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How Marshall McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy Helps Us Understand History and Clothing As a Driving Force of History

Clothing is a Tool

The popular perception of clothing as a cultural force is ever in flux as we struggle to place it in the wide spectrum of potential categories. Some deride it as a poor substitute for art. Others demand a utilitarian construct. But a tidbit we dug up suggests a far greater potential role. Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy asks a critical question "what drives history?"
Is it revolutionary ideas, manifest destiny, great individuals, something called “the life force”? McLuhan denied none of these causes but, following one of his most influential mentors at U of T, Harold Innis, he asked: “How about tools?”
Image of Marshal McLuhan's The Medium Is The Message Clothing Is An Extension of The body And indeed, the popular conception of a tool in the McLuhan universe is something that is an extension of the body. Clothing is a tool that is infinitely flexible. It helps us extend ourselves in many capacities. Not only does it help us send signals about who we are and what we wish to be, it protects us in climates both natural and man made from the Arctic Tundra to the M&A boardroom. Not only does allow us to experience physical extremes it helps us weather mental, emotional, and psychological extremes. Clothing is a tool that helps extend our natural flexibility as a species. In which case, clothing is a tool that drives the history of man. Perhaps that is why in the proverbial Eden the first sign of humanity's freedom was becoming clothed. That fig leaf was the first tool of man to cope with a harsh outer world.


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