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.


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


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

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

It took TV to really make the telephone’s stimulus pay off.

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

“In the 1920s, the telephone spawned a good deal of dialogue humour that sold as gramophone records.  But radio and the talking pictures were not kind to the monologue, even when it was made by W.C. Fields or Will Rogers.  These hot media pushed aside the cooler forms that TV has now brought back to a larger scale.  The new race of nightclub entertainers (Newhart, Nichols and May) have a curious early-telephone flavor that is very welcome, indeed.”


Me (November, 2010, age 58). Is this where the internet has taken us?

Now we have a brand new race of entertainers turning the book into dialogue.  Very welcome, indeed.



Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 270.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, November 13th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

Is American humour the monopoly of uneducated rubes and yokels?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  The argumentative Dr. McLuhan .

Marshall McLuhan never backed away from an argument.  In fact he seemed to be happiest when he was courting an argument by uttering an inflammatory opinion.  Here he takes on the world of American speech, locating and characterizing it in less than flattering terms.  While exceptions to his rule come to mind McLuhan seems to have managed to stake out a high ground of sorts.  You of course must decide for yourself whether he’s right.  Are uneducated rubes and yokels the masters of American humor and slang?  Certainly, one could not be so assured about the rule of British slang and humor by British semi literates.

Consider this evidence found on you tube:


American: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtsRa45-_1A

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Quite naturally …

“Permeation of the colloquial language with literate uniform qualities has flattened out educated speech till it is a very reasonable acoustic facsimile of the uniform and continuous visual effects of topography.  From this technological effect follows the further fact that the humor, slang, and dramatic vigor of American-English speech are monopolies of the semi literate.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me


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

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

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


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

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, September 18th, 2010
Permalink Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

Still more suggestions for new Chapters of Understanding Media

Marshall McLuhan (August 2010, age 99).  Is this funny?

Again?  More joke titles for new chapters for Understanding Media?  Now you’ve gone too far.

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  You tell me.

Here are even more tongue-in-cheek suggestions for new chapters for Understanding Media:

Coronation Street:  Ear’s to the Medium

Girdle:  It’s a Cinch

White Out:  A Step Backwards?

The Foreman Grill:  Reversal of a Hot Medium

Telemarketing: Dollars and Sense

Financial Fraud:  Give and Take?

Robin Hood: The Medieval Poor Man’s Credit Card

Megaphone:  Old Yeller

White Wall Tires:  Extensions of Spats

Flatulence:  Wind at Your Back

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. xi – xiii.

Tags: , , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
Permalink Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

More suggestions for new Chapters for Understanding Media

Marshall McLuhan (August 2010, age 99).  Is this funny?

Joke titles for new chapters for Understanding Media?  Swift said, “satire is a glass in which we see every countenance but our own.”  But really I fail to see the humor in this exercise.

Me (September, 2010, age 58)  You tell me.

Here are some more tongue-in-cheek suggestions (See The Understanding Media Pun Contest) for new chapter topics and titles for Understanding Media:

Automatic Pencil: Getting the Lead Out

Pit Bull: Man’s Best Fiend

Microscope: Little Wonder

Smoke Signals: The Message is Blowing in the Wind

Quack-Quack: Fowl Language

Boring Conversation: Medium Tedium

Capital Punishment: A Live Issue?

Swedish Massage: The Masseuse is the Massage

Push-Up Bra: The Cleavage is the Message

Gypsy Fortune Teller:  The Medium is the Message

George Hamilton:  Narcissus as Narcosis

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. xi – xiii.

Tags: , , , ,

Michael Hinton Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
Permalink Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

The understanding media pun contest

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Pun.

Part II of Understanding Media contains 26 case studies, one for each letter of the alphabet.  Each deals with a particular medium or technology.  McLuhan delighted in puns and so it is not surprising to find puns in some of the titles of these chapters: for example “Clocks: The Scent of Time,” “Movies: The Reel World,” and “Automation: Learning a Living.”

Your challenge, should you decide to accept it is to come up with punning or joking chapter titles either for technologies that did not make it into Understanding Media or for chapters that did but for which McLuhan did not provide a punning subtitle.

For example, “Toasters:  A Slice of Leaven,” “The Passenger Pigeon: A Bird in the Band,” “The Sun Dial: Tempus Fidgit.”

Marshall McLuhan (August 2010, age 99).  I like a challenge

What about: “The Microscope: To see or not to see,” “Etch-a-sketch:  Pane in the Ass,” or “Invisible Ink:  The Write Stuff.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp.xi-xiii.

For more on puns and McLuhan

Tags: , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
Permalink Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

The McLuhan collection agency

Marshall McLuhan (1960s, age 50s).  Ask and ye shall receive!

Today I sent a letter to a client who has not paid my speaking fee.  I told them I felt like the parrot in the story who had been crossed with a tiger.  “Polly want a cracker.  AND I MEAN NOW!”   I hope they got the message.

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  I wonder

Perhaps only McLuhan would have sent letter like this.  I’d like to think it did the trick.  [For more on McLuhan’s unique sense of humour]

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan:  The medium and the messenger, 1989, p. 189.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments


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.


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.

Tags: , , , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

The 100 percent sensible Marshall McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan (Spring 1971, age 59).  McLuhan to Peter Newman

Did you hear about the man who went on a date with Siamese twins?  The following day a friend asked him if he had a good time.  The man’s reply: yes and no.

Me (June 2010, age 57).   Two cheers for Marshall

Yesterday a small test was made of Patrick Watson’s observation made on “This Hour has Seven Days” that no one can understand more than 10 percent of what Marshall McLuhan has to say.  The test of course was unscientific and leading rather than persuasive.  Today I want to present a more sweeping assessment of McLuhan’s sensibility.  Namely, that on unimportant subjects – that is subjects only tangentially related to media and media theory Marshall McLuhan is always easy to understand.  For example here is McLuhan talking about his personal dislike of technical innovation and change on the CBC television program “This Hour Has Seven Days.” (May 6, 1966):

“I’m resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change.  But I’m determined to understand what’s happening because I don’t choose to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me.  Many people seem to think that because you talk about something recent you’re in favour of it.  The exact opposite is true in my case.  Anything I talk about is almost certainly something I’m resolutely against and it seems to me that the best way of opposing it is to understand it.  Then you know where to turn off the button.”

What has this got to do with the man who dated Siamese twins? The punch line also works for the question:  Do you understand what Marshall McLuhan is saying?  Yes and no.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Who Was Marshall McLuhan, edited by Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, 1995, pp. 109, 135, and 136.

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Friday, June 18th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Vol. 1 1 Comment