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.

What’s Marshall McLuhan’s stuff worth?

McLuhan (November 14, 1968, age 56). “The victor belongs to the spoils”

You will find the aphorism “The victor belongs to the spoils” on the 8 of clubs in my DEW-LINE card deck.  The deck is a technology I invented some years ago to quickly produce creative solutions to puzzles by playing the management game.  There are in fact four games you can play:  let’s play the first one.  “Take any card.  Relate the aphorism to your current hang up.”  My card is the 8 of clubs and my current hang up is money.  You see a year ago I had what the English would say was “a bit of bad news.”  I had an operation to remove a brain tumor.  Hurt like hell and cost a fortune.  The operation was in New York City.  I survived.  But haven’t felt much like myself ever since.  What with their poking around my brain for 22 hours and those damn drugs they say I have to keep taking. Can’t seem to match names up with faces and a lot of stuff I know I should know – dates, books, characters, plots – for the life of me I can’t remember.  On top of all that everyone says I need to make as much money as I can while I am a top celebrity.  Question is, how does the 8 of clubs aphorism relate to my hang-up?

Me (December 2009, age 57). Okay, Let’s play

“To the victor goes the spoils” is the way the original proverb reads.  Marshall McLuhan plays around with this to get “the victor belongs to the spoils.” The question is what controls what?  Do victors possess the spoils, the money, or do the spoils, the money, actually control or possess them.  If the latter, which is the message on the 8 of clubs, Marshall McLuhan would be well advised to spend less time worrying about money, or rather let other people continue to use his name (the McLuhan brand as people now say) to make money, and spend time on the preservation and growth of his intellectual reputation.

How much money was involved?  Who was cashing in?  Consider the year 1967 before it all went bad with the brain surgery.  Marshall McLuhan had won a $100,000 Schweitzer chair at Fordham University.  At that time a Professor of English literature, which is what McLuhan was, earned a salary of $14,000 a year.  $100,000 was big money.  Today adjusting for inflation $100,000 would be worth something like $500,000.  Of course this sum did not go all to McLuhan, others got a part of it.  For example, McLuhan hired his colleagues and friends at Toronto Ted Carpenter, Harley Parker, and his son Eric McLuhan to be his research team to help him teach a course called “Understanding media,” and do some projects.   And that was part of the problem.  Marshall McLuhan was now a business, an industry.  What was good for the business was not always good for Marshall McLuhan.

Challenge: Try Marshall McLuhan’s Management game and tell me how it goes.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: the medium and the messenger, 1989, p. 227.

Tom Wolfe, “What If He’s Right,” reprinted in The Pump House Gang. 1968, pp. 163-166

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Michael Hinton Friday, December 4th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Communication, Management, Vol. 1 1 Comment

1 Comment to What’s Marshall McLuhan’s stuff worth?

  • McLuhan Prophecy says:

    George Thompson did the graphics/layout and created the king of spades. As they were struggling to get it done
    MM..Geo think of something!
    GT..UMM.OK I have a small brain and I intend to use it.
    MM.. That’s it!
    GT.. (smiles)
    And that’s how that one was made..
    As far as the Fordham 100K. It is reputed that it actually caused the school great finacial hardship
    and that they suffered into the 70’s because of it.
    Also Carpenter was in the picure and as MM recovered Carpenter helped out with some book projects that were due. And Carpenter himself wrote _They Became What They Beheld_ based on those “notes”.
    The cards themselves are said to contain mysteries. Are the 4 Aces LOM?

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