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 perspective

Amazing isn’t it?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Skilled sniffers!    

“Many native societies rely on the services of skilled sniffers to arrange marriages between the boys and the debs.”

 

Me (March, 2011, age 58).  What are we to make of this tidbit of anthropological lore?

Marshall says we can understand our culture better by looking at it in contrast to other cultures.  Notice I said “look”.  Marshall would have thought this “revealing” of my visual bias.  Visual cultures, he says, try to reduce the influence of smell, for example, by using deodorants.  And this bias affects our behavior.  Consider this clip in which you can see what happens to the way people behave when the influence of sound and smell are increased.  And see too how you are affected.    

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzSXt5O-QWI

 

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading: 

Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 188.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, March 17th, 2011
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Movies and anthropology

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Did you know?

Natives do not experience visual space; i.e., space that is uniform, continuous and connected.  When given movie cameras to record their rituals and crafts, the results are quite upsetting to visually oriented anthropologists.”

Me (February, 2011, age 58).  Or perhaps they need training?

Here’s an examination of how things can work out with cameras and kids.  Kids McLuhan believed behaved with cameras in the same way as “natives” did – that is non-visually.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 150.

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 25th, 2011
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What is learning today?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Pattern recognition!

“Today, again, after a period of classified consumption, learning in a comprehensive world is becoming play, pattern recognition, discovery.”

Me (December, 2010, age 58.)  For example …

Something beautiful for this wintery eve [see especially comments at minute 2]:

Cordially,  Marshall and Me

Reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Culture is Our Business, 1970, p. 118.

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Michael Hinton Friday, December 24th, 2010
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A picture is worth a thousand words.

Me (November, 2010, age 58). What can you learn from a cliché?

The cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, is the idea that Marshall McLuhan starts out with but he takes it to a new place.  His take is that because a picture is worth a thousand words films (films are also known as pictures) must provide their audiences with at least a thousand words of detailed information in every scene.  Clothing and props in historical dramas, for example, must be exactly right in every detail.  On the stage or on TV – in sharp contrast – one can get away with far less detail.  From TV, a case in point [and a little humour]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k0DinFR5rw

Of course McLuhan would be a lot easier to read if he stuck to plain and simple expressions of his ideas but then if he did he probably wouldn’t have come up with the ideas that he did.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Here is the way to say a picture is worth a thousand words …

“In terms of other media such as the printed page, film has the power to store and convey a great deal of information.  In an instant it presents a landscape with figures that require several pages of prose to describe.”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

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

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 3rd, 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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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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What would Marshall say? (continued)

Me (August, 2010, age 58). McLuhan in conversation (continued)

Yesterday we left Marshall in conversation with journalist Herb Caen at a topless restaurant in San Francisco in August 1965.  Readers will recall that McLuhan had called attention to the visual bias of Caen’s language.  Let’s take one more look – sorry, I apologize for my visual orientation – at that exchange.  Here, to refresh your memory is their conversation from yesterday:

[Caen]  Being President of the Leg Men of America, I never felt a primal urge to lunch among the topless ladies, but in such distinguished company who could resist?  ‘Strip steak sandwich,’ I said to waitress Marilyn, who was wearing blue sequin pasties and not much else.  As she walked away, I commented ‘A good-looking girl.

[McLuhan]  Interesting choice of words.  Good-LOOKING girl.  The remark of a man who is visually oriented, not tactually.  And I further noticed that you could not bring yourself to look at her breasts as she took your order.  You examined her only after she walked away – another example of the visual: the further she walked away, the more attractive she became.

Question:  What do you think Caen said next:

(a)    “If you say so Marshall.”

(b)   “Fascinating, I never noticed – look I’ve done it again – my visual orientation.”

(c)    “What?”

(d)   “Actually, I’m rather inhibited.”

Marshall McLuhan (August 1965, age 54)  The answer is …

Of course (d) – which, if memory serves me, I followed up with:

Another interesting word.  Inhibited is the opposite of exhibited, and what is exhibited causes you to be inhibited.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Herb Caen, “Rainy Day Session,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 1965, p. 25.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, August 21st, 2010
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What would Marshall say?

Me (August, 2010, age 58). McLuhan in conversation.

Forty-five years ago, in August 1965, McLuhan was in San Francisco to take part in the Marshall McLuhan Festival organized by the PR team of Howard Gossage and Gerald Feigen, who had organized the event to build McLuhan as a public figure.   One day they took McLuhan for lunch at a topless restaurant  along with journalists Tom Wolfe and Herb Caen.  In the article Caen wrote about the outing he reports this exchange between himself and McLuhan:

Being President of the Leg Men of America, I never felt a primal urge to lunch among the topless ladies, but in such distinguished company who could resist?  ‘Strip steak sandwich,’ I said to waitress Marilyn, who was wearing blue sequin pasties and not much else.  As she walked away, I commented ‘A good-looking girl.’

Question:  What do you think McLuhan said next?

(a)    “She certainly is.”

(b)   “I hear you Herb.”

(c)    “Excuse me, Marilyn, I’ll have the strip steak too.”

(d)   “Interesting choice of words.  Good-LOOKING girl.  The remark of a man who is visually oriented, not tactually.”

Marshall McLuhan (August 1965, age 54).  The answer is …

Of course (d) – I have little in the way of small talk.   And, if memory serves me, after I said that I said this:

And I further noticed that you could not bring yourself to look at her breasts as she took your order.  You examined her only after she walked away – another example of the visual: the further she walked away, the more attractive she became.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading

Herb Caen, “Rainy Day Session,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 1965, p. 25.

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Michael Hinton Friday, August 20th, 2010
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Memories.

Marshall McLuhan (June 16, 1975, age 63).  My first memory.

I am in Edmonton.  I can’t be much more than two years old.  I’m looking out the window of a street car and  I see horses on the river bank.  I remember thinking they look so small they could fit in my nursery.  Such is the magic of visual perspective.  To me the horses in the distance not only looked small, they were small.  I was a very perceptive lad.

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Too good to be true?

Philip Marchand writes in his biography of McLuhan that “in view of McLuhan’s later obsession with visual perspective as an invention of the print era and his almost visceral rejection of that perspective – in later years, the painter Harley Parker recalls, McLuhan seemed actually to believe that ‘things became smaller as they receded into the distance’ – the memory is almost too pat.”

Who can say?  My first memory is from the time I was two or three.   I’m in a long hallway.  I look around and realize that I’m lost.  Given that this blog in a way is an exercise in both discovery and self-discovery, a way of finding my way home, intellectually, perhaps this first memory of mine is also “almost too pat.”

What is your first memory?  Does it reveal something significant about you?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 8-9.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
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What you see on the phone.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  Just something I’ve observed

Here’s something I’ve noticed for years.  Receptionists in the business world have all had the experience of finally meeting people in person they’ve only known by their discarnate voice over the telephone.  They tell me that they are surprised to discover that these people do not look the way they thought they would look.  For the most part, they cannot tell me why they are surprised, only that they are surprised.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   What does experience tell us?

This observation forms the basis for one of Marshall McLuhan’s “warm up” exercises to “sharpen your powers of observation,” which you can find in his book City as Classroom.

This is one of those observations that strikes me as true to experience, and at the same time peculiar and strangely unsettling to those who have experienced it.  The key questions about it I think are “Why?” and “So what?”  And whether it is an experience peculiar to the telephone.

Have you ever had such an experience?  Have you ever had a similar experience using the new social media?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:  Understanding Language and Media,  1977,   pp. 7.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
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