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.

The sartorial splendor of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1965, age 53).  Tom Wolfe got it wrong

Corinne read a bit to me out of that article Tom Wolfe wrote about me for the Sunday Magazine section of the New York World Journal Tribune, What if He’s Right? He said I like to wear 89-cent, Pree-Tide clip-on ties, the kind you can get in drug stores.  Said something about the clip on mechanism being some sort of plastic cheater.   Corinne says we should send him one of my ties so he could see how they really work.  I told her we have better things to do than ship my ties, made to stay on by a comfortably fitting elastic band that goes around the neck, to the ever observant Mr. Wolfe for inspection.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  Tom Wolfe got it more right than wrong

“Clothes may not make the man,” said Kingsley Amis in a book about the James Bond novels, “but they can tell you quite a lot about him.”  Whatever the clothes of James Bond tell you about the character of 007, the clothes of Marshall McLuhan, the extensions of his skin as he declared them to be, tell quite a lot about the character of high priest of pop cult, as Playboy was to call him.  So much so that Tom Wolfe obtains a complete character analysis out just one piece of McLuhan’s clothing, his tie.

The tie in question is the opening subject of Wolfe’s essay:  “The first thing I noticed about him was that he wore some kind of trick snap-on neck tie with hidden plastic cheaters on it. … I couldn’t keep my eyes off it.”  And the tie is a subject Wolfe returns to repeatedly in the essay.  While Wolfe did get – as Corinne pointed out – a key detail wrong, he was right, I think, about the importance of the tie for what it can tell us about McLuhan.  It is, however, a symbol that cuts at least two ways.  It is a fake tie.  And the first image that pops up about McLuhan is that he like his tie is an imposter, a dealer in fake learning.  The fake tie however has another message.  The tie declares McLuhan to be middle class with no pretensions to style.  Here is a way for a logical man in the tie-wearing 1950s and 1960s to bow to convention and obtain the virtues of comfort, low cost, and ease of wear.

Which is the real McLuhan?  Which one does Tom Wolfe believe is the real McLuhan?  What message(s) do the clothes you wear send?  What message(s) would you want them to send?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Tom Wolfe, The Pump House Gang. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968, pp 129-168.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, November 7th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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