I just got done reading this book. Only then it was called simply "Marshall McLuhan", and appeared in a series called "Extraordinary Canadians" Extraordinary Canadians Marshall Mcluhan. It was a bio that said more about Doug Coupland than about MM, which is to say, only DC could write it. Also only DC could re-cast, -version, -vive, and re-release it, or perhaps it was his publisher, editor, agent, or manager who got the brilliant idea to rename the book after McLuhan's line in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" (in which the late MM played himself).
After all, that's probably what most people know MM from. Or perhaps the unforgettable phrase, "The medium is the message". If anyone remembers any books, they are likely the photoessays by Jerome Agel and Quentin Fiore, "The Medium is the Massage" The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects and "War and Peace in the Global Village" War and Peace in the Global Village, which are long on photos and short on essays, and which MM had almost nothing to do with. They are sort of "greatest hits" collections of witty aphorisms, epithets, jokes, puns, and one-liners. In this MM excelled (witness the titles). Doug Coupland says that's the way his brain was wired. There was also "The Book of Probes" The Book of Probes from David Carson, author of "The End of Print". Instead of a pocket paperback with pithy cut lines over black and white photos, it was a giant hardback of pithy cut lines over Carson's color graphics and calligraphy.
McLuhan's first essay was on Chesterton, (reprinted in The Medium and the Light The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion), and GKC also excelled at very short verbal thrust and parry--from a line to a paragraph. Some dogged critics have mastered the entire books of The Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media, but for everyone else, it doesn't click. There is no understanding Marshall McLuhan, because he didn't want to be understood. But read a random line now from one of the aforementioned sources, or the quotes and quips scattered throughout this book, and MM seems positively prescient.
Reviewers of Coupland's bio suggest that unlike everyone else, he "gets" it: he understands MM. But he got it long ago. Gen X and the rest of his books flow from a psyche soaked in MM. One idea MM got from art is about the figure and ground (what the rest of us call background). He said ignore the figure; watch the ground. That's where the change is happening. In Doug's "Shampoo Planet" Shampoo Planet there is something like a periodic chart of Gen X (or something like that) that forms the ground for the book. The figures are somewhat cursory sketches, but groundswells run through the book, v. much as in "The Catcher in the Rye", and Planet is written in the same sort of reminiscent stream-of-consciousness style. The example I think of is a cartoon. Different artists do Fred Flintstone and the stone-age background. The studio hopes that viewers stay riveted on Fred's antics, and don't notice that he keeps running past the same tree. Chuck Jones made good use of incongruent, clashing backgrounds in the 1953 Daffy Duck cartoon, "Duck Amuck".
I think of the line in a Dylan song: "You know something's happening here but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?" Marshall didn't know what was happening either, simply that something was, and set out to explore it. He started with the inherited academic vocabulary: media were extensions of man. What? There was something called manuscript culture before the printing press, and it changed things. Then the printing press, which people noticed, also did, in some indefinable way. Then radio. But by the time you got to TV, things were changing with electric speed. "By electricity we have not been driven out of our senses so much as our senses have been driven out of us. Today man's nerves surround us; they have gone outside as electrical environment." Hmmmm. What's that sound like?
That said, this book did help me "get" McLuhan. Doug basically says that MM was one of a kind, and shows why he could introduce the rest of us fish to the water. Doug oft refers to the essay by Tom Wolfe, "What If He is Right?" from 1965, and which was reprinted in McLuhan: Hot and Cool (1967 McLuhan Hot and Cool: A Primer for the Understanding of McLuhan, a book I found very decent and enlightening, and which also enabled me to say I know something of his work.