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.

Another lesson in the practicality of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (June 3, 1968, age 56). Don’t Do It Pierre!

I have been trying to explain to Pierre Trudeau why he should refuse to participate in TV debates.  It has nothing to do with his skills in political debate or his suitability to the medium.  It is the medium.  TV and debates do not mix.

Me (April 2010, age 57).  A Change of Heart?

As was noted yesterday, according to Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan’s most recent biographer, the last thing you should look for in the work of Marshall McLuhan is usefulness or practicality.  “There are, perhaps, no practical political, religious, or financial applications to Marshall’s work,” he writes. “It could even be argued that it should be seen as a rarefied artifact unto itself, an intricate and fantastically ornate artwork that creates its own language and then writes poetry with it.”

And yet here again what McLuhan says to Pierre Trudeau about debating and TV seems to have a practical aspect to it.  The idea is that TV is a cool conversational medium not a hot debating medium.  McLuhan’s advice to Trudeau is to refuse to debate on TV.  This is practical advice.  However, it is not without its difficulties.  How Trudeau could have explained such a decision persuasively to the press and his political opponents is far from clear.  It also represents an apparent change in McLuhan’s thinking on the subject.  In Understanding Media, for example, McLuhan suggests that only hot personalities have problems with debates on TV.  He says Kennedy beat Nixon in their debate on TV because Kennedy was cool and therefore more naturally suited to the TV medium while Nixon who he said was hot looked bad on it.

Have political debates on TV been a misuse of the medium? Can cool personalities win in debates on TV?  Or do we all lose?

Dip into the Kennedy Nixon debates and weigh in.


Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan, Toronto, Penguin, 2009, pp. 142-43.

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 352.

Marshall McLuhan.  Understanding Media,  1964, pp. 329-30.

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

Leave a Reply