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.

Visual medium

Newspapers don’t make news.

Marshall McLuhan (1965, age 53).  You do.

“The only connecting factor in any newspaper is the dateline… . When you enter through the dateline, when you enter your newspaper, you begin to put together the news – you are producer.”

Me (January, 2011, age 58).  If so, it doesn’t matter that Sarah Palin couldn’t name a paper she’d read:

Their names are irrelevant.  If you don’t like the sense Sarah Palin makes of the stories that flash past her eyes don’t blame it on the newspapers she reads or doesn’t read.  It’s not what she reads but what she does with what she reads.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, “Address at Vision 65,” in Essential McLuhan, 1995, p. 227.

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Michael Hinton Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
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TV: Reaching out to touch someone near you

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  The effect of TV.

Have you noticed the way children in grade school read these days?  The same way they watch TV:  too close, too involved, too slow.

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  Something’s happening here…

But what it is ain’t exactly clear

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man, 1964, p. 308

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
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Movies will conquer the world for Uncle Sam.

Me (November, 2010, age 58). Hollywood and globalization.

It seems obvious that Hollywood is a great training ground for globalization.  To see what the western world is all about all you have to do is buy a ticket to a Hollywood film.  If so then the battle for and against globalization will be won on the media battlefield.  For globalization to triumph Hollywood movies must beat TV and the internet.  But then maybe he’s wrong or perhaps the movie has moved on.

 

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

“the film medium … [is a] monster ad for consumer goods.”

 

“The movie, as much as the alphabet and the printed word, is an aggressive and imperial form that explodes outward into other cultures.”

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 294-295.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, November 6th, 2010
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Perspective is learned.

Me (November, 2010, age 58). But what does it teach?

Marshall McLuhan said that a perspective is a dangerous thing.  Dangerous to our understanding of the world because it closes off other possibilities.  Here the artist David Hockney explores a different way of seeing:

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Print taught us perspective

“The old belief that everybody really saw in perspective, but only that Renaissance painters had learned how to paint it, is erroneous.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 288.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
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What the ads learned from the movies.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Of course, it’s obvious  …

“When the movies came, the entire pattern of American life went on the screen as a nonstop ad.  Whatever any actor or actress wore or used or ate was such an ad as had never been dreamed of.  … The result was that all ads in magazines and the press had to look like scenes from a movie.  They still do.  But the focus has had to become softer since TV.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58). Yes or no?

Today the focus has softened so much that the ad has been re-woven into the movie.  It’s called “product placement.”  Instead of Clark Gable taking off his shirt to reveal an undershirt and everyone runs out to buy one, and the movie makers are surprised, Brad Pitt opens the fridge and guess what’s sitting there – a coke.  And what do you order later on at the refreshment stand because you’re feeling thirsty?  A coke.

And nobody’s surprised, least of all the movie makers who charged Coca Cola a sizable fee for coke’s appearance in the scene.  Despite its historical roots in the movies not everyone is a fan of product placement.  The director John Lynch for example:

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 231.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
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Are you being brainwashed by ads?

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  That’s science for you.

“Ads seem to work on the very advanced principle that a small pellet or pattern in a noisy, redundant barrage of repetition will gradually assert itself.  Ads push the principle of noise all the way to the plateau of persuasion.  They are quite in accord with the procedures of brainwashing.”

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?

Here for your consideration is a classic Dr. Pepper ad from the 1960s.  A constant barrage of noise if I’ve ever heard one.  The formula for success being – repeat 20 times an evening before bedtime.  Do so until you can order a Dr. Pepper without thinking about it.  Charge!

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 227.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 8th, 2010
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Is the ad so good you don’t need to buy the product?

Marshall McLuhan (1965?, age 54).  Congratulations!

Before I begin I want to say something.  As advertisers, as artists, I want to congratulate you.  Today, thanks to your achievements – because of the totally involving, participative nature of ads – people can enjoy the product without having to buy it.

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  Yes or no?.

I can’t remember where I read about McLuhan saying this, but I think it was in one of the biographies, a reference to a speech he made in New York to a Madison Avenue crowd in the mid 1960s.  But that’s not important.  The important question is whether it’s true.  Can ads allow you enjoy the product without having to buy it?  Here is a Pepsi ad from the 1960s which suggests McLuhan was closer to the truth than you first might have thought.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 226.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 7th, 2010
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The secret is to avoid eye contact

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Isn’t it obvious?

“The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Really?

What did McLuhan mean by this?  Read Douglas Coupland’s recent biography of McLuhan and you will find this quotation separated from its context and put up as meaning that a man’s name has a subliminal effect.  If your last name is Rich, for example, people won’t think you’re poor.  A somewhat kooky idea that McLuhan adopted in his analysis of the difficulties of Richard Nixon. (See this blog – The Power of Names – 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).  He starts with the observation that “in a highly visual and highly literate culture” – read Canada, Britain or America – most people can’t quite catch the name of a person they’re being introduced to for the first time.  Why?  Because McLuhan says you’re so caught up in looking at the person that you don’t hear the name.  It’s as if the sound is blocked out or dimmed.  To get the name you then ask “How do you spell your name?”  (How much more visual can you get?)  This wouldn’t happen, he says, in a highly auditory ear culture.  In such a culture – to reach the quotation at last – “the sound of a man’s name … is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

If you lived in an ear culture rather than an eye culture, McLuhan says, you’d hear the name.  But we don’t do we?  Even today after half a century of television and now the internet we still seem to be a highly visual culture.  We still have trouble hearing names for the first time.  What do we do to help people hear names at large business meetings and social events?  We ask them to wear name tags. (How much more visual can you get?)

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 49.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, August 28th, 2010
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The stamp of approval.

Marshall McLuhan (2000, age 89).  Better late than never.

“Mail’s here, Marshall.”

“We get mail here in heaven?”

“We certainly do.  And you’ll want to take a good look at this envelope, in particular the stamp.”

“Why it’s me, Corinne.  Mother would have been over the moon.”

“She is Marshall, look who it’s from …”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  The irony is…

The 46 cent commemorative postage stamp issued by Canada Post in 2000 – “Marshall McLuhan:  The man with a Message” is positioned side by side in a block of four stamps with one commemorating Northrop Frye, McLuhan’s “great rival in the English department at the University of Toronto” with whom he carried on a long running and increasingly bitter feud.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan:  The medium and the messenger, 1989, pp. 114-115.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, August 19th, 2010
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What’s art?

Marshall McLuhan (1970s?).  Of course …

I was chatting with the artist Eric Wesselow.  I asked him, “What is art?  He started in on the fact that etymologically, art simply means something that is made.

“Actually,” I told him, “art is what you can get away with.”

He looked somewhat taken aback.  So I asked him, “What is a portrait?  “A portrait,” I said, “is the picture of a person where there is always something wrong with the mouth.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  And yet …

I have always found these oddball definitions funny.  And perhaps that’s all they are.  However they also have a ring of truth.  The second calls to mind the most iconoclastic portrait in western culture – the Mona Lisa – the first has crossed the mind of anyone who has ever walked through a gallery of modern art.   At any rate the next time I go to an art gallery, I’m going to find it hard not to think of McLuhan’s definitions.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Barrington Nevitt with Maurice McLuhan, Who Was Marshall McLuhan, 1994, p. 222.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
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