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.

Genius

Why read McLuhan?

Marshall McLuhan (January 4, 1964, age 52).  The McLuhans at the breakfast table.

“Marshall, listen to what Tom Easterbrook has to say about you in the Weekend Magazine.”

“And what is that?”

“He,” that’s you, “churns up the atmosphere.  I think he’s aware of doing it, but he does it for shock effect.  He goes at his adversaries until they become numb.  But he has zest – he’s full of fun.  He conveys a marvelous feeling of being alive.”

“What do you think?”

“Dear old Tom.”

Me (May, 2011, age 58).  Being alive.

Tom Easterbrook was McLuhan’s oldest friend and a colleague at the University of Toronto.  As Easterbrook suggests for McLuhan the important thing was to shock people into thinking.  If you worry too much about whether McLuhan is right or wrong you will get very little out of reading him.  Slow down and enjoy the rush of life.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 177.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Education No Comments

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.

Tags: , , ,

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

McLuhan escapes from the 19th century.

Marshall McLuhan (September 20, 1976, age 65).  To set the scene.

I admit it, I’m a creature of habit.  Up at 4 am to read the New Testament in Greek, Latin, French, German, or English in my green bathrobe.  On the white kitchen wall phone a bit after 5 to discuss new breakthroughs in media studies with a colleague, today it’s Barry Nevitt.  Shocking to realize it, but do you know no one in media studies realizes it’s not possible to prove anything?  You can only disprove things.  “It’s really quite enraging that nobody has ever thought of this before.”  Back upstairs for a quick catnap.  Then dressed (Hawaiian shirt and slacks) and down to the kitchen for breakfast at 8.  My custom at table was to read the New York Times while Corinne rustles me up either a beefsteak, rare, or an egg on whole wheat toast with honey – depends on the day, I like to alternate – when one day I realized I was spending too much time reading the bloody newspaper.  You see “the complicated lay of the Times is 19th-century.  To get through the whole damn thing would take at least a week.  In the electronic age people want information quickly.”  That’s when I made my move.

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  What did McLuhan do?

He switched to the Toronto Globe and Mail.  There are, you see, many ways to time travel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w5coGE5fm0

Some of them quite exhausting.

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.

Tags: , , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Technology 1 Comment

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.

Tags: , , ,

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

What did McLuhan talk about at the Centre for Culture and Technology in the 1960s?

Marshall McLuhan (August 24, 1964, age 53).  Here are three problems we’ve been discussing:

First, our world and its problems are the creation of specialists.  The solutions we so desperately require, however, can only come from generalists who can see how everything fits together.   Second, it is widely agreed that scientists are befuddled by abstract art.  We can develop ways to help them appreciate abstraction.  Third, parents have long wondered how their children can do their homework with the radio blaring.    We’re close to a breakthrough on this one.

Me (January, 2011, age 58).  No wonder his colleagues at Toronto University thought he was nuts.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading:

David Thompson, “How to learn economics in a rowboat,” Toronto Daily Star, August 24, 1964.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education 1 Comment

In a day everything can change. (Continued)

Marshall McLuhan (November 26, 1967, age 56) …………………

Me (November, 2010, age 58)  We will be back tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Marshall cannot be with us today.  (If you have not read yesterday’s post I suggest you turn to it now.)  Here is what the New York Times reported about him on November 27, 1967:

McLuhan in Good Condition

After Removal of a Tumor

Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist, was reported in a satisfactory condition yesterday at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center following surgery for the removal of a benign growth near his brain.

Dr. McLuhan, the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at Fordham University, will spend the next three weeks at the hospital recuperating, the medical center said.  Dr. McLuhan, currently on leave from his post as a professor at the University of Toronto, is expected to return to Fordham in January.

The growth, a slow-growing encapsulated tumor, was in the cranial area, according to the hospital.

Cordially, Me

Reading

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

Tags: ,

Michael Hinton Friday, November 26th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, 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.

Tags: , ,

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

Seeing our present as future.

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Another one for McLuhan.

The critics of Marshall McLuhan said he was a charlatan speaking gibberish.  Yet here he is in 1964, sounding remarkably sane to modern ears, predicting a now ubiquitous small, hand-held electronic device – cell phone, blackberry, i-phone – on which you can play a movie.  Granted he doesn’t see it as digital but 20/20 future sight is asking a lot.  Lesson – if you’re going to predict the future be ready for criticism if you get it right.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Clearly …

“At the present time, film is still in its manuscript phase, as it were; shortly it will, under TV pressure, go into its portable, accessible, printed-book phase.  Soon everyone will be able to have a small, inexpensive film projector that plays an 8-mm sound cartridge as if on a TV screen.  This development is part of our present technological implosion.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 291-292.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, October 30th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

The medium is the mess-age

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  The one worder.

Marshall McLuhan had no small talk.  His long time friend and colleague, Ted Carpenter, says that McLuhan could talk about small things but was incapable of doing so without turning the small thing into a large subject with “his unflinching directness.”  For example, he tells the story of walking with Marshall to the coffee shop of the Royal Ontario Museum.  They entered the Museum by the imposing front entrance way.  And in the middle of the entrance on the steps was “a turd.”  Looking down, McLuhan spoke volumes with a single word.

Marshall McLuhan (1950s, age 40s). “Human.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Edmund Carpenter, “That Not-So-Silent Sea.” Typescript posted on Internet, p. 9.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

Perseverance

Marshall McLuhan (1974, age 63).  I have doubts …

I don’t know perhaps it was late.  I was tired.  The Monday night seminar had just ended.  Eric was driving me home and I said to him:  “Is it worth it?  All this effort to alert people, when they just attack the bearer of news and do nothing.  Do I have the right to, am I supposed to, should I continue to keep investigating and making discoveries?  Why bother, if the West is being discarded and no one will do anything about it or even listen.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  But he never gave up

McLuhan had doubts about his ability to get through to people, to get people to think about, to comprehend, the power of media.  He would have been a fool not to.  His style insured him critics.  But he never gave up.  Today it is clear, as Douglas Coupland says, what with Google, Facebook, You tube, and everything else like this blog your reading on the internet, McLuhan “was right on the money four decades ahead of the biggest shift in human communication since the printing press.”

Am I getting through to McLuhan?  What can we learn from him after all these years?

Like McLuhan I too have doubts.  As we approach our 200th post questions come to me.  What was I thinking when I committed to 300 posts?  Should I keep going?  It’s been great, but why bother?  What good does it do to sieve through old ground?  Is the medium a barrier to the message?  But then occasionally there are discoveries …

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

W. Terrence Gordon.  Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding, 1997, p. 275.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, July 8th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments