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.

In the land of politics

Marshall McLuhan (September, 1964, age 53).  These guys don’t get it

I spoke at the Progressive Conservative party’s Conference on goals for Canada.  Former Prime Minister Diefenbaker was there when I made my address, but I don’t think he heard what I was saying.  He hasn’t been listening a lot lately.   Not in the flag debate.  Don’t like that new flag much myself but it doesn’t do any good to resist change you must lead it.  Among other things I told them that “political parties must now begin to think seriously about their responsibility to teenagers.”    I hope they heard that one if they don’t they’re dead.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  They still don’t get it

According to journalist Martin Sullivan after Marshall McLuhan spoke, Eugene Forsey, one of the senior figures in the party, turned and said, “Is McLuhan suggesting Diefenbaker should where a Beatle wig?” 

To understand the importance of McLuhan’s idea you need to understand some Canadian political history.  In 1963, after winning with a minority in 1962 and the largest majority to date in Canadian political history in 1957, John Diefenbaker’s Conservatives were defeated by Mike Pearson’s Liberals.  The conference McLuhan spoke at in 1964 had been organized by Dalton Camp.  Camp was a major strategist and power broker in the Federal Conservative party, who would orchestrate the removal of John Diefenbaker from the leadership of the party, in ‘the night of the long knives’ in the hopes of shifting the Liberals from power in the next election.  Camp believed “there are business and professional men, and the rising generations of young people, who do not find political organization in its traditional form either appealing or challenging.”  The conference, as Forsey’s remarks suggest, did not succeed in Camp’s aim which was as he put it, to stimulate, “from fresh springs of awareness new channels of thought, inquiry and purpose.  What we cannot do again is merely ingest the realities of a new society into an inert doctrinaire conservatism.”  That, however, is precisely what the Conservatives did and the Liberals held onto power for the next 16 years.       

Given that today most Canadians under 30 seem to have little interest in the traditional political process and political parties is their anything Canadians learn from this?  What about in other countries, such as the United States and Britain, where those under 30 also appear to be disengaged from politics?  Why don’t political parties think seriously about their responsibility to teenagers?  If they did what would they do differently?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

Sprague, D.N.  Post-Confederation Canada:  The structure of Canadian History since 1867. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall, 1990, pp. 255-321, and appendix I.

Sullivan, Martin.  Mandate ‘68. Toronto: Doubleday, 1968, pp. 89-91.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 24th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, All categories, Communication, Culture, Education, Vol. 1 2 Comments

2 Comments to In the land of politics

  • We only have to look at the Obama election to realize how powerful it can be to manage to get the youth vote out. In 2008, American youth voted in higher numbers than in the last presidential election — and they voted more Democratic.

    “Voters preferred Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent — the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976, according to CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization that promotes research on the political engagement of Americans between ages 15 and 25.”
    (source msnbc.com)

    An estimated 22 to 24 million young people voted in the 2008 election, an increase in youth turnout by at least 2.2 million over 2004, according to CIRCLE (and msnbc.com). That said, even 2004 showed a big surge in youth voting levels.

    As contradictory as this might appear on the surface, the Y-generation is pragmatic, but idealistic. They want to shape the world, and will go about working (in teams) to get the job done. They’re well connected — I’ll sound like a broken record, but — through social networking and know how to use these new communications platforms to get the word out there and to influence their peers.

    Indeed, Canadian politicians would do well to speak to the under-30s. Problem is, I don’t see either Harper or Ignatieff either willing or able to do so. Even Justin Trudeau comes across as an old, boring, fuddy duddy.

    Traditionally, the leaders of a political party’s youth-wing have come out looking like the President of the Young-investors club of their university. The Young Liberals’ Samuel Lavoie appears to be breaking from this mold. There may be hope. And yes, you can find him on Facebook.

    I dunno, Michael. McLuhan may have been a bit of a luddite, but I suspect that he would have come around to embrace social media as a communications channel. At least I’ll keep hoping 😉

  • Michael says:

    Thank you for your passionate comment, Michelle.
    I suspect you are right. People under 30 have alot to offer. And the old parties aren’t reaching out to them honestly and effectively.


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