Autumn 1932, London, England: Cold grey October day, wind gusting….
I step out of the front lobby doors of the Sandman Castle Inn, put my hands in my overcoat pockets and pulled the long coat closer around me, against the bitter chill of fall wind, the world was getting colder; it had been a long trip by steamer, bedded down in dingy digs, but here I was in London, England, three weeks later…standing, waiting…for what? For whom?
I stared out into the lane and there on the opposite side of the street was a black government issue Studebaker. In the front seat sat a burly fellow in a long coat and brimmed hat. He casts his eyes sideways through the driver side window at me and gave me the nod to get in. I walked across Alexander Bain lane and entered the back driver side door and fell into the plush red, velour sofa sized seat.
The seat was warm, like it had been heated under the buttocks of a healthy dame, I slunk into the spot and felt the shudder of the outside cold fall away.
The driver sped off as soon as the car-door *clicked*….travelling at a furious speed, the driver took a right, a fast left, another right followed by two successive rights, and five minutes later we arrived at what looked like another back street hotel.
I peeled my carcass of the warm back seat, and leaning forward exclaiming “We’re here!”, the driver nodded and gave me a look from his rear view mirror and in a low, deep raspy accented voice he said…”Room twenty-tree”.
I said “Room twenty-three”, he said “Gjess, twenty-tree”.
The driver was a foreigner, from Italy or Spain or some such place. He had one of those tiny little pencil thin moustaches that curled at the ends…and that look in his eye. That dark brown-eyed insane look of a foreigner.
I exited the big car an it sped off pulling the car door handle from my hand; a squealing right and the car was gone down some quaint back street. Into the cool morning air of England.
I looked up and saw a small sign, squinting I read: Sandman-Castle-Inn-Rear-lobby.
“We’re back were we started..” I thought. “What is this, a joke!”. I flicked my cigarette butt out into the street and pull my coat close and walked into the back lobby.
A few nefarious faces stared back at me, even the bellhop looked like a prize-fighter. I trudged to the elevator and the accordion door opened and I entered the lift.
A dwarf with a red pillbox hat squeezed out “What floor pleez”, and with my back pushed up against the rear of the elevator I said “Twenty-three”.
The midget cranked the brass handle forward and a sudden jolt and the elevator rose fast and came to a quick stop. Squeaky said “Second four, bangwit halls, convention wooms, and our wonderful Sandman Castle Inn gift shrop, twenty threeee is that large room to your wight sir.”…short funny little fella…I thought. Another immigrant from some foreign place or another.
I walked out into the large hallway turned to the right and walked up to the double doors of room 23.
I opened the right side of the door and entered the room.
“Professor McLuhan!…come on in sir.” exclaimed a young college type in glasses an a three-piece suit. Over the din of the room, he said. “Welcome. Can I take your coat and hat, Professor?”
I took off my long coat and walking further into the room… I handed it to him.
The room was filled with men in dark suites, college types, older greying looking, professors types; with German accents, more foreign types and mostly government men with their cheap government suites. And the same hat. It looked like a lecture room for the dark side. I wondered who I was speaking to.
“Your speaking in one half-hour sir.” quipped the coat-holder, “The title of your lecture will be: The Medium Is The Message, am I correct Professor.”
“Yes..ah..The medium is the…message…um…what is that crowd gather around over there, in the corner” I exclaimed.
Oh that professor is a…Tele-vision”
I squawked “Television?”
“Yes professor, moving pictures…television pictures.”
I walked over to the crowd gather around a table, I glimpsed a glass window…a thing… television. What the hell is a television. I knew not what this new…contraption.
After nudging my way through the crowd I came to the center of it all. There on a table sat a black box with a round glass front on the box. Black and white images flickered on the surface of the glass front. Silent images of a dancer dancing, then it changed to a horse running and then a man walking. Magically images moved, like at the movies flickered across the screen, first one and then another. I was mesmerized. “Where the hell are the images coming from?”, I thought.
A man in the crowd said “Its the newest thing. It’s the latest! Twenty years from now they will be all over the world. We can put little plays on it. Little shows to keep them watching it. Operas… and they will change every half hour or so and then another story. And then a new one will start…It doesn’t matter what they see the whole process is about the flickering.
You see the machine will hypnotize people, the images flicker at a certain rate, and the viewer’s brain goes into an alpha wave after about twenty minutes. They lose touch with their critical thinking. The mind doesn’t see anything of significance, and so slips into the alpha rhythm. Now the mind is easily fooled. What ever they see starts to become more real than real.
And, that individual becomes, highly susceptible to suggestions. It works regardless of the images. The images simply keep them watching the screen…stops them from getting bored, during the process. The images are irrelevant to the workings of the machine. It will keep them watching though.
Twenty minutes in front of this and you can say anything to them, and they will believe it. It will be a great teaching tool.”
I looked at the speaker and said “It’s not so much the message as the sender that is sent.”
“He exclaimed “Yeah…right! That’s exactly right. The sender is sent.”
I looked around the room at the glowing faces, watching and listening to what was being said with a glee…their vacant grins.
At that very moment the world had changed; it would never be the same from now on. I felt alone in the room.
The message that I carried was more important than anything I had realized before. Was this lecture room interested in my message or were they interested in the messenger. I felt a growing fear take hold of me. I wasn’t in room of my peers.
My hypothesis was confirmed today and I understood as the Gutenberg medium had changed medieval man and brought him in to the church, and the monarchy and entrenched in the mind of the individual, their absolute control.
The television would change modern man forever.
His thoughts would be thought for him. They would grind up and homogenized and force feed thoughts to a public at large anything at all, anything they desired.
Through a mechanical box, a magic box, a magical hypnosis mind box that plays, moving pictures.
I ran the opening line of my lecture through my head.
“The Medium is the Message.”