This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage
Ernest Pintoff, 16mm, 1967, 54 mins
Introduced by Alex Kitnick
This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage premiered in 1967 as one of the first installments of “NBC Experiment in Television,” an innovative series of Sunday-afternoon cultural programs that would later include such diverse offerings as an animated special by Harold Pinter, Jim Henson’s live-action teleplay The Cube, and extended profiles of figures like writer Scholem Aleichem, cartoonist Al Capp, and architectural visionary Buckminster Fuller. McLuhan’s episode appeared at the height of his notoriety within popular consciousness: 1967 also saw the publication of McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s book The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, the fourth issue of Aspen magazine edited by McLuhan and Fiore, and an LP recording of The Medium Is the Massage released by Columbia Records.
An attempt to articulate McLuhan’s ideas through the language of one of his paradigmatic subjects—television—This Is Marshall McLuhan intersperses observations by McLuhan himself with commentary from art-world figures like gallerist Ivan Karp, artists Malcolm Morley and Allan Kaprow, and Museum of Modern Art curator Inez Garson. As if to illustrate McLuhan’s dictum that “all media work us over completely,” these remarks are punctuated by rapid-fire montages of pop culture and the avant-garde, mixing performances by Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, go-go girls, stand-up comedians, and Madison Avenue’s most countercultural ads into a Laugh-In-era attempt at information overload. An evocative dispatch from a moment when culture’s relationship to media was in a state of profound transition, this rarely screened film continues to resonate with our contemporary situation, its new technologies and their inventories of effects.