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.

Merry Xmas, Professor McLuhan!

Marshall McLuhan (December, 1947, age 36).  Thank God it’s Xmas

Our fourth child, Stephanie, was born in October, Eric is only now just recovering from a bout with the flu, and I can’t hire anyone to help Corinne with the work around the house for less than my salary, which is the princely sum of $4,200.  Still Corinne is glowing and while I find marking end Xmas exams tiresome, you know me, tireless.  At present, I have three books on the go: one on Eliot and two on popular culture, Guide to Chaos and Typhon in America.

Me (December 2009, age 57).  I agree

It is time to leave Professor McLuhan to his household troubles and work on his books, and meditate on the 12 days of Christmas a period which as McLuhan knew marked the beginning of the year from the 7th century through to the 13th.  I will take a short break myself and make my next post on January 7th.

Before I do a few thoughts on the two books on popular culture McLuhan mentions above which eventually became one: The Mechanical Bride, his first book.  Bride has presented a bit of a problem for students of McLuhan.  Coming before his discovery of media it is far more accessible than his later books, and deals with a subject that would continue to fascinate McLuhan as a student of media, comics and advertising, but in a very different way.  Bride looks at comics and advertising for what they reveal about American culture and its values, and in particular for what they reveal about what McLuhan believes is wrong with American culture.  For example, Dagwood in the Blondie comic strip is a wimp and represents everything that is wrong with American men: in short they are not real men.  And many things readers of the later McLuhan will find familiar are there:  for example, Poe’s sailor caught in the maelstrom who escapes through understanding his situation, the idea that the book is not about the subjects or objects, or exhibits it discusses – advertisements and comics – but rather what they reveal about something else, American values and ways of living, a mosaic presentation in which the chapters can be read in any order.  Yet it is not the McLuhan that he will come to be.  He has not yet discovered his grand theme – the effects media have had on mankind because of the way they work rather than what they contain.  Instead what we find is many familiar things being used in an unfamiliar way.  Here is McLuhan the literary critic critiquing comics and advertising through close reading of their contents in ways he had learned at Cambridge.  For example, in the chapter titled “Horse Opera and Soap Opera” he observes that Westerns (the B movies also known as dusters and oaters) have much to teach us about the importance of the frontier, business, action, the office, and men in American culture while it is to soap opera that you must go to learn about the mainstream, society, feelings, the home, and women.  All of which is interesting but not important in the way the later McLuhan’s observation about media are important.  Because if you then say about any observation in Bride “Interesting, but so what?”  The answer more often than not is, “not much.”

In lieu of a question a greeting: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 190-191.

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Michael Hinton Friday, December 25th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

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