19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
This is McLuhan's first book, originally published in 1951 and has been long out of print. It precedes his second book and cult classic 'The Gutenberg Galaxy', by a decade and a half. This is also quite unique in that it has no relationship with McLuhan's more famous theoretical ramblings.
In this book, McLuhan takes on myth-making in US society by showing how film posters, comic strips, advertisements, magazine covers, newspaper layout and articles etc., try to persuade people into something, and yet a close observation of their inherent contradictions allows you to escape their machinations.
The book celebrates deliberate misreading of commonplace things like advertising to show how the persuasive trap of mass culture/consumer culture can be escaped.
All articles in the book follow the format of article/poster/ad, its analysis and some sharp witty aphoristic observations in a boxed area that serve as liberating repartees against the messages that these products of consumer culture intend to send.
The philosophy of the book is derived from McLuhan's premise (borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe's story 'The Maelstrom') that to escape a maelstrom you need to study things going down and things that resurface and align yourself with things that resurface.
In this respect, it can be considered a jargon-free precursor of latter-day deconstructive literary and cultural criticism. And it is much more liberating and enlightening to a lay reader than jargon ridden discussions or purely vehement denuciations of the power of mass culture which don't help laymen liberate themselves anyway, because of their highly inaccessible prose.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2007
This, McLuhan's first book, serves as a good introduction to him, since he has not yet begun to formulate his theories about media that would later make him so famous. Consequently, it is easier to read than, say, The Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media. It is also much more fun.
The reader should keep in mind that this is still premature McLuhan, for he had not yet read Harold Innis's 1950 classic--which represents the true birth of media studies--Empire and Communications. This book hit McLuhan like an atomic bomb, for it completely ruptured his thinking regarding media. In The Mechanical Bride, he is still analyzing the content of the media, deciphering what the subliminal messages are saying to us unconsciously; but after reading Innis, he realized that it was not the message that was important (at least not for him) but rather the type of medium through which the message was conveyed, for Innis's discussions of how particular kinds of media affected the nature and structure of ancient empires caused McLuhan to realize that it was actually the medium that was the important thing. Whether a culture used clay or papyrus as its means of communication, Innis asserted, determined much about the fate of that culture.
With that caveat in mind, then, the reader is free to roam through these pages, observing a McLuhan that would never exist in the same way again. He comments, sometimes hilariously, on one advertisement, movie poster or magazine after the next. He has interesting things to say about genres like the Western or the soap opera (for instance, he says that the Western is the masculine equivalent to the soap opera, for its values are the opposite of those of the domestic drama) and we also find here, for the first time, his speculations on Sherlock Holmes, a theme that will recur in many of his later writings.
McLuhan at this point had read and metabolized such key thinkers for him as Lewis Mumford and Siegfried Giedion, and they are referred to often in the body of the text. (There even occurs a reference to Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces; apparently the only book he ever read by Campbell, his Irish intellectual colleague who was more concerned with deciphering the messages than the media themselves). McLuhan, in The Mechanical Bride, is still feeling his way, and he is not yet sure of himself. But it is a delight for the reader to watch this great American thinker--the equivalent, easily, of any of the great French postmodernists (this book bears certain similarities, for instance, to Barthes' Mythologies)--tentatively poking his way about in the middenheap of popular culture, looking for ways in which to organize it into something one can get a grasp on.
I hope that you enjoy this book as much as I did. But do let me know if you don't.
SEE ALSO MY YOUTUBE VIDEO "MARSHALL MCLUHAN CULTURE WITHOUT LITERACY DISCUSSION BY JOHN DAVID EBERT"
--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion: Digital Technologies and the World They Unmake" (McFarland Books, 2011)
on June 27, 2013
The premise of The Mechanical Bride is that the American dream is shot through with pathological wish fulfillment in the form of trashy delusions perpetuated by the film colony, manipulative advertising, the false promise of mechanistic technologies (popular science, modern know-how, and market research) to hoodwink unsophisticated consumers.
He describes a number of corrupting influences, e.g. "the notion of distinction and culture as being a matter of consumption rather than the possession of discriminating perception and judgment," "the automatic leveling process exercised by applied science" that has equated the sexes, "the supremacy of technique at the expense of nutriment," the belief that success is measured by purchasing power, that the ultimate happiness consists in the acquisition of material goods, that culture is conferred upon those who purchase expensive and refined products, that the race to the top is so dehumanizing that the winners "arrive in a nude and starving condition."
For McLuhan, popular culture is an open book of all the unconscious or accidental motivations of the American people. They are unconscious because they are environmental, i.e. they are the unchallenged a priori principles and assumption that drive the American lifestyle. But all is not lost. If we stand back and contemplate this phantasmagoria with rational detachment rather than participate in mindless conduct, we will derive solutions to bring it under control.
McLuhan's genius and originality consist in applying the techniques of Freudian dream analysis to the social, cultural and economic spheres insofar as they evoke exhibits of the "American dream," and he did so with a consummate command of language, satirical wit, and the authority of unimpeachable scholarship.
on January 11, 2003
Originally published in 1951, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore Of Industrial Man by the influential philosopher and cultural observer Marshall McLuhan is a thoughtful and thought-provoking treatise that seeks to unveil the subtle and sometimes venomous effects of media and modern mass communication. Thoughtful, sometimes philosophical, sometimes prediction with deadpan seriousness, The Mechanical Bride is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago and highly recommended reading for students of Mass Communications and Journalism, Contemporary American Sociology, and Modern Philosophy.
2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2005
The "modern gal" knows that "getting ahead" means being the first on her block to articulate the ways her body and cultural practices are transformed into parts and routines -- she reads The Mechanical Bride to "stay in the know" regarding the ways that reflection on the discourse of her body can be used to advance her academic career! And "guys on their way to the top", in academic circles ranging from media history to cultural studies, tune into The Mechanical Bride to find out the latest "swinging styles" in everything from discourse analysis to popular tropes for identity production. Keep it in mind, all you Sirens and Sages of the Academy: When it "comes to success" there is "deep consolation" in knowing that the "cream of the crop" always "rises to the top" because it never "falls out of step" with the latest critical styles -- in a liberal era and place, such as our own, this really is Freedom "American Style"!