In November 1965 Village Voice film critic Jonas Makes proclaimed in his weekly column, "The medium of cinema is breaking out and taking over and is going blindly and by itself."8 In 1966, he wrote, "Suddenly, the intermedia shows are all over town." 9 Light shows, slide shows, multiple film projections, light-motion art, sensoria - these were the activities of people like Jackie Cassen, Elaine Summers, Jud Yalkut, Aldo Tambellini, Stan VanDerBeek, Ed Emshwiller, Gerd Stem, Nam June Paik, and many others. Many, though certainly not all, of these events were inspired by Marshall McLuhan's influential media theories. Because of the widespread impact and popularization of McLuhan's writing, it may be helpful to briefly review his arguments.
McLuhan begins with the assumption that modern human experience is characterized by the simultaneous reception of vast amounts of information in the form of sense stimuli: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Because the attempt to communicate and process this variegated experience is subject to distortion, some methods of communication are better than others. According to McLuhan, a medium which extends one single sense in "high definition" - such as a photograph - is a hot medium, whereas a medium which provides only minimal extension of a sense - such as print - is cool." 10 In other words, cool media demand a high level of participation, or completion, by the receiving audience, while hot media do not.
In McLuhan's formulation, the electronic communications "explosion" of the 1960s created a new form of perception which makes these stimuli directly apprehendable through the senses. Since he views all media as "extensions of man," television and radio act as cybernetic extensions of the human nervous system. As McLuhan wrote in 1964,
Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media." 11
Thus, McLuhan's "global village," a harmonious world "tribe" linked via a network of instantaneous communication would evolve. Jonathan Miller has pointed out that McLuhan's overly optimistic vision could only have been achieved by "stressing the immediate mental effect of the various media at the expense of neglecting the messages they actually convey." 12 This emphasis on the effect of the medium itself - regardless of its content - is the basis for the famous dictum, "The medium is the message." This aphorism fit quite neatly with formalist art discourse; identifying those qualities specific to video as an art medium not only coincided with McLuhan's ideas but Clement Greenberg's formalism.
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