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.

Hot’s not hot!

Marshall McLuhan (December 13, 1977, age 66).  In a word, you need charisma.

Today, Peter Gzowski asked me if the age of the Sophia Loren woman – the movie star – was over.  Of course it is.   To succeed today you must be able to succeed on television.  And on television you can’t succeed with that hot stuff.  That’s what killed Senator Joe McCarthy.  One appearance on television and his career was over.  That’s what killed Nixon too.  The key is you’ve got to look like a lot of other nice people.  That’s charisma.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).   The meaning of charisma.

If you watch the McLuhan interview on Gzowski’s show you can tell that Gzowski doesn’t really know what to make of McLuhan.   Take for example McLuhan’s definition of charisma:  looking “like a lot of other nice people.”  Gzowski laughs.  He isn’t sure what to make of this.  But clearly there is something in that definition that rings true and yet is unexpected.     The definition forces you to think in the way a typical dictionary definition does not.  For example a typical dictionary definition of the word is:  “A capacity to inspire devotion and enthusiasm.” (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.) McLuhan’s definition explains how that power or capacity is conferred with different media.  On television, he is saying, the power to inspire devotion and enthusiasm is given to people who we think look like us.  In McLuhan’s language they have a corporate or social image.  But in the movies things are different.  There the people who inspire devotion and enthusiasm – movie stars – do not look like us.  They have their own unique private image.  This is not a theoretical position.  It is an observation.

Is it true?  Is it true today?  Is the same true for social media?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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