“The Mechanical Bride” is from 1951, McLuhan’s first book to see print. He takes 59 “exhibits” – mainly printed ads, but also posters for films, comic strips and front pages, all from 1945 to 1951 – and for each he writes a few pages about what it says about the state of man. The “disease is in excellent health”, he reports.
He wants to wake us up from the dream the advertisers have sunk us into.
“The Mechanical Bride” is halfway back to “Howards End”, but it lays bare the same grey cheapness that business and enterprise has thrust upon man in place of life, truth and beauty. Whatever can be put in a box and sold pushes out all else. It becomes what we live for. Heaven can wait.
How little things have changed.
I see the past as deeper, wiser and better than the present. As it turns out, 1910 and 1951, at least, seem little better than 2006. Sad to say.
Well, there is always 410. The year the Goths came to Rome.
He writes when television and computers were new, new enough to be known but too new to have made any changes in society. So the book gives you a sense of how computers and especially television have affected us in the years since.
McLuhan prints the ads and then he lets them have it! His wit cuts.
His prose is an interesting mix of overly long Latin and Greek words and short right-to-the-point Anglo-Saxon:
As much time goes into the search for a title for some indigestible cold lard as in launching a starlet with the kind of name that will twang your synapses.
He knows more words than most and knows just how to use them. His Latin words are not a long march of deadwood, as in most writing, but are used to effect.
On the other hand, his writing seems to have much of the same whistles, bells and breathlessness as the ad copy that he writes about. His language is halfway between that of a scholar and a salesman. If he used fewer long words, he could write for the very same TIME magazine that he rails against.
He is trying to look at his world with a cold eye, but his mind and mouth are still part of that world.
I have thought and written about many of the same sorts of things, so, yes, I can tell you that he is part fast-talking salesman. But he is also a serious and sharp mind that has something of substance to say. His point of view, however, is often moral and not strictly that of a scholar or a man of science.