On Marshall McLuhan

Video vs audio vs a common goal

Editor: Regarding JA's March "As We See It," McLuhan's distinction between hot and cold media is less relevant to JA's argument than is the mind-set with which viewers/listeners approach the media experience. That is, audio is not intrinsically more involving than video—except to audiophiles and music lovers. Ask the same question of a videophile or a cinematographer and you'll find that she is absorbed in elements of the video production that pass the casual viewer by. The distinction is therefore more one of interest than of the character of the media themselves.

What seems significant to me is that music is perhaps more widely understood and appreciated as an art form than video is today. Given all the video made for TV, and the highly commercialized movie industry, it may be that the purpose of much video is to distract rather than to engage. Of course, you could say the same of the pop music industry. So it comes down once again not only to the appreciative capacities of today's video and music consumers, but also to the artistic nature (or lack thereof) of the media that are being produced. Here we find ourselves embrangled in the paramount issue of the day, which is the quest to find a happy "medium" between technology (objectivity, science) and value (subjectivity, art). Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is perhaps the most accessible tome that addresses this issue, although the debate dates back to Marx, Kant, and Aristotle.

That brings up the question of why Stereophile survives and the videophile magazines do not. I'd say this has to do with the fact that Stereophile addresses both sides of the Big Question: not only music reproduction technology, but also music itself. Among the popular press, I think Stereophile is unique in giving weight to both sides of the question, and that because of this it's interesting as a cultural commentary and dialogue of our times. When art and science merge their interests to a common goal (what we talk about when we talk about "palpable presence" or the feeling of "being there"), we see the true potential of our technological age.

In other words, all the musical equipment in the world won't do you any good if there's no great music to listen to with it. But put the two together, and you may find your life has been changed.

Philosophers and politicians take note: Stereophile is trying to make sure that when the great media future arrives, and all of us have instantaneous access to everything, it'll be worth something.—Bruce Page, New York, NY


Et Quelle's picture

I bet home theatre really sucked an egg back in 64. Just as the components now will suck in 2063!
But didn't people know mags are all about niches like Bikes.