ArtsWatch: Is the medium the message?

As a Canadian, I needed to quote philosopher Marshal McLuhan who is famously known for coining the expression “the medium is the message.” And nowhere did this point become more obvious this when than when I read a new novel and saw a new movie.
The novel was The Realms Thereunder, author Ross Lawhead’s ( debut effort. If the Lawhead name rings a bell, its because Ross’ dad is Stephen Lawhead (, author of the books in The Pendragon Cycle, the Song of Albion Trilogy, Byzantium, The Celtic Crusades, Patrick, the Dragon King Trilogy, and the King Raven Trilogy.
I’ve been a Stephen Lawhead fan ever since reading The Dream Thief as a teen. And if Ross keeps writing as well as he did in The Realms Thereunder, I’ll probably be a fan of his. What I appreciate about both Lawheads is that they focus on “story”—that elusive element that writers strive for as they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
In McLuhan’s words, the medium is the message. I know Lawhead senior is a Christian (he was once editor-in-chief at Campus Life magazine)—and Christianity has played a significant part in his novels, even when it wasn’t a major part of his novels. As I read Lawhead junior, I’d have to say he’s following dad’s footsteps fairly clearly.

Which means, although there’s a message in The Realms Thereunder, it’s a subtle message. The focus of the book is on the story of two youths who became heroes in a mythical world and, as adults, are trying to figure out what that means in the real world.
The flaw of my other experience this week—a key leaders pre-screening of the new Sherwood Pictures film Courageous (—is that the message is the medium.
First, let me say that Courageous is a good film. It’s not a great film as I heard a theatregoer say on the way out, but it’s a good film. Compared to the producers’ previous last effort, Fireproof, this film shows growth and maturity.

But it’s still flawed. There’s overacting and underacting—together—in key scenes. One of the sequences surrounding the main plot carries on too long (at one point I was thinking “I get the point, let’s get on with it”). And, towards the end the director uses so many cut-to-black cuts that I thought I was watching a sketch comedy production. Hasn’t he heard of a swipe?
Still, the message of Courageous carries the film. The story of law enforcement officers struggling to find the balance between their roles as lawmen, husbands, fathers and, simply, men is often drowned out by the message to be better fathers and to be men of God. Still Courageous will accomplish its goal of challenging fathers to be better than “good enough,” as the main character says.
Two different approaches: one where the medium delivers the message and the other where the message drives the medium. I know which I prefer. The question to my artist friends is: which one do you prefer and use?