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.


Sound trumps sight.

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Whitehead’s observation.    

I ran across this observation of Whitehead’s in his admirable “Dialogues” some years ago and commend it to your attention:  “With the sense of sight, the idea communicates the emotion, whereas with sound, the emotion communicates the idea, which is more direct and therefore more powerful.“


Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Let’s explore this idea.

Which of these do you find more powerful?





Or this?  The same clip, but play it with the sound turned off




Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 146.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
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The power of speech

Marshall McLuhan (June 12, 1951, age 39).  To connect only listen!

Ezra Pound’s remarkable readings of his poems, particularly Canto 56, opened my ears to his rhythms.  As I put the matter to him in a plea that he issue these readings as a commercial discs for the general public, “the poet’s own voice provides an entry to his world which is otherwise hard to discover.”

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Why not try it?

Reading McLuhan can be a confusing and frustrating experience.  One of the best ways to gain entry to McLuhan’s world is to listen to McLuhan talk about his ideas.

Here he is talking on Youtube. Click on the image to play.

Don’t think about this as “McLuhan Lite” think about it as “The Real McLuhan.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 224.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
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One of the downsides of the current recession?

Marshall McLuhan (December 14, 1960, age 49).  No joking around.

I was just remarking to Claude Bissell that the “current recession seems have had a bad effect on the flow of jokes.”  The joke must be an exception to the universal rule that in the electronic age everything becomes substitutable for everything else.

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Ohio’s Phil Davison to the rescue.

In our own current recession which lingers on the jokes also seem to be drying up.  Here for your amusement is some found humour.


With thanks to Writing Boots.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 274.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
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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

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
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To hell with the facts

Marshall McLuhan (1970s, age 60s).  Violence and media go hand in hand.

The media’s power to incite violence is evident in the structure of our language.  Did you know that the word violence is derived from the Latin word for crossroads?

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  “Cross” roads, of course, are “angry” roads.  And doesn’t anger frequently result in violence?

Unfortunately, if you look up the word violence in the dictionary, the Oxford, Mcluhan’s favourite dictionary, you will find that its origin is traced to the Latin word, violentia.  Violentia does not mean crossroads.  It means impetuous or furious, which is a shame because McLuhan’s derivation is far more interesting than the dictionary’s – at least to a student of media.

What was McLuhan thinking?  McLuhan-biographer Philip Marchand says, McLuhan never allowed the facts to govern his ideas.  And McLuhan is known to have defended his tendency to alter facts to suit his argument with the line – half a brick will break a window as easily as a whole one.  Granted.  But it is hard to escape the linear thought – however big the brick is it still has to hit the glass to cause damage.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan:  The medium and the messenger, 1989, p. 62.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
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McLuhan was no gentleman.

Marshall McLuhan (1934 or 35, age 22/24). Tonight I crossed swords with Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein came to Cambridge today to speak on the subject: “I am I because my little dog knows me.”  Naturally, I could not help letting the remark slip, rather loudly I admit, that this is a prime example of the infantile nature of her prose style.  She was not amused.  Stopping mid (child-like) sentence she fixed me with a look, grabbed her umbrella, and made her way through the crowd to where I was standing.  “What,” she said, “are people like you doing here at Cambridge?”  “My dear woman,” I said …

Me (August, 2010, age 58)  What did McLuhan say next?

Unfortunately, we do not know what Marshall McLuhan said next. And it is not clear that this is actually how he found himself crossing swords with Gertrude Stein.

Philip Marchand tells the story this way in his biography of McLuhan.  But Terry Gordon in his biography of McLuhan tells the story very differently.  According to Gordon, McLuhan did not boorishly interrupt Stein’s address.  Instead, Stein spoke boringly and without interruption for an hour.  McLuhan, irritated, waited till the question period to ask what Stein thought of Wyndham Lewis’s thoughts about “the subject of time,” suspecting that it might well get a rise out of Stein because of the length of her talk and her well-known sensitivity to Lewis’s poisonous criticisms of her writing style.

No matter, whoever is more clearly the injured party – McLuhan in the Gordon version, Stein in the Marchand version – McLuhan proves himself to be no gentleman.  And either way, we can still speculate as to what McLuhan might have said next.  Two come-backs come to mind:  “My question exactly;” and “You mean my fallacy is all wrong?” 

What do you think Marshall might have said?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 46.

W. Terrence Gordon, Marshall McLuhan:  Escape into Understanding, 1997, p. 62.

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Michael Hinton Friday, August 6th, 2010
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Vol. 1 1 Comment

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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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.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
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Always on send

Marshall McLuhan (1965/66, age 53-55?).  In conversation with Howard Gossage.

“Marshall, will you listen for a second?”


“Because I have something to say.”

“Well, say it then.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”


“Well what?”

“I’ve forgotten.”

Me (June 2010, age 57).   How bad was McLuhan as a listener?

It is agreed that McLuhan was a polite but not a good listener.  (The story being that he always waited for your lips to stop moving before he began speaking.)  Howard Gossage, who knew McLuhan well, says that while McLuhan was a bad listener McLuhan did have friends who were worse than he was.  For example, Gossage says that Buckminster Fuller, who was profoundly deaf, and often turned off his hearing aid, was the worst listener in McLuhan’s wider circle.  On one occasion, Gossage says, Fuller stopped him in mid-sentence with the question, “Do you want an answer or don’t you?  Very well, [said Gossage.]”  Fuller then proceeded to give him an answer.  One problem, it wasn’t the answer to the question that he had been discussing.  But then all Fuller had promised him was “an answer” not “the answer.”

The price of poor listening seems obvious.  What is the benefit?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Howard Luck Gossage, “You can see why the mighty would be curious,” in McLuhan: Hot and Cool, 1969, footnote, p. 24.

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Michael Hinton Friday, July 2nd, 2010
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The maddening Marshall McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan (1967, age 65/66).  In conversation with Howard Gossage

“Marshall,” said Howard Gossage, “tell me something.  Do you have to be such a maddening writer?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ll be reading along and at first it’s great.  “I find that [my] … independently arrived at theories not only are confirmed by, but fit neatly into [your] … far broader structure, it is very heady stuff indeed.  And then wham.  You hit me with one of your probes.  Something that requires 5,000 words of explanation and you give me none.”

“Howard, if I stopped to explain everything I said I’d never get anywhere, besides there has to be something for the reader to do.”

Me (June 2010, age 57).   So what’s a man, or a woman, to do?

Perhaps the only thing you can do when you hit a probe [a question or statement designed to stimulate thought or insight] is to grin and then decide whether or not to do your work.

Here are some McLuhan probes:

People will not accept war on TV.  They will accept war in movies.  They will accept it in newspapers.  Nobody will accept war on TV.  It is too close. (1973)

The ideal show on pay TV would be a great composer rehearsing a symphony, not playing his symphony. (1967)

The TV image is the first technology to project or externalize our tactile sense. (1961)

TV is a service medium only during a crisis. (1970)

The TV as a today show is a continuous present.  There are really no dates. (1971)

Do any of these probes still “madden”?  What if in each one the word “TV” were replaced by “Internet” or “FaceBook”?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Howard Luck Gossage, “You can see why the mighty would be curious.”  In McLuhan: Hot and Cool.

Probes: Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone, Essential McLuhan, 1995, pp. 294-295.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
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