A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Archive for October, 2010

Is the weather naturally more entertaining than the news on radio or TV?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  The perceptive Dr. McLuhan.

In his study of media McLuhan was always on the lookout for ways of seeing past the messages media delivered to see how they worked on us as media.  One approach he used was to look for rough natural experiments in which the effect of the medium can be isolated, or in this case caromed or bank-shot, from the message.  Here, in a passage from Understanding Media, he argues that the weather is more entertaining than the news on radio and TV.  Why?  Because it’s electric.

Questions:  Was it true in the 1960s when McLuhan made this observation?  Is it true now?  Is the news naturally more ‘arresting’ in newspapers than the weather? To help you make up your mind here is a current weather report and an entirely different explanation for this phenomenon by the content-biased Charlie Brooker focusing on what’s wrong with news reports.

Weather:

News:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtGSXMuWMR4

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Yes!

“It is curious how much more arresting are the weather reports than the news, on both radio and TV.  Is not this because ‘weather’ is now entirely an electronic form of information, whereas news retains much of the pattern of the printed word?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 307.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 16th, 2010
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John and Yoko and Marshall McLuhan’s theory of dinosaurs

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Perhaps the most insane of McLuhan’s ideas

In 1969 on the last Saturday before Christmas CBS television arranged for Marshall McLuhan to interview John Lennon and Yoko Ono about their ‘War is Over’ campaign and anything else McLuhan thought they should talk about.  Their wide-ranging discussion took place at Marshall’s office in the Coach House at the University of Toronto and lasted about an hour.  Among other things, they talked about the importance of Elvis in John’s career, Yoko’s contribution to their creative partnership, the cultural differences between Britain and America, and, of course, McLuhan’s explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs.  I don’t know what John and Yoko thought of McLuhan’s ideas about the dinosaurs, but it must have crossed their minds that this was one seriously crazy dude.  And if so it would be difficult to say they were wrong.

Marshall McLuhan (19 December 1969, age 58).  It’s the frustration!

“Frustration creates bigness.  Frustration releases adrenaline in the system.  Adrenaline creates much bigger muscles and bigger arms and legs … . This is why dinosaurs ended in sudden death, because as the environment became more and more hostile, more and more adrenaline was released into their bodies and they got bigger and bigger and then they collapsed.”

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Read a ‘transcript’ of the interview between John Lennon and Marshall McLuhan

 

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 15th, 2010
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How the ads made the product disappear

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52). Of course, it’s obvious  …

“The continuous pressure is to create ads more and more in the image of audience motives and desires.  The product matters less as the audience participation increases.  An extreme example is the corset  series that protests that “it is not the corset that you feel.”  The need is to make the ad include the audience experience.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?

I hesitate to show these examples of the product and audience response as one.  But in the interests of exploring the continuing value of McLuhan’s thinking, here goes:

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 226.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 14th, 2010
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What the ads learned from the movies.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Of course, it’s obvious  …

“When the movies came, the entire pattern of American life went on the screen as a nonstop ad.  Whatever any actor or actress wore or used or ate was such an ad as had never been dreamed of.  … The result was that all ads in magazines and the press had to look like scenes from a movie.  They still do.  But the focus has had to become softer since TV.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58). Yes or no?

Today the focus has softened so much that the ad has been re-woven into the movie.  It’s called “product placement.”  Instead of Clark Gable taking off his shirt to reveal an undershirt and everyone runs out to buy one, and the movie makers are surprised, Brad Pitt opens the fridge and guess what’s sitting there – a coke.  And what do you order later on at the refreshment stand because you’re feeling thirsty?  A coke.

And nobody’s surprised, least of all the movie makers who charged Coca Cola a sizable fee for coke’s appearance in the scene.  Despite its historical roots in the movies not everyone is a fan of product placement.  The director John Lynch for example:

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 231.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
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Does this make you laugh?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Of course, it’s obvious that …

“Will Rogers discovered years ago that any newspaper read aloud from a theatre stage is hilarious.  The same is true today of ads.  Any ad put into a new setting is funny.  This is a way of saying that any ad consciously attended to is comical.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?.

Today the modern day Wills Rogers – Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) and Rick Mercer (The Rick Mercer Show) – have rediscovered the humour in the news.  But that is to digress.  The question is whether McLuhan is right about the humour of ads placed in a new setting.  Here for your conscious attention in the new setting of this blog is a classic Kodak ad from the 1960s.  Are you laughing yet?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S.  Me – He did say any ad.

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 228.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
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Does this make you uneasy?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52). You are being programmed.

“Many people have expressed uneasiness about the advertizing enterprise in our time.  To put the matter abruptly, the advertising industry is a crude attempt to extend the principles of automation to every aspect of society.  Ideally, advertising aims at the goal of a programmed harmony among all human impulses and aspirations and endeavors.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?

Here for your uneasy consideration are two ads aimed at the goal of programmed harmony: one for girls and one for boys.  Be careful who you show them to.

For the girls:

For the boys:

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 227.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 9th, 2010
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Are you being brainwashed by ads?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  That’s science for you.

“Ads seem to work on the very advanced principle that a small pellet or pattern in a noisy, redundant barrage of repetition will gradually assert itself.  Ads push the principle of noise all the way to the plateau of persuasion.  They are quite in accord with the procedures of brainwashing.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?

Here for your consideration is a classic Dr. Pepper ad from the 1960s.  A constant barrage of noise if I’ve ever heard one.  The formula for success being – repeat 20 times an evening before bedtime.  Do so until you can order a Dr. Pepper without thinking about it.  Charge!

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 227.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 8th, 2010
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Is the ad so good you don’t need to buy the product?

Marshall McLuhan (1965?, age 54).  Congratulations!

Before I begin I want to say something.  As advertisers, as artists, I want to congratulate you.  Today, thanks to your achievements – because of the totally involving, participative nature of ads – people can enjoy the product without having to buy it.

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?.

I can’t remember where I read about McLuhan saying this, but I think it was in one of the biographies, a reference to a speech he made in New York to a Madison Avenue crowd in the mid 1960s.  But that’s not important.  The important question is whether it’s true.  Can ads allow you enjoy the product without having to buy it?  Here is a Pepsi ad from the 1960s which suggests McLuhan was closer to the truth than you first might have thought.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 226.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 7th, 2010
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What is it about the telephone?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Anger!

According to McLuhan the big problem with the telephone is that it naturally drives you to rage.  Have you ever lost it on the telephone?  I know I have.  Here’s Marshall’s explanation for this phenomenon.  In short, the medium is so cool (read participative or involving) it overheats you.  Before going to Marshall, here is actor Alec Baldwin being driven to rage by the medium.

 

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Complete participation

“Some people can scarcely talk to their best friends on the phone without becoming angry.  The telephone demands complete participation, unlike the written and printed page.  Any literate man resents such a heavy demand for his total attention, because he has long been accustomed to fragmentary attention.”

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 267.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
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The curious difference the telephone makes

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  You may not think so, but you are blind on the phone.

“As we read, we provide a sound track for the printed word; as we listen to the radio, we provide a visual accompaniment.  Why can we not visualize while telephoning?  At once the reader will protest, ‘But I do visualize on the telephone!’  When he has the chance to try the experiment deliberately, he will find that he simply can’t visualize while phoning, though all literate people try to do so and, therefore, believe they are succeeding.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Try it as an experiment.

This is one of those remarkable observations of McLuhan’s.  He’s right, and it is surprising to find he is right.  Try it yourself.  The next time you take a call on your cell or land line try to picture the person you’re talking to.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4808857927830062228#

More on the telephone tomorrow.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 267.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
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