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.

Will we ever crack the code?

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  The ultimate challenge!

“Cracking the code of our own popular culture is much harder than the problem of the Rosetta Stone image.”

Me (May, 2011, age 58).  And what a challenge it is!

The finding of the Rosetta Stone at the town of Rosetta in Egypt in 1799 provided the crucial information required for linguists to eventually decipher the writing of ancient Egypt because the stone contained parallel passages written in Egyptian hieroglyphic characters, Egyptian demotic writing, and miracle of miracles Greek.  Popular culture is so hard to understand because it is more than language.  It is everything that makes us who we are as feeling, thinking, acting, and speaking social beings.  Unfortunately, there are no cultural Rosetta Stones – no worked examples of the multi-dimensional translation of one popular culture into another – to guide us.  As a result we never know which leads are worth following up and which are not.  And to make matters worse, because we are inside of it most of the time we don’t even realize there is something called our popular culture which we don’t understand. (Or as McLuhan liked to put the idea, whoever it was that discovered water it certainly wasn’t a fish.)  One of the ways Mcluhan thought you could see a popular culture was through ads.  McLuhan found ads to be endlessly fascinating.  Each is outside of ourselves and represents a window into our popular culture.   What do they mean?  Who can say for sure, but they do fascinate …

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 148.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture No Comments

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