was big and srong when people still had a subconscious. When we had a privat identity we had a big subconscious. Now that we have a group identity we have no subconcious.
People who take a point of view and an alarmist stand, are people who don't understand the media. They don't realize that these things have gone around them, and that it is a kind of total disease. It's an extension of our own private nervous system. These electric media are us. We've done this to ourselves, unwittingly.
Now , to take a stand against that is like taking a stand against measles or against flu. It's taking a stand on 19th century hardware technology and saying, we've gotta hold onto this stuff. Meantime, they are living in a world which has carefully removed it.
These media are violent in the sense they invade us. like pornography. The defense is not to pass a law or to say this should'nt happen, we've got to stop this. The defense is to understand the thing, and to, well to pull the plug out if necessary. Under conditions of extreme survival need, obviously we wouldn't hesitate to pull out the plug. If you're electrocuting a dangerous criminal, you're pulling out the plug on him. Power of Coverage
A FEW MONTHS AGO a hign hurricane threatened in New York, and the media were covering the approach. Hour after hour, it was getting total coverage, no matter what happened or what it did. By time it got to New York it fizzled. It just disappeared. And the coverage did it. All you have to do to end those big disasters is to coverthem. I was here during that hurricane thing and I jsut noticed it dying down, dying dwon as it approached. Coverage got more intense and the hurricane just died. Very great disappointment.
The coverage even transforms the criminal into show biz. This happened when there was a bank holdup. A bandit entered the bank and there was a phone ringing and he held up the bank and answered the phone. And they said hello where are you - it was a radio show, a hot line. Where are you: I'm here at the bank. I'm holding up this bank. And they held him for a few minutes and the cops were there and the whole thing was over. He became show biz, and that ended it.
We all become show bizunder the kind of news coverage we have, everybody expects coverage, everybody expects to be transformed into show biz in some degree. The Generation Gap
THE GENERATION gap opened up by TV in the 1960s was no less than 2,400 years of a gap. For the first time in 2,400 years, since the beginning of the alphabet, people were going back to heir primitive third world. Because TV is post-alphabet, post-literate, the TV generation had no contract with its own parents, or the previous would form which the parents had come. And the quest for roots is that difficult - you've got ot go way, way back to find them. The alphabet, in the 5th century B.C., was the first moment in which Western man created his logical structure, and this private identity and this visual, Euclidian space. Alphabetice man - Parmenies was the first logician - and Aristotle and Plato came right out of that Parmenides tradition, they pushed the pre-Socratics out of the picture. Pre-Socratics were like us, and today we share a great sympathy with the pre-Socratics.
So, the retrieval of all the pre-alphabetic forms of philosophy is now very, nery strong. That's our quest for roots. But the TV generation was 2,400 years away from its parents. The parents had'nt come out of the 19th-century literacy and the kids were suddenly plunged into post-literacy, and they became 2,400 years apart. That's a big generation gap. It never happened before in the history of man because we neve had eletric technology before. Remember, at the speed of light you can go through centuries in a few minutes. Developement, gradual developmental thing are superseded by instantaneous replays, and instantaneous awareness and pattern recognition. People are puzzled today as to why the kids have no morality has for a long time been merely written and legalistic and the kids cannot accept any form of legalism. This is not a result of conscious decision-making on their part at all. They simply respond to a new envitonment in which they live, in whih the only thing that counts is total involvement. Legalism is objective everyone of you is equal before the set of laws, written laws, Now, to the man who is very subjective and totally invoved, that kind of law is meaningless.He has to have a law to which his whole being can respond.And so these kids have no morals, in our sense. They have a code which belongs to the old aural traditions. Effect on Literature
THE NOVEL disappeared through electricty becase the novels is entirely continuous. The stream of consciousness intervened and took over, and stream of consciouness is totally discontinuous. James Joyce is discontinuous. Flaubert wrote the last novel of contunutiy left hemisphere, and after that everything flipped into discontinuity. But the novel in the sense of a continuous plot disappeared. The dectective story is an electronic form - because it uses the total environment a plot. There is not a continuous connected story in the dectective story. It is totally discontinuous and involves the reader totally in reconstructing an action. And so, it is kind of an electronic form. Value Judgement
BY THE WAY, I do not make value judgements. I simply try to discover what is goingon I find very painful and very tiresome.
Personally, I find things that way. But I'm committed to this investigation procedure, which is a study of effects. And when you study effects you cannot have a point of view. I mentioned the effect of Xerox which can make everybody into a publisher. That is not a point of view. It is an aphoristic observation, about something that happened.