The Medium is the Message (Update)

Carried in my back pocket 1965 -67.


(Note: Read up from bottom for the chronology of the thread. The direct below to ME is summation of the thread, so far. We’ve left the text unchanged so readers are forced to wade through the weeds a little – participate – more in the creation of the narrative below)


A brilliant explanation of the issues, especially for me who has been interested in symbols and symbolism for many years.

Radiated light = Stars, sun = Masculine

Reflected/Projected light = Moons = Feminine

Creation and Reflection on Creation.

From a perspective of symbolism, I think the whole issue has to start from the above paradoxes and dichotomies.

In screenplays, the masculine symbol is always action such as dialogue and movement (whether the actor is a male or female). Actions in screenplays and stories are basically male forms of symbols. The male archetype of dialogue and action in stories/screenplays is what McLuhan identified as “messages” within “mediums” of communication. The surrounding context of actions in screenplays, the setting in time and space and place in stories and screenplays, (a topic I explored in my first book on symbolism titled The Symbolism of Place: The Hidden Context of Communication – 1993). Basically, it was an exploration into the topic of how the grand feminine symbol of context creates the true meaning of messages within the context of growth the feminine symbol has provided.

As it is in the causal version of time, context precedes content in an an evolutionary, biographical, philosophical and psychological view of civilization and humanity. In a media perspective of history. McLuhan always argued that context came before content. Mediums always precede messages. Yet the mediums are always invisible to most in our distracted culture today. The problem is that psychology is introverted today, people directed inward into their incredibly isolated little world of messages. It is messages that distract attention from the grand medium controlling culture today.

* * *

Popular culture focuses on messages and is almost totally distracted from awareness of the medium whereby the messages arrive. Usually, they arrive on those little devices people have with them 24/7. Smartphones of course. With a Smartphone, it is possible to create one’s own “island” within culture today. An island populated by all the things you would pick if you really had to live on an isolated island today. The fact is, the majority of culture is able to live on these “digital islands” today, peopled with the “media” one programs to receive. The beginning of a world of Virtual Reality or Artificial Intelligence, in many respects. The true predecessor to VR and AI might in fact be the little worlds created around our own villages of social media.

Right now, the interface with this world are the devices called Smartphones they check with every few minutes through the days and nights. As I’ve argued elsewhere, political control today is not based on the hard symbols of physical and economic power but rather on the soft symbols of all those objects/events that distract the population from their introverted participation in social media villages. They all lack an extroverted, outward, perspective. It is this perspective that frightens them. Even in an ultimate global world that most of them endorse. Yet the introversion of their captivity in villages of social media has little in connection in the psychology of extroversion required to truly believe in the concept and symbol of globalism in the world.

America founded at the paradoxical intersection of radiated and reflected light, masculine and feminine symbols. Saying this is also saying that American was founded at the paradoxical intersection of media symbols. Is this intersection of media behind the historic rise of America in the world? We hear of military battles and great corporations and individuals and battles that have created the greatness of America. We even hear/read of great novels about all this. Yet, we seldom hear about the intersection between masculine and feminine ideas of media in the history of the America.

Many write ideas on how to create stories and screenplays. Few ever acknowledge or understand the power of symbols in creating modern stories. Unfortunately, it is something hardly considered in creating modern cinema, televisionand Internet stories.

* * *

I’ve suggested in the book Symbolism of Place, a chart of a story that shows both the context and content of a story. Stories are best communicated symbolically (and medias) when context surrounds content at particular moments in stories. In screenplays, these moments are called scenes. In books, these moments probably chapters. The correspondence of context to content in stories is one of the great powers of story. Yet it is little known today when there is little exploration or interest outside the content of messages.

When I was a teenager at Webb School of California in Claremont of late 60s, I carried a ragged copy of Understanding Media around school with me everywhere. We were reading interesting things like Ulysses and Lawrence and Joyce and many others. Yet, nowhere was anyone teaching the teachings of Marshall McLuhan from Canada. I think one of the great problems today is that we know little of the mediums (contexts) that really control us and are hypnotized, distracted by the messages within these mediums. Messages created in the digital social world of individual islands.

The difference in McLuhan and our great “scholars” today?

McLuhan has always distinguished between context and content. He saw the battle between the two of them but in the end he knew that the medium was the most powerful of the two symbols. The feminine symbol of the medium. Rather than the masculine symbol of messages within the medium.

He always saw that media comes down to masculine and feminine symbols. He never stated this directly but it certainly can be implied from his work. He would never see masculine and feminine dialogue in a story. Rather, he would simply see that action (message) of content in a story. The masculine symbol of action. And, he would also see the context of action (or medium) or setting in a story. The feminine symbol of containment of action.

Most scholars today are drawn, almost via a magnetic force of inward, to their own social-created world. To something little more than messages with little understanding of the context of these messages. Yet again, political power is exercised today through the distraction of messages.

Those who feel they are free today to make their choices are often those caught in the media (messages) of the day.

* * *

It seems to me that true growth in media understanding today only occurs when one ponders the presence of mediums containing media, contexts holding content, settings holding action in screenplays and stories. It is not an easy proposition if one believes that belief in messages needs to battle with mediums. That is, if one can truly see the powers of masculine and feminine symbols battling against each other. These media symbols, battling behind the daily barrage of billions of digital messages and distractions. All attempting to pull anyone, and everyone, off their true “game” in life, their real purpose. To escape the content and understand the medium.

As Jung noted about the changing astrology of our world, the sign of Pisces (the fish) is replaced by Aquarius (the water carrier). Is it another way of saying that fish (contained in the context of water) will be carried someday by water carriers? Content will finally be understood in relation to context. Is this perhaps the message of the new era of Aquarius? The message of this era is that the medium is still real message. Such an easy concept to grasp for me during those years of the 60s.

Yet, such a bold and courageous and powerful concept to keep as a goal before one today.

Again, great comments from you!



On Oct 27, 2017, at 4:14 PM, Merrelyn Emery <> wrote:

John, historically there are two qualitatively different types of light, radiant and reflected (or ambient). They have not until relatively recently been associated with technologies unless you want to distort the language by referring to the sun and the world around us as technologies. That is because we have designed new technologies that use radiant light and the results have been far from what has been expected.

This surfaced early with ‘the scandal of the non significant differences’ where it was found that the best designed educational television could not produce better results than the ordinary teacher in an ordinary crowded classroom. Again historically it has been known that these two forms of light have entirely different effects on the human nervous system and our new technologies prove this over and over again.

We are not adapted to extract meaningful information from radiant light and our response to it is primarily to move from fast wave to slow wave activity with a corresponding loss of analytical, critical or intellectual activity. There is an associated very pleasant increase in rewarding emotional experiences which, no doubt, is the basis of the obvious addictive effect. Will our cns gradually adapt to radiant light? – no sign of it so far, in fact much the opposite, ME


Sent: Thursday, 26 October 2017 2:46 AM
Cc: Heather Hale; Andrew McLuhan; Bill Kuhns; Merrelyn Emery
Subject: Re: film vs digital


Isn’t the debate somewhat like images radiating out or projected onto? Like TV and film in theaters?

Interesting point he makes is that they had to wait for weeks to see a days work in Apolcalypse Now when shooting on film.

Beautiful scene from one of his films on the bottom scene of the article.



On Oct 25, 2017, at 8:33 AM, Eric McLuhan <> wrote:

The battle is rejoined, now in a different. field. That is, the battle between proponents of digital and those of analogue.

Last time, it was in the music industry, and that tussle has never been resolved.

And it is being nibbled at half-heartedly in the case of books on paper or on screen.

The problem is that the opponents are looking in the wrong place. Sure, the content in each case may be identical in the two formats, but the difference lies in the closure, not in the input. The user’s synesthesia is the area of difference.


Begin forwarded message:

From: andrew mcluhan <>
Subject: film vs digital
Date: October 25, 2017 at 8:26:27 AM EDT
To: Eric McLuhan <>
Reply-To: andrew mcluhan <>

From a Hollywood director:

Why Oscar-winning DP Vittorio Storaro Thinks the Film vs. Digital Debate is Bullshit

Why Oscar-winning DP Vittorio Storaro Thinks the Film vs. Digital Debate is…
“If you’re shooting in panorama, in digital, in 3D, what is the difference?”


Leave a Reply