Response: Todd Kappelman’s Overview of McLuhan

I may get ostracized for saying this, but I guess I should have expected this out of a bible thumping end-is-near type. While this is a solid examination of McLuhan’s work, and there are a lot of cases where Kappelman breaks everything down to examples and modern English, the main criticism I have of his analysis is that he, like McLuhan, fails to recognize innovation as a process.

Like McLuhan, Kappelman tosses humanity into the arena of the helpless mass in his “Objects of Desire” critique. Just as McLuan describes man as helpless to resist the power of media, now apparently ad men employ their “totalitarian techniques of American advertising and market research on the unsuspecting consumer.” The notion that the “advertising men succeeded in creating a market where one did not previously exist” is a crock. Man has been buying, selling, and trading goods since the beginning of time. A 15th century trader was always in competition with another 15th century trader, hoping the consumer would do business with him and not his counterpart. Advertising is not a fabricated force, as Kappelman asserts.

Where he does hit it out of the park is in his explanations of “extensions”. I kind of wish I had read this first before McLuhan’s piece. Where this falls flat though is his – and McLuhan’s – amputation theory. Personally, I side with his analysis of the automobile as amputating walking culture. As someone who moved from car-centric southern California to here (and sold my car) I’m definitely for an urbanized walking culture. So personally, I agree that this extension and it’s subsequent amputation of a culture has had some negative effects. However, this is only assuming that an extension fails to continue to innovate and evolve. This is operating, to take the car example, on the assumption that we’re all still driving the gas-guzzling heaps of steel that were prevalent in McLuhan’s time.

My point is further validated in “The Dangers of Over-extended Technology.” We “choose to accept the disadvantages because there is a privileging of all types of technological extension” because as rational and intelligent humans, we know that for an extension to be relevant it must continue to be tinkered with and improved by its innovators. Kappelman contradicts himself in the example “An over-extended automobile culture longs for the pedestrian lifestyle, and the over-extension of phone culture engenders a need for solitude.” If a phone culture engenders a need for solitude, then why are we “made to think about the time we spend alone in our cars isolated from other humans”? I cannot say it any simpler. The “reversal of the benefits” is only due to an extension’s failure to  innovate and evolve.

But, Kappelman probably doesn’t believe in evolution anyway.

(Aaaaand feisty post closed.)

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One Response to “Response: Todd Kappelman’s Overview of McLuhan”

  1. themediastudy Says:

    Brian, I have to actually agree with you with regard to how zealous religious beliefs can definitely mirror how people view the world. Like you, I was hesitant, but said as much in my blog post on Kappelman (and McLuhan), too. And why wouldn’t theological views affect how one theoretically views technology – after all, the mind isn’t a cake to separate?

    Sarah McNabb
    ProSeminar classmate

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