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Marshall McLuhan 100th Anniversary: Five Things To Read About The Media Theorist

07/21/2011 03:32 EDT | Updated 09/20/2011 05:12 EDT
Flickr: Cea.

Today, would have been the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, arguably Canada's most important contribution to the internet age (sorry Research In Motion). Wired magazine even made McLuhan their patron saint.

Most people know McLuhan by his aphorism-like statements like "the medium is the message" or catchphrases like "the global village." But he is, of course, more than that. He was a cultural theorist that made the cover of newsmagazines and a cameo in a Woody Allen film. His books influenced countless thinkers, journalists and pop culture figures. More importantly his ideas about our media-saturated society and persistent electronic interconnectedness are still resonant today. Below five great pieces that pay tribute to the man:

1. Douglas Coupland on McLuhan

Vancouver author Douglas Coupland, who wrote a recent bio of McLuhan, paid tribute to him in the Guardian and reiterates that the man foresaw our current media culture.

The medium is the message seems like a timeworn cliche, yet in recent years it has flipped and become one of the most germane of statements. In his poetic and elliptical ways, McLuhan foresaw a fluid melting world of texting, email, YouTube, Google, smartphones and reality TV...

2. Philip Marchand on McLuhan

Marchand wrote one of the definitive books on McLuhan so his take on the anniversary is a must read. In this column, he looks at how the popularity of McLuhan has waxed and waned, from near oblivion in the 1980s to unofficial patron saint of the information age.

3. What McLuhan means to journalism

As a media and cultural theorist, McLuhan might be tangentially related to journalism. Nieman Lab's Megan Garber tries to draw a stronger connection between the theory and the day-to-day practice of journalism and also looks at how McLuhan's ideas can shed light on the sea change affecting the media today.

4. McLuhan and Comics

Writing for the CBC, Andre Mayer argues that McLuhan also had some important insights into comic books but more importantly included them in his analysis of culture.

One of the reasons McLuhan had such a vast perspective on emerging media is that he didn't limit himself to august sources like books and radio. He took in the whole media landscape, which inevitably included television, as well as comics, billboards, magazines, even fashion.

Before McLuhan, few people paused to consider the subtle messages being conveyed in such low-brow art forms. To him, they were more than just consumer prompts or escapist entertainment — they were expressions of the zeitgeist.

In writing about them, McLuhan legitimized popular culture.

5. Listen to the man himself

McLuhan Speaks compiles dozens of interviews, lectures and short documentaries on the man. At the height of his fame, McLuhan's lectures at the University of Toronto were exteremely popular and these videos are probably as close as you're going to get. You can also follow the @mcluhanspeaks Twitter account.