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.

Social myths

What is truth?

Marshall McLuhan (March 25, 1974, age 61). Hercule Poirot knows!

The truth is not beauty nor shall it set you free.  It is explosive and discomforting.  In my study of media I have noticed it time and again, the minute you talk to people about media effects they start to lose their cool.  Nobody wants to hear that the medium is the message.  It only upsets them.  It is when people get upset I know I’m on to something.

“What is truth?”  asks Agatha Christie’s consulting detective Hercule Poirot.  “Eet ees whatever upsets zee applecart.”

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Look out!

One apple cart I keep upsetting has to do with PowerPoint.  In my work as a presentations coach I encourage corporate presenters to think about the effects PowerPoint will have on their audiences.  This is something it appears it takes courage to do.  PowerPoint is now so deeply ingrained in business as both a project management tool as well as a presentation device that as one corporate manager said, “I couldn’t think without PowerPoint.”

What apple carts are you upsetting?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 491.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, May 8th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

What is!

Marshall McLuhan (January 21, 1971, age 59). Frankly, I’m baffled!

What baffles me is the assumption many people make when they read my work.  The assumption that whatever happens ought to happen. And taking things one step further whatever can happen should happen.  These seem to me to be recipes for disaster.

Me (April 2010, age 57).  Me too!

This should be obvious, but apparently it’s not.  (These assumptions are made repeatedly in the discussion of social media.  Facebook and Twitter have happened but is it clear that they ought to have happened?  Or just because you can tweet you ought to tweet?)

A closely related idea to “Whatever happens ought to happen” is “Everything happens for a reason.”  A comforting idea for people trying to deal with evils by reframing them as goods.  For example, if my mother had not died I would never have known how much I loved her.  Everything then has its silver lining.  And nothing just happens.  It happens for a good reason.

Or not.

When life deals you a lemon do you try to make it into lemonade?  Or do you say, “Look a lemon, I wonder how it got here?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 421.

Tags: , , ,

Michael Hinton Friday, April 30th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

What do the experts know?

Marshall McLuhan (January 28, 1966, age 54). They know too much.

Did you hear the story of the soft-hearted brain surgeon who when a patient told him he couldn’t afford surgery offered the retouch his x-rays for free.  Experts never cease to amaze me.  Tom Paine said that it’s not what we don’t know that hurts us but what we know that isn’t true.  Experts are masters of this, of what they know that assures them that new ideas must be false.  Whatever you say, they rest easy, knowing it can’t be true.

Me (April,  2010, age 57).  Perhaps they do.

Marshall McLuhan’s idea is that the experts starting point to any idea is that it must be wrong.  That is that there is nothing new under the sun.  No matter what your idea is it must have already been tried.  And therefore it must be wrong because if it wasn’t it would have been shown to be right, and we would know it already.  What this means is that not being an expert gives you an advantage.

What is your advantage?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 334.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, April 8th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

Lucky, I’m so lucky

Marshall McLuhan (December 1968, age 57).  I’ve got this thing about the number 3.

My new agent Matie Molinaro is working out splendidly.  You wouldn’t believe the liberties people were taking with my radio interviews and TV and film appearances.  She is making sure my good name is protected and my wish is her delight.  An arrangement in which I assure you I delight.  For instance, Matie didn’t bat an eye when I asked her to make sure that when she enrolled me in ACTRA that my membership number was divisible by three.  You see, I am a firm believer that the number 3 and numbers divisible by three are lucky.  If they’re not then why am I so lucky?

Me (January 2010, age 57).  The rule of 3.

There is no doubt that Marshall McLuhan believed that the number 3 and numbers divisible by 3 are lucky.  He arranged his life to surround himself with these lucky numbers.  For example, he had 6 children, the Coach House, the home of his Centre for Culture and Technology was at 39A Queen’s Park Crescent East, and there are 33 chapters in his best selling Understanding Media.   Not surprisingly, his rule for determining whether a book is worth reading is to peruse page 69 – a number divisible by 3 both in whole and in its parts.  If that page is enlightening then the book is worth reading.

Superstitions are notoriously difficult to shake.  If 3 and numbers divisible by 3 are so lucky, and Marshall McLuhan surrounded himself with them, then you might well ask:  Why was he so unlucky when it came to his health, suffering from repeated strokes, a brain tumor, and, in the last 18 months (a number divisible by 3) of his life, aphasia?  The answer, of course, is that but for the presence of 3 things would have been much worse.

How superstitious are you?  If you are superstitious how much effort do you make to insure the Gods are on your side?  Is it just a coincidence that this blog closes with 3 questions?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Matie Armstrong Molinaro. “Marshalling McLuhan,” in Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message.  Edited by George Sanderson and Frank Macdonald. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1989, pp. 81-88.

Tags: , , ,

Michael Hinton Saturday, January 30th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

Machinery is all around us

Marshall (June, 1951, age 39).  Machinery is all around us

I was writing to Pound about this, too.  Machinery is all around us because we are inside the machine.  And the machine is inside us.  The two joined in an unholy duality.  We have become machines. 

Me (October 2009, age 57).  Machinery is all around us still

What’s wrong with being a machine?  McLuhan explains in the preface to the Mechanical Bride, which was his first book and is about advertising.  In the HBO TV series “Mad Men” Don Draper says advertising is about happiness.  McLuhan says the purpose of the happiness advertising offers is to get past your mental gatekeeper, to get inside your mind “in order to manipulate, exploit, [and] control.”

Take a look at the ads in Vanity Fair, Vogue or The New Yorker.  What is the happiness they are offering?  What social myths do they use to get inside us?  Why is it easy to see this happening in yesterday’s ads?  (More Doctors smoke Luckies than any other cigarette, that’s why we say they’re Doctor recommended.) Why is it harder to see this happening in today’s ads?  (Natural American Spirit is the only brand that features both cigarettes made with 100% certified organic tobacco as well as cigarettes made with 100% additive-free, natural tobacco.)  (Perhaps this one is not that hard to understand.)       

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.  Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 227.

Marshall McLuhan. The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Gingko Press, 1951; 2002, pp. v-vii.

Natural American Spirit ad. Vanity Fair, September, 2009, pp. 253-254.

Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments