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.

Vol. 1

Looking for Marshall McLuhan

Me (December 4, 2010, age 58).  Are  you there, Marshall?

Two weeks ago I was in Toronto and stopped in to have a drink in the bar of the Sutton Place, on Bay Street, a few minute’s walk from Marshall McLuhan’s old offices – the Coach House – at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

I did so because I knew McLuhan liked to have a drink at the Sutton Place, it was cold and I thought I might still pick up a memory of him, and my wife knowing this might be on my mind suggested it.  The roof-top bar McLuhan liked at the Hotel is now closed, but one of the waiters, Frank, who has worked in the hotel for over 30 years said he remembered serving McLuhan.

What did he drink?  After some time he recalled. St Jovain, a white Bourdeaux.

Not Scotch?  No, white wine, St. Jovain.

And that was that. He could remember nothing else.

This I think is as good a place as any to leave McLuhan on this the 300th post in this blog, not with a breakthrough in media studies, but drinking white wine, looking out over the city he knew so well, for so long.  Wondering, perhaps, whether this was as good as it got, and if so whether that wouldn’t be all that bad …

Cordially, Me

P.S.    Thanks to all of you who read From Marshall and Me.  And my thanks especially to the following people who in many different ways, small and large, helped to make series 1 a success:  Debbie, Ramon, David, Julien, Michelle, Michael, Mitch, Tara, Jose, and Alex.

P.P.S.  See next week for the start of the next series of posts of this blog that will look for McLuhan and take us intoMcLuhan’s centennial.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 4th, 2010
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The terrors of television

Marshall McLuhan (March 15, 1976, age 65). Dear Eric:

As you know television exerts a far more insidious affect on the minds of children than it does on adults.  Promise me you will be careful to limit your daughter’s (my granddaughter’s) exposure to not more than one hour a week.  More than this and it is doubtful her nervous system can develop undamaged.  If she protests tell her I will pay her a dollar a day for each television-free day.   

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  McLuhan never spoke this way about television in public

Was the private McLuhan closer to the truth than the public McLuhan?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 69.

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Michael Hinton Friday, December 3rd, 2010
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The ridiculousness of advertising (continued)

Marshall McLuhan (July 5, 1954, age 42). The reason why.

As I said yesterday it is remarkable how quickly an ad objectively examined strikes one as ridiculous.  The question is why?  Obviously it has to do with the conditions that favour objectivity.  Old ads are easier to view objectively.  And ads intended for other cultures.  They shock us into awareness of their ridiculousness while the ads of our culture today remain unnoticed, invisible.  Whoever it was that discovered water it certainly wasn’t a fish.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  You’re not a fish are you?

Submitted for your objective consideration and possible merriment three more ads:

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 130.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
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The ridiculousness of advertising.

Marshall McLuhan (July 4, 1954, age 42). Dear Diary:

So many discoveries, I’m becoming quite giddy.  For example, if you simply study advertisements objectively as technologies for delivering persuasion and forget about passing moral judgments on them it is remarkable how quickly they become ridiculous.  Often, now, without warning the ridiculousness of an ad will hit me in my office or in the lecture hall and I find myself roaring with laughter.  My colleagues at Toronto University think I’m insane.  Let them, the study of advertising brings me great joy.      

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  May these bring you joy.

Submitted for your objective consideration and possible merriment three ads:

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 130.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
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The artistry of advertising.

Marshall McLuhan (May 26, 1964, age 52). Dear Diary:

No one seems to realize that advertisers are every bit as much artists as the Symbolists poets are.  That is they aim at certain effects and their artistry is to produce those effects in our minds.  I’m not praising them when I say they are artists or advertising is artistry.  I am simply stating a fact.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Is this art?

This, I believe, is Marshall’s and my 296th post.  As the 300th post in this blog draws near I am tempted to address only the most important, most significant, ideas in the McLuhan cannon.  But then I asked myself what would Marshall have done and I realized this would be a most unMarshall thing to do.  Instead, therefore, we will press on with whatever comes to hand.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 116.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
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The fascination of advertising.

Marshall McLuhan (March 26, 1930, age 18). Dear Diary:

Today at the library I was leafing through some back issues of the Saturday Evening Post from  the twenties when it struck me.   The most fascinating reading is in the advertizing.  The ads capture the age more surely, speak its assumptions more assuredly, work their way into our minds more deeply than any other literary form.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  The ads still draw us in.

What is it about advertising that draws us to it?  Pick up a magazine from 30 or 40 years ago and the articles may leave you cold, but the ads continue to fascinate.  As is evident in Marshall McLuhan’s writing – most notably in Culture is our Business and The Mechanical Bride – there is much to be learned about people and communication from advertising.  Here, for your fascination is an ad from the golden age of television:

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messanger, 1989, p. 40.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, November 27th, 2010
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In a day everything can change. (Continued)

Marshall McLuhan (November 26, 1967, age 56) …………………

Me (November, 2010, age 58)  We will be back tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Marshall cannot be with us today.  (If you have not read yesterday’s post I suggest you turn to it now.)  Here is what the New York Times reported about him on November 27, 1967:

McLuhan in Good Condition

After Removal of a Tumor

Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist, was reported in a satisfactory condition yesterday at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center following surgery for the removal of a benign growth near his brain.

Dr. McLuhan, the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at Fordham University, will spend the next three weeks at the hospital recuperating, the medical center said.  Dr. McLuhan, currently on leave from his post as a professor at the University of Toronto, is expected to return to Fordham in January.

The growth, a slow-growing encapsulated tumor, was in the cranial area, according to the hospital.

Cordially, Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 211-213.

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Michael Hinton Friday, November 26th, 2010
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In a day everything can change.

Marshall McLuhan (10 am, November 25, 1967, age 56).  Dear Diary:

Not long now.  Corinne says the operation’s set for just before noon.  The wait is killing me. I’d give anything to put it off for another week, but then I’d have to suffer through another week of being poked and prodded by the good doctors at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.   They say I’ve got a tumor the size of my fist lodged under my brain.  And the damn thing’s got to come out.  If it doesn’t over the next few months I’ll die, horribly, blind and insane.  When they started to tell me what they were going to do, where the knife would go, I started screaming.  I couldn’t listen.  Just to hear the details is appalling.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  A happy ending?  Dear God,  I’d like to think so:

But, as I’ve said before,  I believe something special was taken away from McLuhan that day in New York City:  His genius.  The good news is he survived the long operation, which his doctors declared a success, and lived another 13 years.  The bad news is that it is doubtful that he was ever again the man he once was.  His memory muddied, his temper irritable, his energy sapped, his mind inflexible, his senses painfully acute, never again would he write a book alone, or come up with a new idea that was not simply a recycling of an idea developed in the 1950s and early 1960s translated into new words.  Always eccentric he became a darker parody of himself.  This is a harsher view than typically prevails in the literature on McLuhan.  It is harsher largely because of what I discovered quite by chance while looking into his surgery.  A world-class neurosurgeon I interviewed about McLuhan’s operation told me that there is no question that his genius would have suffered.  Forgive me for saying this, he told me, or words to this effect, if your business is swinging a hammer, you could return to work after this kind of operation.  But for a man like McLuhan whose business was the flash of his mind he could never go back and do what he had once done.

This may be hard to watch, but you may want to see what McLuhan had to go through and what new approaches are now being pioneered:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jpH2aDFpRM&feature=related

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 211-213.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 25th, 2010
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Reading yesterday’s newspaper.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Think about it.

One day’s paper is much like another.  Shootings, car crashes, foreign wars.   Stock markets up or down.  House prices stable or uncertain.  The home team wins or loses.  Nevertheless to suddenly realize that the paper you are reading “is not today’s is a disconcerting experience.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Have you ever done this?

On Sunday I was in a restaurant for breakfast.  On my way to a booth I picked up what I thought was the front section of Saturday’s newspaper sitting abandoned at a table near the cash.  Waiting for my coffee I leafed through the news when suddenly I realized it was Friday’s not Saturday’s paper.  Up until that moment I had been entertained and diverted.  Now my interest in the paper was gone and I felt deflated, foolish, and cheated.  McLuhan says the dateline of a paper is its vital organizing principle.  To find yourself reading yesterday’s (or in my case the day before yesterday’s) news is like discovering that a memoir you have enjoyed reading is a fraud.  Fiction dressed as fact.  Being conned into buying a fake Rolex.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 212.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
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The celebrity of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The Sixties.

Corinne?”

“Yes, Marshall.”

“Don’t you think it odd there is so little about this decade that appeals to me and yet so much about me that appeals to it?

“Do you think?”

“Indeed I do.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  What is it about the Sixties and McLuhan?

In 1965 anyone who watched TV, read a magazine or looked at a newspaper had heard of Marshall McLuhan.  Why was he such a celebrity in this decade?  It is hard to shake off the idea that there was something about the Sixties that prepared people to be drawn to Marshall McLuhan.  But what was it?

As far as the counter-culture is concerned perhaps it helped to be on drugs to truly appreciate the delights of Understanding Media.  Dig this.  A scarcity of papyrus brought down the Roman Empire.  Far out man.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, practically any page.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Vol. 1 1 Comment