The medium and its message (or vice versa)

Just done my own class/lecture, during which I taught “A Modest Proposal.” It’s difficult to imagine a time when Swift was his own era’s Jon Stewart, but that’s how it strikes me. The prompt I’m teaching specifically focuses on satire, but it also encompasses ideas of frameworks and Marshall McLuhan’s ideas of media being the message.

I use Swift as an exercise; his essay is good as satire, perhaps, but would it fly in our class? How would I grade it?

My students understand, by and large, that it would perform poorly, in terms of a grade, and, most important, why. And then we fix it.

I try to have some fun teaching it; last semester, the lesson went over like nothing else through the whole course–my students fully engaged, making jokes, and came up with some surprises. They seemed to have fun with it, and any time I can demonstrate how much fun writing can be, how awesome the process can really be, I feel like I’ve done my job. And so today we revised Swift. It came off pretty well, I think. Any time I can get my students to discuss the consumption of infants for nutritive purposes is, I think, rather funny. One other fun thing is the challenge of social mores; the idea of eating babies is awful, but lots of different cultures have their own culinary mores (Jews and pork, etc.).

I tried to really drive home the idea of a framework–that it’s not just what their papers say, but how they say it, and that they need to make explicit the connections they are making. Which, of course, ties back to McLuhan–Swift’s essay works in its medium, but changing that medium necessarily changes the implicit or explicit method.

I’m still uncertain whether it truly is a case of one being the other, though. As McLuhan states it, he uses a being verb–one is the other. Me, I tend to think it’s more subtle than that; one affects the other, but what you say and how you say it are, ultimately, two fantastically disparate things (even if they do, in fact, relate).

One idea that came up was when my student called me a ‘medium.’ I’m not sure about that either way, but I’m really glad they’re thinking.

One thought on “The medium and its message (or vice versa)

  1. ALMA

    I have two degrees in Comm and am well-aware of Mr. McLuhan. I never really got how useful–and brilliant–his message was until well after graduating, though. To some extent, I think it becomes more applicable to life as you get older.

    I think the heart of it is that everything in the world affects, and is affected by, everything else. There are multiple perspectives and multiple sources of noise. It’s both complex and simple.

    Communication theory is actually really fascinating–just because it really can help you understand your life…and it helps others understand you, too.


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