A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Books

What has TV done?

Marshall McLuhan (1969, age 58).  To give but one example

“Nobody seems to know much about why the paper-back book flopped in the 30’s and succeeded in the 50’s.  But it is a fact which probably has some relation to TV …”

Me (April, 2011, age 58).  What else?

TV he suggests in one shotgun blast of speculation in Counterblast may also explain “the unexplained popularity of highbrow paperbacks,” the strange ability of “the young [to] … respond untaught to rock-and–roll,” the new importance of “the quick briefing by experts [in business] or the making of deals at lunch,” as well as the rise of “the roundtable, the frequent conferences and group brainstorming.”  To McLuhan, it would seem, anything new in the late 50s and early 60s was probably the result of TV.  His critics threw their hands up in dismay.  His fans rifled through Understanding Media for explanations.  And McLuhan?  What did he do?  He went on to dream up more things TV could be doing without our knowing and left the explanations to others.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, 1969, p. 98-99.

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Michael Hinton Friday, April 22nd, 2011
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Mea Culpa!

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  How could I have got it so wrong!

Last year, I posted a blog in which I imagined Marshall’s pleasure at the prospect of the word “McLuhanism” appearing in the Oxford dictionary.  However, apparently, I underestimated the later McLuhan’s paranoid tendencies.  According to the journalist Barbara Rowes who wrote a profile on McLuhan for People Magazine in 1976, which I have only recently run across, far from being pleased “McLuhan considered the prospect sourly.”

Marshall McLuhan (September 20, 1976, age 65).  My exact words, if I remember correctly were …

“I can just imagine what that word is going to mean.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

P.S. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines “McLuhanism” as “The social ideas of the Canadian writer H. Marshall McLuhan (1911-80), such as that the effect of the introduction of the mass media is to deaden the critical faculties of individuals.”

Reading:

Barbara Rowes, “If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ‘60s, Another Is on the Way,” People Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 12, September 20, 1976.

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 11th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture 1 Comment

Products are becoming services.

Marshall McLuhan (May 8, 1967, age 55).  For example …

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems … and they at once Xerox with the help of computers from libraries all over the world, all the latest material for you personally, not as something to be put out on a bookshelf.  They send you the package as a direct personal service.  This is where we’re heading under electronic conditions.  Products increasingly are becoming services.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Sound familiar?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, “Predicting Communication via the Internet (1966),” interview with Robert Fulford, May 8, 1966, on CBC’s This Hour Has Seven Days in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, p. 101.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, February 5th, 2011
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Do kids read alone and silently for fun anymore?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  The book took us to silence.

In the Middle Ages, as is well known, there was no such thing as silent reading.  It was only with the advent of the book that “silent, solitary reading” took hold.

Me (January, 2011, age 58).  The electric age has opened our ears.

If books and silent reading go hand in hand is it any wonder that today’s electronically-wired kids find silent reading a challenge?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Counterblast, 1970, p. 73.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, January 20th, 2011
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Which came first the film or the book?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The book of course

“Even the film industry regards all its greatest achievements as derived from novels.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58). Can you think of any film that inspired a great book?

McLuhan observes that the book and the film are closely related to one another.  As evidence for this he points to great films being inspired by novels and the difficulty of imagining a film being based on a newspaper.  Yet it is odd that the forces of inspiration seem to work in only one direction.  It is easy to think of novels (and plays and even comic books and video games) that inspired great (ok may be not great, but not completely schlock) films, but hard to think of any film that inspired a great (or even reasonably good) book and none outside the realm of fantasy and science fiction.  No disrespect to Alan Dean Foster, but he’s no Charlotte Bronte.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1chtJQFQNs

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 286.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 4th, 2010
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The power of film.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  You go where it goes.

“It was Renee Clair who pointed out that if two or three people were together on a stage, the dramatist must ceaselessly motivate or explain their being there at all.  But the film audience, like the book reader, accepts mere sequence as rational.  Whatever the camera turns to, the audience accepts.  We are transported to another world.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Which is hard to believe.

But for all that may in fact be true.  Stranger things can happen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXruyT3ziUU

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 286.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 28th, 2010
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Do you want to be immortal?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  More on the power of print.

Yet another of the powers of print according to Marshall McLuhan is that it granted us the power of immortality.  Granted, you cannot live forever.  But you can put you into a book and that version of you could live forever.  Or can it?  How long will any of the things made by man survive?  Many today behave as if social media and possibly other technologies will give us immortality too.  Are they wrong so to do?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Of course …

“Psychically, the visual extension and amplification of the individual by print had many effects.  Perhaps as striking as any other is the one mentioned by Mr. E.H. Forster, who when discussing some Renaissance types, suggested that ‘The printing press, then only a century old, had been mistaken for an engine of immortality, and men had hastened to commit to it deeds and passions for the benefit of future ages.’  People began to act as though immortality were inherent in the magic repeatability and extensions of print.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 175.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
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Is nothing sacred anymore?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Marshall says no.

Another of the powers of print according to Marshall McLuhan is to take the sacred, the spiritual out of man and nature.  If true, print has much to answer for:

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Of course …

“The uniformity and repeatability of print permeated the Renaissance with the idea of time and space as continuous measurable quantities.  The immediate effect of this idea was to desacralize the world of nature and the world of power alike.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 176.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 22nd, 2010
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The power of print is greater than you think!

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  The curious case of the death of the book.

Of all Marshall McLuhan’s prophecies perhaps the most controversial in his time, and ours, was the death of the book.  And he was not shy about who he mentioned it to.  Most famously, in a speech to publishers in New York City in the sixties, the story goes, McLuhan decided to let his audience in on the news that they wouldn’t be around in the future, at least not in the business of publishing hard-cover books.  Afterwards, the audience was so impressed by his talk one of the publishers offered him a book deal for – you guessed it – Understanding Media.  Yet it is often forgotten that McLuhan also believed that the powers created by the book would long outlive their creator, which is not as good a story, but may in fact be more likely to be true.  And perhaps there is for this reason less need to run for cultural cover as the internet continues to play havoc with newspapers, magazines, and of course the poor old book.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The book may be dead but not the book bred!

“Those who panic now about the threat of the newer media and about the revolution we are forging, vaster in scope than that of Gutenberg, are obviously lacking in cool visual detachment and gratitude for that most potent gift bestowed by on Western man by literacy and typography: his power to act without reaction or involvement.  It is this kind of specialization by dissociation that has created Western power and efficiency.  Without this dissociation of action from feeling and emotion people are hampered and hesitant.  Print taught men to say, “Damn the torpedoes.  Full steam ahead!”

As illustrated, for example, here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXzCOlPHFmc

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 178.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
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To hell with your point of view

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Are you ready for it?

Having a point of view would seem to be a good idea.  Presumably it is what blogs are all about.  Yet there is a problem with them, as Marshall tells us.

Marshall McLuhan (January 13, 1966, age 54).  It closes down exploration.

As I was telling my friend Tom Wolfe, “When you try to find out ‘what’s going on’ a point of view is not very useful.” The man with a point of view has no need to search for  answers, he is convinced that he already has them.  Rather than learn from the events that pass before his eyes, he spends his days emotionally reacting to them.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 332.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
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