Marshall McLuhan: He Defined the Medium’s Message
“The medium is the message,” stated Marshall McLuhan. Philosopher, professor and media theorist, McLuhan was a visionary on perspective and future of media
Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Alberta on July 21, 1911 to Herbert and Elsie McLuhan. McLuhan’s father was in real estate, his mother a teacher and actress. The McLuhans had another child two years later, Maurice. The family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1915, living in the Fort Rouge area.
Already inventive in the area of media as a young boy, Marshall and Maurice “huddled together listening to the crystal radio set Marshall had built,” said “Growing Up With the McLuhans” on CBC Digital Archives But Marshall was not an out-going type. “As a boy, Marshall McLuhan was very quiet and borderline anti-social. This phase passed during his early teens when he joined boy Scouts and began playing baseball.” Graduating from Kelvin Technical School, McLuhan enrolled at the University of Manitoba in 1928.
McLuhan’s PhD from Cambridge, England
In 1933, McLuhan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts then continued with his studies to receive a Masters Degree in English the next year. In his writings for the school paper, The Manitoban, McLuhan’s views of the world – skeptical of technology, disdain for formal education – were already formed. He held deep religious beliefs than tended more toward agnosticism than a particular faith.
That fall, McLuhan enrolled at Cambridge University in England. His Canadian education counted only for one year, so he entered the British school as a second year student working again toward a BA. Absorbed in education, McLuhan received a BA in 1936, a MA in 1939 and finally, a PhD from Cambridge in 1942. His intensive work included the concepts of “New Criticism” and “training of perception.”
McLuhan An English Professor
Unable to find suitable work in Canada, McLuhan took a post teaching English at the University of Wisconsin in 1936. He was less than 10 years older than his students but “he felt removed from them by a generation,” said the Biography of Marshall McLuhan on the Marshal McLuhan site. “He suspected that this had to do with ways of learning and set out to investigate it.” In 1937, McLuhan was appointed professor at St. Louis University, remaining there until 1944.
While in St. Louis, the young man married Corinne Keller Lewis in 1939. McLuhan’s mother introduced Corinne to her son. Like McLuhan’s mother, Corinne was also a teacher and actress. There was some family trouble with the union, though. The bride’s family, said CBC Digital Archives, “forbade Corinne to date or even befriend anyone the family hadn’t known for two generations.” The McLuhan family grew to six children, two boys and four girls.
McLuhan returned to Canada in 1944 with a teaching job at Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario for two years, then accepted a post at St. Michael’s College in Toronto from 1946 to 1979. He gained status as full professor in 1952.
“The Medium is the Message”
Immersed in the philosophy of media analysis, McLuhan’s expansive mind developed theories and concepts that became renowned in popular society such as “the medium is the message,” “global village,” and many others. Writing “Understanding Media” in 1964, McLuhan focussed “on the media effects that permeate society and culture,” said the McLuhan site, “but McLuhan’s starting point is always the individual because he defines media as technological extensions of the body.” Due to the popularity of McLuhan’s ideas and book, a McLuhan festival was held in San Francisco in 1964. The author became a recognized face in media with speaking engagements, television appearances and offers to write more books.
Visitors came from across the globe to visit McLuhan at the Centre for Culture at the University of
Toronto. A director of the centre, McLuhan and his team studied “the psychic and social consequences of technologies and media,” noted the McLuhan site. McLuhan’s visions of media theory were decades ahead of time, envisioning the effects of media on the daily lives of global citizens.
Honours and Awards for McLuhan
The man who disliked formal education and analyzed media became a highly-prestigious professional, awarded nine honourary degrees from prominent universities, and received numerous awards and honours including a Vatican appointment as Consultant to the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications in 1973, and the Christian Culture Award from Assumption University in 1971.
On December 31, 1980, Herbert Marshall McLuhan died peacefully in Toronto at age 69. His legacy of media theory continues to inspire thought and perspective with each new decade. Visit “Media Portrait: Marshall McLuhan” by Kate Butler for more about the work of Marshall McLuhan.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in September 2011. Copyright Susanna McLeod