The Toronto School Of Communications fb page offers some counterblast to the idea that the importance of menippean satire in McLuhan’s work is overrated. McLuhan is cited as follows:
I don’t see any point in making anything but controversial statements …There is no other way of getting attention at all. I mean you cannot get people thinking until you say something that really shocks them; dislocates them.
This is from a talk McLuhan gave before a panel studying ‘The Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario’ (January 19, 1967). It was published in print in The Best of Times/The Worst of Times: Contemporary Issues in Canadian Education, 1970. The preceding sentence reads: “Here is another thought for you that is very controversial.” So McLuhan was offering a “controversial” thought about his “controversial statements”. This might be thought similar to satire about menippean satire. But would this be an endorsement or a rejection? Neither? Both?
At any rate, McLuhan was hardly an advocate of shock. In fact, he might well be imagined as addressing the difficult question of how to wake people up from the repeated shocks of modernity without resorting to the contradictory and doubtless useless strategy of attempting to administer one more dose of it. We have shock jocks and shock and awe and today a thousand more shocking things/girls/boys/songs/images/movies/events etc etc will join the previous billions of them. Shock and somnambulism have become so merged that unimaginable violence against everything is not only the new normal, it is the fervently endorsed new normal.
The mean level of stupidity in the world has never been so high and there have never been so many people around to exercise it. The prospects are shocking.
Another pro menippean satire text cited is:
The urgent effort of the poets to gain a hearing for their intuitions is always lost on the public.
This is from ‘The Crack in the Rear-View Mirror‘ which appeared in the first issue of the McGill Journal of Education in 1966. But instead of offering a questionable historical description of the “urgent effort of the poets to gain a hearing”, or giving the questionable advice that poets turn their attention to publicity instead of their writing, perhaps McLuhan was thinking here of something more like the “urgent need of the public to give poets a hearing”? His dictation ‘writing’ all too often came out like this.
In this same paper from the McGill Journal of Education, McLuhan concludes by expressing the counterfactual hope that:
In the jet age there are some indications that the rear-view mirror as a notification device is losing its monopoly.
Earlier he had given the “only conceivable” way in which this might eventuate:
The only conceivable defence against the distorting effects of the new environments created by new technologies is a patient and total understanding of their powers and influences.