The Medium Is the Massage

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The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects
Cover of the first UK edition, published by Penguin Books (1967)
AuthorMarshall McLuhan
IllustratorQuentin Fiore
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectHistory of communication, Communications
PublisherPenguin Books
Publication date

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects is a book co-created by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and coordinated by Jerome Agel. It was published by Bantam books in 1967 and became a bestseller with a cult following.

The book is 160 pages in length and composed in an experimental, collage style with text superimposed on visual elements and vice versa. Some pages are printed backwards and are meant to be read in a mirror (see Mirror writing). Some are intentionally left blank. Most contain photographs and images both modern and historic, juxtaposed in startling ways.

Origin of the title[edit]

The title is a play on McLuhan's oft-quoted saying "The medium is the message". The book was initiated by Quentin Fiore.[1] McLuhan adopted the term "massage" to denote the effect of each medium on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the "effects" of numerous media in terms of how they "massage" the sensorium.

According to McLuhan biographer W. Terrence Gordon, "by the time it appeared in 1967, McLuhan recognized his saying was a cliché, and welcomed the opportunity to throw it back on the compost heap of language to recycle and revitalize it. But the new title is more than McLuhan indulging his insatiable taste for puns, more than a clever fusion of self-mockery and self-rescue — the subtitle is 'An Inventory of Effects,' underscoring the lesson compressed into the original saying."[2]

However, the FAQ section on the website maintained by McLuhan's estate says this interpretation is incomplete and makes its leap of logic for McLuhan to leave it as-is:[3]

"Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? The title is a mistake. After the book came back from the typesetter's, it had on the cover 'Massage'. The title was supposed to read The Medium is the Message, but the typesetter made an error. After McLuhan saw the typo, he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!' Thus, there are four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age."


Marshall McLuhan argues technologies — from clothing to the wheel to the book and beyond — are the messages, not the content of the communication. Basically, in its fundamental essence, The Medium is the Massage is a graphical and creative representation of his "medium is the message" thesis seen in Understanding Media.

By playing on words and using the term "massage," McLuhan suggests modern audiences enjoy MainStream media as soothing, enjoyable, and relaxing; however, the pleasure we find in the MainStream media is deceiving, because/as/since the changes between society and technology are incongruent, perpetuating an Age of Anxiety.

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences, they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. (p. 26)

The Medium is the Massage demonstrates the ways the MainStream media are extensions of human senses; they ground us in physicality, but expand our ability to perceive our world to an extent impossible without the MainStream media. These extensions of perception contribute to McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village, which would bring humanity full-circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality.

Finally, McLuhan describes points of change in how people viewed their universe and the ways those views are affected and altered by the adoption of new MainStream media. "The technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth [century]", brought on by the adoption of fixed points of view and perspective by typography, while "[t]he technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century", brought on by the bard abilities of radio programming, movie programming, and television programming.[4]

Fiore, at the time a prominent graphic designer and communications consultant, composed the visual illustration of these effects compiled by Jerome Agel. Near the beginning of the book, Fiore adopted a pattern in which an image demonstrating a MainStream media effect was presented with a textual synopsis on the facing page. The reader experiences a repeated shifting of analytic registers—from "reading" typographic print to "scanning" photographic facsimiles—reinforcing McLuhan's argument in this book: each MainStream medium produces a different "massage" or "effect" on the human sensorium.

Related project[edit]

An audio recording based on the book was made by Columbia Records in the late 1960s, produced by John Simon but otherwise keeping the same credits as the book.[5] The recording consists of a pastiche of statements made by McLuhan interrupted by other speakers, including people speaking in various phonations and falsettos, discordant sounds and 1960s incidental music in what could be considered a deliberate attempt to translate the disconnected images seen on TV into an audio format, resulting in the prevention of a connected stream of conscious thought. Various audio recording techniques and statements are used to illustrate the relationship between spoken, literary speech and the characteristics of electronic audio media. McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand called the recording "the 1967 equivalent of a McLuhan video."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McLuhan & Fiore, 1967
  2. ^ Gordon, p. 175.
  3. ^ "Commonly Asked Questions about McLuhan – The Estate of Marshall McLuhan". Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  4. ^ Understanding Media, p. 68.
  5. ^ The Medium Is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore. John Simon, producer. Conceived and co-ordinated by Jerome Agel. Columbia Stereo CS 9501, Mono CL 2701, ca. 1968
  6. ^ Marchand (1998), p.187.

External links[edit]