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.

City

Who lives in the city?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Look around …

Just as the horse was the real population of the nineteenth century city, the automobile has become the real population of the twentieth century city.  I admit it makes me uneasy.  Everything is designed for the care and convenience of the car.  The needs and wants of human beings are coming in at a very distant second.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Today, for the most part it’s still the same old story …

Human beings don’t live in the city, automobiles do.

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 218.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
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Do you like art?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  You may want to think again.

In 1969 Marshall McLuhan met Jane Jacobs for lunch and persuaded her to make a movie with him to stop the building of the Spadina Expressway.  Take One sent an editor, Joe Medjuck, to interview McLuhan about the movie.  McLuhan, however, was brimming with ideas and Medjuck had to work hard to bring McLuhan back to the movie.  One of those ideas – not a new idea to McLuhan but one he often liked to return to –  is that new media contain old media and in containing them remake them into art forms.  Thus black and white movies on TV – Casablanca – become art.  But hold on to your hats as McLuhan runs with this idea in this interview turning it into a much darker and bleaker vision than you might think.  Art is what we make and is not necessarily a good thing.

Marshall McLuhan (1969, age 58)  What cities, movies, and radio have in common?

“I think television advertising is in very poor shape.  Exceedingly poor shape. … [Because it is film contained by TV.]  The same thing happens to the city as happens to TV and advertising.  You put an outer ring of a suburb around an old city and this automatically destroys the inner city, that’s all.  And if you put a new medium around an old one it automatically destroys the old one.  In the act of using the old one it destroys it.  But in destroying it, it turns it into an art form.  Movies are now an art form because they’ve been completely destroyed by TV.    Now this is simple fact.  TV destroyed radio and radio’s now an art form.”

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Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

“Marshall McLuhan Makes a Movie.”[1969?]

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 27th, 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:

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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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What to do with Pastor Terry Jones?

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Marshall to the rescue.

Yesterday I asked for solutions to the Pastor Terry Jones problem.  Here is some more specific guidance from Marshall McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan (September, 2010, age 99).  Jokes!

I hesitate to involve myself in earthly matters, however, you seem to be in need of help.  I recall Walt Pittman asking me for a solution to the shameful “Paki” joke problem in Toronto in 1978.  You may recall these racist jokes that blanketed the city at that time.  (What do you say to a Pakistani with a Ferrari?  Stop thief!)  My solution was the obvious one – but the Metropolitan Toronto Council did nothing with the idea – launch a PR campaign to cover the city with a new brand of “Paki” jokes.  Jokes that portray the Pakistani as a wholesome colourful character.

Jokes, I submit, are the easiest and most effective way of dealing with the Pastor Terry Jones problem.  Simply cast him as an archetypal idiot by re-cycling sure-fire Newfie jokes.  For example:   What did Pastor Jones study at Harvard Medical School?  (Nothing, they studied him.)  What’s written on the bottom of Pastor Jones’s beer bottle?  (Drink from other end.)  What’s written on the top rung of Pastor Jones ladder?  (Stop here.)

While we’re at it, one more, knee-slapper:  How many preachers does it take to burn the Koran?   Not a one.  The media are capable of burning the Koran without anyone actually burning anything.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

See McLuhan’s solution to the Paki joke as recalled by Walter Pittman in Who Was Marshall McLuhan? pp. 112-113.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, September 18th, 2010
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Smile!

Marshall McLuhan (1966, age 54/55).  A suggestion …

Tony Schwartz, the sound wizard, was telling me about his latest project.  He was doctoring a tape recording of one of New York City Mayor Lindsay’s speeches.

“Marshall, the idea is to take out all his ‘ahs’ so he can hear how great he would sound if he didn’t use them.  For example, in his speech Lindsay says: ‘It is ah … a great pleasure to be with you ah … tonight.’  Now listen to it without the ahs.”

No Tony I have a better idea.  Why don’t you add a ‘hah’ after every ‘ah’ it will give the mayor’s speech the element of surprise!”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  A favourite anecdote

McLuhan liked to begin his speeches with terrible one-liners.  For example, ‘cash is the poor man’s credit card,’ ‘a streaker is just a passing fanny,’ ‘he was never so humble but there’s no police like Holmes,’ ‘he lived as if each moment was his next,’ and ‘diaper backwards spells repaid, think about it.’  Humour ages quickly.  Who knows at one time some of these may have been funny.

In his speaking McLuhan rarely used narrative-style jokes to make a point.  He seems to have preferred to use one-liners to encourage the audience to be more open to the unexpected.  There are however exceptions to this rule.  In a speech apparently given at Johns Hopkins in the 1970s, he opens and closes the speech with traditional narrative-style jokes, both of which I think are still funny.

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What is your favourite McLuhan joke? [search 'joke' on this blog for inspiration]

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan? 1994, p. 190-191.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
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Understanding McLuhan: The less is more approach

Marshall McLuhan (May 7, 1966, age 54).  New York City here I come!

Today, Eric reminded me, I’m booked to speak at the Kauffman Art Gallery on 92nd street in New York City.  My talk is about the way the media work us over.  The title of the talk is “The Medium is the Massage.”   I’m bubbling over with ideas I want to talk about.  I only hope there’s time for me to say everything I want to say.

What’s that Corinne? My cab’s at the door?  Must run, wish me luck.

Me (June 2010, age 57).   Good luck, Professor McLuhan!

Reading this speech today it’s easy to understand why so many people, then and now, find it hard to understand Marshall McLuhan.  In some ways McLuhan’s speech has the standard characteristics of great public speaking:  an opening that grabs attention (“I have been introduced recently as Canada’s revenge on the United States); a clear statement of a theme (an electronic medium “massages the population in a savage way); humour (a cat is hunting a mouse, the cat imitates the barking of a dog, the mouse thinks the cat’s been chased away by a dog and it’s safe to come out from its hiding place, the cat eats the mouse and remarks – it pays to be bilingual); a personal and conversational style (“when our thirteen-year-old saw this, he said, “Dad that’s real cool …”).

But McLuhan cancels out its good features and pushes his talk across the line from understandable to overwhelming because he can’t stick to one or two main subjects.  Instead, by my count, he deals with 52 subjects: including, the problem with value judgments, the world as teaching machine, memory and discovery, the future of work, the future of the book, perception and science, how to study media, computers and social change.

To understand McLuhan I think you must read him very slowly and in bits and pieces.  For example consider just one idea from his talk:  If you want to lose your job be sure to specialize:  eventually someone will figure out a way for a computer to replace you.  Something to think about.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Massage,” in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, pp. 76-97.

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Michael Hinton Friday, June 4th, 2010
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Good-bye to the class room?

Marshall McLuhan (October 18, 1966, age 55).   Kids are saying good bye.

Corinne is quite worried about our youngest son, Michael.  She says he has been talking about friends of his who are dropping out.  I told her the drop out phenomenon is readily understood.  In fact the article I am writing for Look with George Leonard explains it all quite simply, although it is a complex event.  TV kids are trained to get everything at once. They know nothing of specializations and disciplines.  (That is what books reflect, prepare, and support.)  Naturally when these tribal creatures are taken in the civilizing embrace of the class room, they react with shock.  There is nothing here they can relate to, nothing for them to learn when the city is their class room.  Naturally they drop out.  As far as Michael is concerned, nature may not have its way if I have anything to say about the matter.*

Me (March 2010, age 57).  Kids are staying, but they’re learning elsewhere.

And yet the school, the classroom, has survived.  How?  Perhaps because it is not what it appears to be.  Today the drop out phenomenon may have reappeared in another form.   Kids aren’t dropping out, but that’s not because they’re learning in class.  Literacy has declined and grades have inflated.  Kids are learning other things and they’re learning them elsewhere, on-line, in the hall ways.  School has survived as a way for parents to park their kids and for the kids to organize, refresh, and maintain their virtual lives.

Who is dropping out today?  And who is still learning the old fashioned way –by the book – in school?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

PS:  Marshall McLuhan was a devout Roman Catholic. So, “From Marshall and me” will not be published from Good Friday to after Easter.  We’ll be back here on  April 7th.

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 334.

*Biographical note: two years later, in 1968,  16-year old Michael dropped out and left home to vanish into the hippie world of Toronto’s Yorkville are and then to New York. Today he’s a photographer living in Owens Sound Ontario and the executor of the McLuhan estate.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, April 1st, 2010
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