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.

Inviting, confronting, and ignoring criticism

Marshall McLuhan (July, 1948, age 37).  Everybody’s a critic!

Ted Carpenter is a breath of fresh air.  With him at St. Michael’s Toronto is getting less parochial with every passing second.  Last night he had my darling wife Corinne in stitches at dinner.  He was lecturing he told us at the university on the sexual practices of the natives of Polynesia.  Apparently he upset the tender sensibilities of one of the more prudish co-eds in the class, and she walked out in disgust.  “No need to hurry,” he shouted after her, “there’s plenty of time to book your ship to the islands.”  Between giggles Corinne remarked that perhaps Ted was too hard on the girl.  I looked over at him.  “See Ted, everybody’s a critic.”

Me (February 2010, age 57):  Perhaps not everybody.  But there certainly were a lot!

Ted Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan met at Toronto in 1948.  They became close friends and worked together closely on the study of media in the 1950s and most of the 1960s.  Carpenter was known for his volubility, an ability to rub people the wrong way, and a wicked sense of humour – a teacher at a Catholic college he built up according to Phillip Marchand, “the largest collection of books on the devil and diabolism in Canada.”  Not surprisingly, he and McLuhan developed a large number of enemies at the university.  Anyone who has taught at a university knows this is not hard to do, but Carpenter and McLuhan seemed to have had a gift for it.  One of Carpenter’s favorite gambits, for example, was that when an enemy came in the common room and a chair was open beside him he would catch the man’s eye and at the same time, slowly tip the chair over.  McLuhan preferred to ignore his critics.  “Come on Ted,” he used to say, “if this is what we’re up against, we’re destined for kudos.”

And, of course, they were.  (More on McLuhan’s critics tomorrow.)

How do you deal with your critics?  Head on like Carpenter?  Or forget about them, like McLuhan?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Phillip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The medium and the messenger, 1989, p. 124-125.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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