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.

Appeal to the young

Marshall (September, 1948, age 37).      Appeal to the young

To appeal to the young is to speak to people who have not made up their minds about everything.  The old – that’s me and many of you – typically have not made up their minds by carefully thinking things through.  They haven’t.  They’ve just acquired answers, positions, points of view, ideas that they are more or less comfortable holding.  The young have not.  Therefore you can talk with them.    

Me (October 2009, age 57).         Wake up and wake other people up

What Marshall is talking about here is the need for rhetoric, that is the art of persuasion.  Rhetoric has had a bad reputation ever since Plato said Socrates said that it is the art of making the worse case the better.  But Plato and Socrates got it wrong.  Rhetoric is the art of dealing with ordinary people who are indifferent and stupid – like you and me.  All of us, perhaps I should add – some more, some less – are asleep to the world about us.  The world pulsates with life.  But we don’t see it; we’re stupid and indifferent to it.  There are tricks for waking up.  The top three being travel, talk to a child, break your routine and do something different.  However it is done, and there are many other ways to wake up and be woken up, to persuade people of whatever it is you want to persuade them of you need to wake them up, to excite their curiosity and speak in a way that makes it easy for them to understand what you’re saying.  Not to talk down to people, but to speak at their level. 

Do you expect people to be awake, to be intelligent and passionate about the world?  If so, how well has that served you?  In what ways other than travel, children and routine breaking can you wake people up? 

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.  Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 203.

Christopher Bonanos.  “Textbook Obama:  Which predecessor does his rhetoric most nearly echo?  The data don’t lie: It’s Ronald Reagan.” New Yorker, September 21, 2009, p. 16.

Paul Strathern.  Socrates in 90 Minutes.  Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Management, Vol. 1 No Comments

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