The Medium of Spiders

“Learning, the educational process, has long been associated only with the glum. We speak of the “serious” student. Our time presents a unique opportunity for learning by means of humor – a perceptive or incisive joke can be more meaningful than platitudes lying between two covers.”
– Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium Is The Massage”

It’s all child’s play, the Medium is The Massage. It’s a prank meant to undermine the serious “platitudes lying between two covers,” the big academic serious sounding words that bind people together and keep others out. The colonial words alongside them. The bodies of work that forget, erase, deny and indulge.

In 1964, in the Walter Kronkite era of mass communication, Marshall McLuhan introduces his seminal piece, Understanding Media. Total Change is upon us, he says. Gone are the days of parochialism. Not because we learned to read or do math. But because of electricity. Because of the medium itself. Because media work on us and work as environments, made by us, as extensions of our psychic and physical faculties.

And then he wrote another book. This time with pictures and some prose and some choice quotes. He called it the Medium is the Massage and here you have this entirely new thing, which is an example of the argument from his initial book and which is making a slew of observations based on that initial thesis, via language/presentation (images, conceptual graphics, abstract photography, tongue-in-cheek visual references) and about (among other things) the nature of serious work, our interpretations of cultural commentary, and our own biases against light-hearted learning.

Monochrome close-ups of toenails and then tire rims, perplexing and voyeuristic images of ceremonies and naked people and then spirals and maybe a couple of paragraphs about “ratios of sense perceptions” and the way a particular sense, when extended, influences our other senses and change us.

We were assigned to read this book for class. I couldn’t find it, so ended up using the internet and downloading a digital version. My neighbour and I shared the digital version in class. We couldn’t read the parts that required you to pick up the book and place it in front of a mirror. We performed readings out loud together and together the class watched itself perform interpretations of play and media, based on this book, which itself is play.

It’s meta. The warping of the meaning of learning and reading through this book calls us to question our assumptions of authority, of the real, of the culturally preconceived. But for me it helped frame another question: Is Indigenous new/experimental media a means through which to uncover a “new environment” for those who are out in the dark or cloistered reading those old platitude-filled books?

As we look to the poets, the artists and the sleuths in our midst, like Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, perhaps these artists, contrarians, thinkers are those who “cannot go along with currents and trends.” Perhaps they/we have the “power to see environments as they really are.” Perhaps they/we represent what McLuhan calls “This need to interface, to confront environments with a certain antisocial power.” I wonder, how might these notions of disrupted learning interface with Indegeneity as environment, as medium? How do we play in an educational medium? How do we navigate and interpret those spider languages?