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.

Celebrity

McLuhan is back, but for how long?

Marshall McLuhan is news once again. Today is the second day of McLuhan week in Toronto. And for at least this week all things McLuhan will seem fresh. Especially on Thursday, July 21, which is McLuhan’s 100th birthday. What would McLuhan have thought of the celebrations? Probably very little.  He had work to do. 

Here is a post I wrote on McLuhan and celebrity you may want to take a peek at again.

Cordially Me

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Culture No Comments

Who was Marshall McLuhan?

Marshall McLuhan (September 20, 1976, age 65).  Who am I?

“You see, I’m a sleuth, a kind of Sherlock Holmes character who simply investigates the environment and reports exactly what he sees.  Strangely enough some people are actually frightened by me.  I find the whole exploration of the environment very exciting.  Once you decide to become an explorer, there’s no place to stop.  I’m like Columbus.  I discover new worlds everywhere I look.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  So who was he?  A Sherlock or a Columbus?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

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 Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s No Comments

What the bell!

Marshall McLuhan (March 27, 1967, age 55).  The ringing, the ringing!

“Mrs. Stewart, if that phone rings one more time I’m going to go stark raving mad.  That was from another kid with a bad case of the giggles who asked me to tell him the message.  There it goes again.   I’m going deaf with the ringing.”

“Professor McLuhan, I’m going to do what we should have done two hours ago.  There!”

“Silence.  Merciful Mary, how did you do it?”

“A little trick my husband told me about he saw in Popular Mechanics.  Put some carpet between the bell and the hammer.”

“Mrs. Stewart, you are a genius.”

Me (December, 2010, age 58). The power of the press

Marvin Kitman’s comedic review of The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore appeared in the New York Times on March 26 1967.  Among other things, Kitman said, “With all the zeal of a convert, I would like to urge everybody not to buy this book, in either the paper medium or cloth medium.  McLuhan argues forcibly that the invention of television makes books obsolete.  Anybody who purchases a McLuhan book is playing into the hands of McLuhan’s enemies in the intellectual establishment; high sales figures can only tend to discredit him as a modern thinker.”

As Marshall McLuhan and his secretary Marg Stewart were soon to discover, it was funnyman Kitman who was responsible for the unending ringing of his number.  For Kitman also told his readers that if you really want to get McLuhan’s message you needed more than a medium, such as the telephone, you also needed “to establish a connection.  [And that] Marshall McLuhan’s telephone number at the University of Toronto is 416-WA 8-3328.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marvin Kitman, “Get the Message?” The New York Times, March 26, 1967.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, December 9th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication No Comments

Looking for Marshall McLuhan

Me (December 4, 2010, age 58).  Are  you there, Marshall?

Two weeks ago I was in Toronto and stopped in to have a drink in the bar of the Sutton Place, on Bay Street, a few minute’s walk from Marshall McLuhan’s old offices – the Coach House – at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

I did so because I knew McLuhan liked to have a drink at the Sutton Place, it was cold and I thought I might still pick up a memory of him, and my wife knowing this might be on my mind suggested it.  The roof-top bar McLuhan liked at the Hotel is now closed, but one of the waiters, Frank, who has worked in the hotel for over 30 years said he remembered serving McLuhan.

What did he drink?  After some time he recalled. St Jovain, a white Bourdeaux.

Not Scotch?  No, white wine, St. Jovain.

And that was that. He could remember nothing else.

This I think is as good a place as any to leave McLuhan on this the 300th post in this blog, not with a breakthrough in media studies, but drinking white wine, looking out over the city he knew so well, for so long.  Wondering, perhaps, whether this was as good as it got, and if so whether that wouldn’t be all that bad …

Cordially, Me

P.S.    Thanks to all of you who read From Marshall and Me.  And my thanks especially to the following people who in many different ways, small and large, helped to make series 1 a success:  Debbie, Ramon, David, Julien, Michelle, Michael, Mitch, Tara, Jose, and Alex.

P.P.S.  See next week for the start of the next series of posts of this blog that will look for McLuhan and take us intoMcLuhan’s centennial.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 4th, 2010
Permalink All categories, Vol. 1 No Comments

In a day everything can change.

Marshall McLuhan (10 am, November 25, 1967, age 56).  Dear Diary:

Not long now.  Corinne says the operation’s set for just before noon.  The wait is killing me. I’d give anything to put it off for another week, but then I’d have to suffer through another week of being poked and prodded by the good doctors at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.   They say I’ve got a tumor the size of my fist lodged under my brain.  And the damn thing’s got to come out.  If it doesn’t over the next few months I’ll die, horribly, blind and insane.  When they started to tell me what they were going to do, where the knife would go, I started screaming.  I couldn’t listen.  Just to hear the details is appalling.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  A happy ending?  Dear God,  I’d like to think so:

But, as I’ve said before,  I believe something special was taken away from McLuhan that day in New York City:  His genius.  The good news is he survived the long operation, which his doctors declared a success, and lived another 13 years.  The bad news is that it is doubtful that he was ever again the man he once was.  His memory muddied, his temper irritable, his energy sapped, his mind inflexible, his senses painfully acute, never again would he write a book alone, or come up with a new idea that was not simply a recycling of an idea developed in the 1950s and early 1960s translated into new words.  Always eccentric he became a darker parody of himself.  This is a harsher view than typically prevails in the literature on McLuhan.  It is harsher largely because of what I discovered quite by chance while looking into his surgery.  A world-class neurosurgeon I interviewed about McLuhan’s operation told me that there is no question that his genius would have suffered.  Forgive me for saying this, he told me, or words to this effect, if your business is swinging a hammer, you could return to work after this kind of operation.  But for a man like McLuhan whose business was the flash of his mind he could never go back and do what he had once done.

This may be hard to watch, but you may want to see what McLuhan had to go through and what new approaches are now being pioneered:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jpH2aDFpRM&feature=related

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 211-213.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 25th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Vol. 1 No Comments

The celebrity of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The Sixties.

Corinne?”

“Yes, Marshall.”

“Don’t you think it odd there is so little about this decade that appeals to me and yet so much about me that appeals to it?

“Do you think?”

“Indeed I do.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  What is it about the Sixties and McLuhan?

In 1965 anyone who watched TV, read a magazine or looked at a newspaper had heard of Marshall McLuhan.  Why was he such a celebrity in this decade?  It is hard to shake off the idea that there was something about the Sixties that prepared people to be drawn to Marshall McLuhan.  But what was it?

As far as the counter-culture is concerned perhaps it helped to be on drugs to truly appreciate the delights of Understanding Media.  Dig this.  A scarcity of papyrus brought down the Roman Empire.  Far out man.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, practically any page.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Vol. 1 1 Comment

John and Yoko and Marshall McLuhan’s theory of dinosaurs

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Perhaps the most insane of McLuhan’s ideas

In 1969 on the last Saturday before Christmas CBS television arranged for Marshall McLuhan to interview John Lennon and Yoko Ono about their ‘War is Over’ campaign and anything else McLuhan thought they should talk about.  Their wide-ranging discussion took place at Marshall’s office in the Coach House at the University of Toronto and lasted about an hour.  Among other things, they talked about the importance of Elvis in John’s career, Yoko’s contribution to their creative partnership, the cultural differences between Britain and America, and, of course, McLuhan’s explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs.  I don’t know what John and Yoko thought of McLuhan’s ideas about the dinosaurs, but it must have crossed their minds that this was one seriously crazy dude.  And if so it would be difficult to say they were wrong.

Marshall McLuhan (19 December 1969, age 58).  It’s the frustration!

“Frustration creates bigness.  Frustration releases adrenaline in the system.  Adrenaline creates much bigger muscles and bigger arms and legs … . This is why dinosaurs ended in sudden death, because as the environment became more and more hostile, more and more adrenaline was released into their bodies and they got bigger and bigger and then they collapsed.”

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Read a ‘transcript’ of the interview between John Lennon and Marshall McLuhan

 

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 15th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

What’s the good word?

Marshall McLuhan (1973, age 61-62).  “Dad, you’re in the dictionary!”

“Of course I’m in the dictionary, Eric, I’m looking up a word.  Here it is, ‘corniche’ from the French – ‘a road along the edge of a cliff.’  Exactly where we are today, literally and metaphorically, don’t you think?

“No Dad, I don’t mean you’re using the dictionary, I mean you’re actually in it.  There are now words based on you.  ‘McLuhanism,’ McLuhanize,’ ‘McLuhanite,’ and get this ‘McLuhanesque.’

“Well that’s vurry satisfying.  Northrop Frye isn’t in the dictionary is he?  But hold on, which dictionary?  the Oxford?”

“No, The Barnhart Dictionary of New English Since 1963, first edition, 1973.”

“What a shame.  I’d have preferred the Oxford.  After all, it is the Dictionary.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  McLuhan would have been pleased

McLuhan did make it into the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was published in 1989.  Unfortunately he did not live to see it.  However, it is safe to say that he would undoubtedly have taken great pride in this mark of the power of his influence on what he considered to be the most powerful of all mediums, our language.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

How to know if you’re a celebrity

Marshall McLuhan (October 1970, age 59).  They name a cocktail after you

Marshall, look at this!  A Mr. and Mrs. Greg Frasier of San Francisco have written you to say they’ve named a cocktail after you.

For heaven sake, Corinne, what’s it called?

The “McLuhan Cocktail,” of course.  Here’s the recipe.  “Ingredients:  1 oz. Irish whiskey; ½ oz. dry Vermouth; ¼ oz. sweet Vermouth; Fresh lime twist.  Combine ingredients and stir gently with cracked ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add twist of lime.”  They say it’s “a cool cocktail for the entire global village.  With the McLuhan, the mixture is the message.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Indeed they did.

The “McLuhan Cocktail,” celebrating Marshall’s Irish roots, appears in the Zodiac Cookbook, 1970, which was sent to McLuhan as a gift.  The letter accompanying the cookbook explains:

“Enclosed is a copy of the ZODIAC COOKBOOK by my wife and myself, which we hope you will accept with our compliments.  Your attention is drawn to page 27.

I am a graduate student in broadcasting at San Francisco State College, and as such became interested in your writings.  I wanted to give you a copy of the book personally at your recent lecture on October 18 at the University of San Francisco, but you left so quickly I didn’t get the chance.

We hope you and your wife enjoy our book – the McLuhan.

Bon appétit!

Greg Frazier”

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the extent of McLuhan’s celebrity in the late 1960s and the animosity that celebrity caused him today is to make yourself a pitcher of “McLuhans”.  It is difficult to imagine a professor today, at Toronto or anywhere else, being an inspiration for a cocktail.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Message, 1989, 231.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

Yesterday’s Speeches.

Marshall McLuhan (1966, age 54/55). Nobody wants yesterday’s speech?

Tony Schwartz, the New York sound wizard, has done it again.  He has embarrassed me.  I asked Tony if he would record one of my big speeches.

He said, “No!  Who wants to listen to something you said yesterday, Marshall.  They want to hear what you have to say today!”

He’s absolutely right, bless him.  Information is coming at us so fast that anything I said yesterday must be obsolete.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Why do people collect them?

Speeches in business age quickly.  Yet many people continue to ask conference speakers for copies of their presentation slides.  Why?  (I am not talking about the presentations of celebrity speakers, but rather the hard-copy of Joe and Mary director of marketing.) It is difficult to believe there is much to be learned from these slides.  Perhaps the collectors believe they are paying the speaker a compliment.  Most speakers I would guess do not feel complimented.  Most have better things to do.  Perhaps the collectors hope they can use a slide or two in an upcoming talk.  But I see little sign that these collected speeches or presentations are actually used in this way.  Which leads me back to the question.

Why do people collect yesterday’s speeches?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan? 1994, p. 153.

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