Marshall McLuhan's pronouncement that "the medium is the message" was revolutionary back in its day.
Nearly 50 years later, McLuhan's influence survives, with many of his ideas serving as memes for wave upon wave of new media. Not for nothing did WIRED Magazine anoint McLuhan as patron saint at the dawn of the Internet! Digital hipster Doug Coupland even published a McLuhan book subtitled” You Know Nothing of My Work” that riffed on the old gent’s ironic appearance in that Woody Allen flick.
McLuhan asserted that the container (the medium itself) mattered more than its actual content. Or something like that. Pissed a LOT of people off back then, especially people making the actual content.
McLuhan was at heart a sociologist of media, interested more in the way media technologies impact culture and and its populations, which includes, significantly, how each medium influences the others.
In today’s media-drenched ecosphere, we are accustomed to judging “new media” products almost solely in terms of how quickly they reach "scale," meaning a large audience – and definitely how much they disrupt their predecessors. Darwinian. And McLuhanesque, too, if you think about it. Even more so if you understand.
Like many a college student slogging through the inscrutable prose of McLuhan's seminal tome "Understanding Media” I thought: jeez, I'll never understand how to understand. In this, I was not alone.
Dallas Video Festival
Such thoughts bounced around my skull as I reflect upon my weekend at the Dallas Video Festival, where I conducted a workshop on "Transmedia" and joined a panel on "The Changing Landscape of Independent Media."
Sure, there was plenty of talk about individual films and videos on the program, such as the fascinating "Once I was a Champion," Gerard Roxburgh's film about mixed-martial arts fighter Evan Tanner, who died in the desert after a troubled life.
Or Tiffany Schlain's "Connected," a memoir/manifesto that interweaves her vision of how the Internet could save the planet with some major crises in her personal life.
Neither film (er, digital movie?) has snagged conventional distribution yet, symptomatic of the state of indie film, despite premieres at Sundance and the LA Film Festival, respectively.
Containerization of Media
For me, the juiciest conversations at the Dallas event (and most other gatherings of media makers and media lovers) focused on the container, just as McLuhan did. What is the state of distribution? How do I sell my film? How do I find an audience? How do I keep up with all this stuff?