A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.Â Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,Â I present one of McLuhanâ€™s observations and talk about its relevance today.Â 300 ideas. 300 days.Â 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).Â Isnâ€™t it obvious?
â€śThe name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.â€ť
Me (August, 2010, age 58).Â Really?
What did McLuhan mean by this?Â Read Douglas Couplandâ€™s recent biography of McLuhan and you will find this quotation separated from its context and put up as meaning that a manâ€™s name has a subliminal effect.Â If your last name is Rich, for example, people wonâ€™t think youâ€™re poor.Â A somewhat kooky idea that McLuhan adopted in his analysis of the difficulties of Richard Nixon. (See this blog – The Power of Names â€“ in which I must admit I did not see this distinction as clearly as I do now.)
Take a look at what McLuhan is actually trying to say with this line in Understanding Media (p. 49).Â He starts with the observation that â€śin a highly visual and highly literate cultureâ€ť â€“ read Canada, Britain or America – most people canâ€™t quite catch the name of a person theyâ€™re being introduced to for the first time.Â Why?Â Because McLuhan says youâ€™re so caught up in looking at the person that you donâ€™t hear the name.Â Itâ€™s as if the sound is blocked out or dimmed.Â To get the name you then ask â€śHow do you spell your name?â€ťÂ (How much more visual can you get?)Â This wouldnâ€™t happen, he says, in a highly auditory ear culture.Â In such a culture – to reach the quotation at last – â€śthe sound of a manâ€™s name … is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.â€ť
If you lived in an ear culture rather than an eye culture, McLuhan says, youâ€™d hear the name.Â But we donâ€™t do we?Â Even today after half a century of television and now the internet we still seem to be a highly visual culture.Â We still have trouble hearing names for the first time.Â What do we do to help people hear names at large business meetings and social events?Â We ask them to wear name tags. (How much more visual can you get?)
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 49.