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.

Critics!

Marshall McLuhan (June 1, 1960, age 48).  There’s no such thing as bad advertizing?

That’s what they say, but having read what Robert Fulford had to say about me in Maclean’s, I’m beginning to have doubts.  At the very least Fulford’s the exception that proves the rule.  It’s actually amazing, as I told him myself, that he gets anything at all out of Understanding Media because he obviously doesn’t Understand Me.  I have a theme that governs everything I write, namely that for 5,000 years western man thought in the way print taught him to.  Splitting things up.  Fragmenting the world. Analyzing. Putting things in order.  Being logical and rational.  Now, with the advent of the electric age, all this has changed.  Welcome to the re-tribalized, acoustic, global village.

Me (December 2009, age 57).  Critiquing the critics

Robert Fulford wrote that Understanding Media was “arrogant, sloppy, repetitious and brilliant.”  A view which is both right and wrong headed.  This perception of Understanding Media as a large dollop of error and held together by a drop of brilliance was a common response to McLuhan in the 1960s.  (Around the same time, Richard Schickel wrote in Harper’s “his critics are infuriated by his ideas … but some think he has one of this continent’s most brilliant minds and that his theories foretell our real future.”)  But it is not Fulford or Schickel’s 45-year old responses I want to talk about.

Let us consider some of the current critics of McLuhan, beginning with the writer of a recent blog, who I will not name.  This critic wrote – I paraphrase to protect their anonymity- that 99 percent of what McLuhan wrote is bullshit, and the remaining 1 percent is pure genius.  And that is all.  They do not give an example of anything in McLuhan’s cannon they think is bullshit and explain why it is bullshit.  Nor do they give an example of an idea of McLuhan’s that they think is brilliant and explain why it is brilliant.  Remarkably, or perhaps unremarkably, this type of criticism of McLuhan is not unusual.  In fact this is a fairly typical response to McLuhan on the internet:  gossipy, intellectually lazy, and insulting.

(To be continued)

Can you give me an example of something you think is bullshit in Understanding Media and explain why it is bullshit.  Also, and more challengingly, can you give me an example of one thing in the book besides “the medium is the message” or the world is becoming a “global village” you think is brilliant and explain why it is brilliant.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 300.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 1 Comment

1 Comment to Critics!

  • Michael Edmunds says:

    Good questions, but… I have mostly given up hope that an informed opinion of McLuhan is likely to be had in the general discourse and “flux”. On the positive side one might suggest that the discussion has not moved on so much as taken on a new vocabulary inherent in semiotic and post-modern theory and these schools seek the same understanding as McLuhan. ON the less positive, it seems that in order to move forward McLuhan has to be rejected in the ways you describe. (Weird)

    I follow the McLuhan memes (as you) and
    see the same trite ‘“the medium is the message” or the world is becoming a “global village”’ coughed up in every new media course exposed on the Web. This is the retribalized voice of new reason. OMG

    The difficulty lies in reading McLuhan as theoretician instead of an artist – a new artist. McLuhan wrote of a radio celeb that his nightly broadcast was a novel. IN other words the work ahead is a open up to these changes with a poetic undertaking of LOM.

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