Marshall McLuhan, W.H. Auden & Buckminster Fuller Debate the Virtues of Modern Technology & Media (1971)
Commentary by Colin Marshall
45 years ago, four eminences took the stage at the University of Toronto: Irish actor Jack MacGowran, best known for his interpretations of Samuel Beckett; English poet and dramatist W.H. Auden; American architect and theorist of humanity’s way of life Buckminster Fuller; and Canadian literary scholar turned media technology oracle Marshall McLuhan. Now only did all four men come from different countries, they came from very different points on the intellectual and cultural map. The CBC recorded them for broadcast on its long-running series Ideas, prefacing it with an announcement that “the ostensible subject of their discussion is theatre and the visual arts.”
Key word: ostensible. “That topic is soon forgotten as two modes of perception clash,” says the announcer, “that of Professor McLuhan, who is one of the most famous interpreters of contemporary 20th-century cultural trends, and that of W.H. Auden, who cheerfully admits to being ‘a 19th-century man’ and sees no reason to change.” And so, though Fuller and MacGowan do occasionally provide their perspective, the panel turns into a rollicking debate between McLuhan and Auden, more or less from the point where the former — making one of his characteristically compelling proclamations — declares that modern media brings us to a world in which “there is no audience. There are only actors.” But the latter objects: “I profoundly disapprove of audience participation.”
By the early 1970s, television had long since found its way into homes all across America, Canada, and Britain, but the thinkers of the time had only just begun to grapple with its consequences. “We’ve just seen Apollo 14, which has some visual effects going with it. It’s a new type of theater, obviously,” says McLuhan, drawing one of many audience laughs. On the subject of television’s conflation of fact and fiction, Auden doesn’t mince words: “I think TV is a very, very wicked medium. That’s all I can say.” McLuhan emphasizes that, as a professional observer of these phenomena, “I have steadfastly reserved moral judgment on all media matters.” Auden: “I don’t.”
Yet the author of The Age of Anxiety and the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy turn out to have more in common than their conflict might suggest. Both in their 60s by the time of this discussion (“Thank God I can remember the world before World War I,” says the poet) and both 1930s converts to Catholicism, they also both harbored deep suspicions of technologies like television. Auden, who insists he would never dream of owing a TV set himself, seems to look down on it as merely lowbrow, but McLuhan has darker suspicions: “You are missing the name of the game, sir. You are actually imagining that those little images you see on TV are TV. They are not. What is TV is that fire stream pouring out of that tube into your gut.”
Even while predicting still-unheard-of advances in televisual technology (at one point attempting to engage MacGowran on “the immediate prospect of four- and five-dimensional TV”), McLuhan also foresees it as the potential spark for such cataclysms as a global race war, going so far as to suggest that “if you want to save a fantastic bloodbath on this planet, which will be very traumatic, very cathartic, and very tragic — in the Greek sense — we turn off TV totally. For good.” Auden, of course, actually approves of that particular idea of McLuhan’s, though he evinces little optimism about its feasibility. “Why won’t it happen?” asks McLuhan. “Because people like the damn things,” he replies. Source: https://goo.gl/Js2bDg
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
Richard Cavell is the author of McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography (2002), which articulated the spatial turn in media studies and McLuhan’s foundational role within it. Professor Cavell has also published the critical performance piece Marinetti Dines with the High Command (2014) and Remediating McLuhan (2016). He is the editor of Love, Hate and Fear in Canada’s Cold War(2004), co-editor (with Peter Dickinson) of Sexing the Maple: A Canadian Sourcebook (2006), co-editor (with Imre Szeman) of the special double issue of the Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies (2007) on “Cultural Studies in Canada,” editor of On the Nature of Media (2016), and curator of the website http://spectresofmcluhan.arts.ubc.ca , and has published more than 70 chapters, articles and reviews. His work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Romanian and Japanese. Professor Cavell has been a faculty member of the universities of Padua and Bologna, and has given invited lectures internationally. Professor Cavell’s research has been funded by the Canada Council, the Canada Research Fellowships, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Killam Trusts, and the UBC Hampton Fund. Professor Cavell is joint Founding Editor of the award-winning Cultural Spaces series at the University of Toronto Press (1999-2009); co-founder and Chair pro tem of the Bachelor in Media Studies Program at UBC; founder of the UBC International Canadian Studies Center; a Founding Board Member of the UBC School of Journalism; one of the founders of the Canadian Association for Cultural Studies; a member of the committee that founded the Critical Studies in Sexuality Program at the University of British Columbia; Past President of the Canadian Comparative Literature Association; and a member of the Editorial Board of the Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de la Littérature Comparée. Prof. Cavell was Academic Convenor of the 2008 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada, the major academic event of UBC’s centennial year, and the largest conference in the history of UBC and the Federation, with over 9,000 delegates in attendance. (Source: http://blogs.ubc.ca/cavell/biography/ )
Explorations: Studies in Culture & Communication, Volumes 1 to 8
Explorations: Studies in Culture & Communication, Volumes 1 through 8 will be available again after 60 years of being out-of-print! When? The re-publication will be formally announced at the Toronto School of Communication Conference, October 13 – 16 at the University of Toronto (see the conference posting, the third post below). If copies are available for display, they will be displayed at the conference. If not yet ready, the new editions will be available in a matter of weeks. The publication will be announced on this blog and on social media as soon as the volumes appear.
“Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication, principally edited by Edmund (“Ted”) Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan, was the first postwar journal to engage directly with the new “grammars” of the mid-century new media of communication. Launched in Toronto in 1953, at the very moment that television made its national début in Canada, Explorations presented a mosaic of approaches to contemporary media culture and became the texts in which McLuhan and Carpenter first formulated their most striking insights about new media in the electric age. The extraordinary breadth of contributions to Explorations from leading thinkers across the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences makes this journal a founding publication in the now burgeoning field of media studies. Originally funded by a Ford Foundation grant, the eight co-edited issues of Explorations were issued from 1953 to 1957.
Scholars whose essays were published include Dorothy Lee, D.C. Williams, Jorge Luis Borges, e.e. Cummings, Joan Rayfield, Marjorie Adix, Millar McLure, Marshall McLuhan, Lawrence K. Frank, Stephen Gilman, Northrop Frye, Walter J. Ong, Edmund Carpenter, Francis Golffing, J. Tyrwhitt, J. Paul & J. Ogilvie, Robert G. Armstrong and others.
For more information about the original Explorations journal, see the following articles previously on this blog:-
- Explorations: Studies in Culture & Communication (1953-57): https://goo.gl/YCAs5b
- Historicist: Explorations at the Vanguard of Communication Studies: https://goo.gl/juIYJ4
ABS-CBN journalist Gigi Grande is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Marshall McLuhan fellowship sponsored by the Embassy of Canada.
By Demerie Dangla, ABS-CBN News
The award, named after the Canadian media and communications scholar, was given to Grande at the Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar conducted by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in Makati.
Students and professionals also attended the seminar which tackled the 2016 elections media coverage, the Duterte administration, and human rights.
Five panelists – Rappler’s Michael Bueza, TV5’s Ed Lingao, Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Ryan Rosauro, Philippine Graphic’s Joel Pablo Salud, and ABS-CBN’s Gigi Grande – were selected to be part of the seminar, mainly for the body of work they produced during the 2016 elections, but not excluding their other journalistic output.
Grande produced special and in-depth reports covering the pre-2016 poll campaign and the election period for both online and television, including those that looked into the party-list system, campaign rules, social issues, and candidates’ character.
During the seminar, when asked the about the role of media in the campaign, Grande emphasized media’s task to “keep track of all the promises of candidates and fact-check it.”
By being a McLuhan fellow, Grande will embark on a two-week familiarization and lecture tour of Canadian media and academic organizations, and later, a lecture tour in Philippine universities.
ABS-CBN’s veteran broadcast journalist Lynda Jumilla was awarded the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship in 2012.
Reading by B.W. Powe from his collection “Decoding Dust” published by NeoPoiesis PressTechnogenie by B.W. Powe
Hear more poems read by B.W. Powe here: https://vimeo.com/neopoiesispress/videos
Some Advance Reviews:-
“What’s B.W. Powe: A Poet, an aphorist,a lyric philosopher-historian, a master of the post-modern-essay cybot…? Well, anyway, one of our best writers.” – A.F. Moritz, poet
“The man is oceanic—in intellectual breadth and interest, spiritual vision and pure, unshielded feeling… a third-eye on fire.” – Elana Wolff, Celebration of Canadian Poetry, Brick Books
“His words seem to emanate fully formed from the cosmos. Ecstatic moments, hair-raising lines.” – The Globe and Mail
Available from Amazon.ca, Indigo Books Online, Select independent bookstores or the publisher NeoPoiesis Press http://www.neopoiesispress.com/
B.W. Powe’s Website: https://bwpowe.net/
THE TORONTO SCHOOL: THEN, NOW, NEXT International Conference, Toronto, October 13-16, 2016 JUST 3 WEEKS UNTIL IT BEGINS!…… “At the heart of that experiment [Canada] lies a continuous revolutionary approach toward communication. It is somehow spatial, not linear; it has been postmodern from the beginning. It was, and still is, there in First Nations philosophy. It took on a more or less Westernized form with Harold Innis, and from Innis sprouted Marshall McLuhan, who would find the words and language and gestures for people around the world to imagine themselves communicating in a different way. And remarkably, all of this was done long before most of the technology to make it possible existed. Out of what I would call the Toronto School – including, beyond Innis and McLuhan, people such as Glenn Gould and Northrop Frye – came a universal revolution in how we could think together”. – JOHN RALSTON SAUL, Introduction to Marshall McLuhan by Douglas Coupland (2009). Toronto: Penguin Canada. CONFERENCE KEYNOTE SPEAKER
An Intellectual Revolution
THEN – Between the 1930s and 1970s, a community of intellectuals emerged in and around the University of Toronto, and achieved international recognition for its innovative and trans-disciplinary approaches to the evolving societal challenges.
NOW – The Toronto School: Then | Now | Next International Conference aims to bring together international scholars to engage in dialogue on the origins, rise, decline and the rebirth of the so-called Toronto School of Communication.
NEXT – Discussion will examine the extent to which the so-called Toronto School of Communication has provided a legacy that continues to offer insight on crucial and systemic issues facing contemporary society across various disciplines.
PARTIAL LIST OF CONFIRMED SPEAKERS:- William Buxton, Concordia University; Richard Cavel, University of British Columbia; Hart Cohen, Western Sydney University; Derrick De Kerckhove, University of Toronto; Sara Diamond, OCAD University; Paul Elie, Georgetown University; Bruce Elder, Ryerson University; Gary Genosko, University of Ontario; Brian Russell Graham, Aalborg University; Jerry Harp, Lewis & Clark College; Paul Heyer, Wilfrid Laurier University; Ursula Huws, University of Hertfordshire; Mark Kingwell, University of Toronto; Arthur Kroker, University of Victoria; Elena Lamberti, University of Bologna; Claude Le Fustec, Rennes 2 University; Paul Levinson, Fordham University; Mark Lipton, University of Guelph; Robert Logan, University of Toronto; Janine Marchessault, York University; Eric McLuhan, Independent Scholar; Joshua Meyrowitz, University of New Hampshire; B.W. Powe, York University; Erhard Schüttpelz, Siegen University; Rita Watson, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and more…
DOWNLOAD THE PROGRAM (PDF) FROM: https://goo.gl/Z5Uc5R
CONFERENCE REGISTRATION LINK: https://goo.gl/QKQdir
STUDENTS $75 – FULL REGISTRATION $240 – DAILY PASS $90
A WIDE RANGE OF ADDITIONAL CULTURAL EVENTS:-
1. A PHOTO-DOCUMENTARY EXHIBITION – John M. Kelly Library, October 13 – December 20, 2016
2. MCLUHAN ON CAMPUS: Local Inspirations, Global Visions – Opening October 13, 5:30 PM
Explore the development of Marshall McLuhan’s theories in the context of his academic and personal life at St. Michael’s College. McLuhan’s central role in the rise of the Toronto School of Communication is presented through artifacts, audio, texts, video and photographs selected from archival repositories across the University of Toronto and the Federated Colleges of St. Michael’s, Trinity and Victoria. The exhibition will feature items drawn from the Special Collections and holdings at St. Michael’s, including material from the Sheila and Wilfred Watson archives, Donald Theall papers and Marshall McLuhan collection. Rare and intimate examples on display include McLuhan’s correspondence and collaborations with friends and colleagues on campus such as Claude Bissell, Tom Easterbrook, Carl Williams, Harold Innis, Edmund Carpenter and Northrop Frye.
3. October 13 – 5:30 LECTIO MAGISTRALIS by PAUL ELIE – The Makings of a Spirituality of Technology: Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, & “Electronic Participation” – Paul Elie is a Senior Fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Director of the American Pilgrimage Project, Georgetown University.
4. OCTOBER 14, 7:30 PM – WELCOMING RECEPTION
Art Museum, University of Toronto Art Centre, 15 King’s College Circle, Toronto
The event is part of the exhibition “Form Follows Fiction: Art and Artists in Toronto”, curated by internationally renowned Toronto-based artist Luis Jacob. The exhibition concentrates on a period of more than fifty years to consider the ways in which artists visualize Toronto. It is a constellation of symbolic forms, or memes, persisting in the work of artists of different generations – a panorama of the blueprints that artists have drafted over many decades to give form to life in Canada’s largest city.
5. GLENN GOULD & THE TORONTO SCHOOL: WORDS, MUSIC, IMAGES
OCTOBER 15, 7:30 PM – Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Road, Toronto
Hosted by the Alliance Française, in collaboration with the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and the Glenn Gould Foundation, this event is conceived as a moving an engaging evening of pictures, performances, and conversations. It will reflect on Gould’s relationship to Marshall McLuhan and the so-called Toronto School of Communication. This multimedia occasion will feature prominent commentators, musical performances, and screenings that will enable to reconsider and assess the unique legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most renowned and internationally acclaimed Canadians.
6. MARGINS & MARGINALIA: THE FORMATION OF THE IDEAS OF FRYE, INNIS & MCLUHAN
OCTOBER 15, 7:30 PM – Fisher Rare Book Library, 120 St George St, Toronto
Hosted and organized in collaboration with the Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. The foundational ideas of three key figures of the Toronto School can be found on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto: the Harold Innis fonds, housed at the University Archives; Marshall McLuhan’s heavily annotated working library, held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library; and the Northrop Frye fonds at the E.J. Pratt Library of Victoria University. This special open house at the Fisher is a rare opportunity to view highlights – including original manuscripts, correspondence, and books – from all three collections.
7. EDMUND CARPENTER: DIALOGUES, DIVERSION & DIGRESSIONS
OCTOBER 15, 7:30 PM – McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, 39A Queen’s Park Crescent East, Toronto
Co-curated by Michael Darroch, Hart Cohen, Paul Heyer and Janine Marchessault, in collaboration with the estate of Edmund Carpenter. This public presentation will showcase a selection of interviews, collaborative film experiments, and archival materials representing Carpenter’s lifework in research scholarship and pedagogy before and after his collaborations with McLuhan.
Print is dead? Think again, says McLuhan. That’s Andrew McLuhan, grandson of 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan.
“Print’s not dead, it’s just that the role has changed,” says Andrew.
McLuhan is speaking over the phone this past weekend from Prince Edward County, where he lives with his wife and two kids and runs an antique upholstery business – and ponders his next project honouring his grandfather’s legacy.
“Print is counterculture instead of the mainstream culture,” says McLuhan. “Its role has changed but it’s still vital. It has a newly avant-garde status.”Andrew McLuhan. Photo provided.
That’s a media message that would likely tickle David J. Knight, Guelph-based archeologist, writer and editor.
Late this month, Knight will launch the inaugural issue of an art magazine called XAGGERA. His new project will be released Sept. 30 as part of a two-day event marking the 40th anniversary of Ed Video Media Arts Centre in Guelph.
On Oct. 1, Ed Video will play host to an afternoon symposium about the future of media. That event will include McLuhan, who plans to discuss his recent project of cataloguing his grandfather’s library.
“Fringe” is how Knight describes the mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art contained in XAGGERA’s inaugural 54-page issue.
“It’s for anybody who gets really bored with the standard uniformity of arts, writing, festivals, where everything is crystallized, uniform, identifiable,” he says. “I like these areas on the fringe. It’s vaporized, moving.”
The issue is being released by Fenylalanine Publishing, run by Knight.
Formed just over a year ago, Fenylalanine Publishing has released a series of 23 short online works mostly by Guelph-area writers and artists.
Topics have included These Are My Streets, a collection of Guelph neighbourhood reflections by Jeremy Luke Hill; a monograph on sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe by Knight; Ink and Pen, a collection of drawings and poems by U.K. artist Marsha Robbins; and A Life in Painting, a photo essay about the work of Guelph artist Sona Mincoff.
The new magazine brings together works by 22 contributors, including poet John Nyman, artists Clara Engel and Garth Laidlaw, and writer Bieke Stengos.Scott McGovern of Ed Video, trying out Google Cardboard. Photo provided.
One essay was written by Scott McGovern, program manager with Ed Video. The media arts centre relocated from downtown to the Ward neighbourhood in 2014.
The centre trains people to use video and multimedia. McGovern says video emerged in the 1970s as the “ultimate democratic art medium.”
Today, he says, video still holds that distinction. Just look at YouTube. “Anyone with a cellphone camera can have an idea today and 20 million fans tomorrow,” he says.
While planning this fall’s event, McGovern asked Andrew McLuhan to be the keynote speaker. Says McGovern, “He’s the embodiment of [Marshall] McLuhan’s ideas in today’s world.”
Now 38, Andrew spent much of 2009-10 cataloguing his grandfather’s personal library of 6,000 volumes. The collection resides at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, where Marshall was an English professor.
Google the word “McLuhan” and you find millions of hits for the late communications theorist, along with links to “global village” and “the medium is the message” — both coined by Marshall.Marshall McLuhan.
Marshall died when Andrew was a year old. When circumstance led Andrew to begin poring over Marshall’s library, he began to detect what he calls “the ripples of his grandfather’s presence” through the marginalia scrawled throughout his heavily annotated volumes.
“Here, in between the pages of his books, is the distilled essence of his thought in micro-annotations. It’s a really profound thing,” says Andrew.
“He was a practical guy, and his books were tools. A craftsman doesn’t generally keep around tools that aren’t useful. If he has a book, it’s because it’s important or meaningful to his work. It’s possible to think of some of those authors as his collaborators.”
Andrew detailed some of those “collaborations” in a blog kept during his inventory project. Marshall had so much to say to James Joyce about Finnegan’s Wake that he ended up scribbling marginalia over four copies of the novel.
In an edition of James McCrimmon’s From Source to Statement, Andrew found a handwritten comment by McLuhan about the genesis of “the medium is the message.”
McCrimmon’s volume contained a reprint of the first chapter of McLuhan’s n, his 1964 book about media theory. That chapter, titled The Medium Is the Message, lays out McLuhan’s idea about the importance of the communications medium as well as its content.
Written in that reprinted chapter were McLuhan’s words: “I first uttered this statement at a radio broadcasters’ conference in 1958. I was arguing then that television could not end radio.”
“That was a thrilling find, and an example of one of the various uses of McLuhan’s library,” says Andrew, who also discovered a previously unknown letter from Ezra Pound to his grandfather tucked in a volume of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. “A lot of these annotations were perfect Tweets.”
McLuhan has discussed his grandfather’s work in elementary and high school classrooms. His workshop there focuses on Marshall’s “figure and ground” discussion of the context of media technology.
Ask kids to talk about what’s needed for their smartphones to work, and you’ve got a natural entry into discussing ideas about the media landscape and the ubiquitousness of communications technologies, he says. “It’s amazing to see nine- and 10-year-olds picking up these topics with complete ease.”
During his Guelph talk, Andrew plans to involve his audience in a similar exercise. He will also discuss potential plans for further McLuhan studies, including an idea for a new media studies program.
Cataloguing Marshall’s library was a bittersweet exercise. “It made me wish I had known the guy. It’s like reading somebody’s diary or journal. They’re being frank or genuine.
“There’s a vulnerability and honesty there. It made me miss the guy. What would Marshall think about this or that?”
Andrew McLuhan will speak during the Ed Video tribute Saturday, Oct. 1, noon to 9 p.m, at 404 York Rd.
The release of EXAGGERA – and screenings from the Ed Video archives – will take place Sept. 30 beginning at 9 p.m. at the ANAF building on Gordon St.
For more information, visit http://www.edvideo.org/events/gallery-events/the-next-40-years
Story source: https://goo.gl/26HvF5
Invitation to attend Heritage Toronto Plaque Unveiling for the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology
Click image to enlarge for readability
We are pleased to inform you that over the summer we have worked with Heritage Toronto to develop a plaque (below) to be affixed to the front surface of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology.
The unveiling of this plaque will take place on October 12, 2016 at 12:00 noon at the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, 39A Queen’s Park Crescent E. Toronto. Light refreshments are provided.
We would like to invite you to attend this function overseen by Heritage Toronto with participation of senior University of Toronto officials, and a number of other figures including Michael McLuhan the Executive Director of the McLuhan Estate.
Join us to celebrate a landmark moment.
This unveiling is in prelude to a global conference Toronto School, Then Now, Next where some of you are participating and all are welcome. This conference as you know is exploring the value of leading Canadian thinkers, Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Northrop Frey, Eric Havelock, Glen Gould and others, contemporaries that inspired the world and came collectively to be called the Toronto School of Communication. This conference honours these thinkers, but more importantly looks to the here and now and the future.
Much is happening at the McLuhan Centre these days. We are pleased you are a part of it.
David Nostbakken PhD
McLuhan Centenary Fellow
Visiting Fellow, University of St. Michael’s College
McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology
iSchool, University of Toronto
613 296 6692 (C)
416 978 7026 (O)
416 978 7343 (O)
McLuhan and Glenn Gould were friends
(Image: Courtesy of the Estate of Marshall McLuhan)
by Amy Kitchen – August 6, 2016
Between the 1930s and 1970s, a remarkable intellectual climate coalesced within and around the University of Toronto when intellectual giants Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, and Glenn Gould, among others, captured the global imagination. This scholarly community came to be known as “The Toronto School of Communication”, achieving international recognition for their innovative and trans-disciplinary approaches to emerging social and cultural challenges.
On October 13-16, 2016 the McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, in conjunction with numerous academic and cultural institutions will present an International Conference and a series of cultural initiatives titled “The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next”. The event aims to foster scholarly interest, research and public discourse to stimulate insight into some of the world’s most important questions and challenges that face humanity in the 21st century.
Paolo Granata, Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto and Conference Chair, said: “The conference will take an historical look at a remarkable intellectual season sparked within the City of Toronto, when Innis, Frye, McLuhan, and Glenn Gould among others, took the world by storm. Building on this look at what was, the conference will look at our current quickly changing context and cast our prospects for the future”.
On October 15, 2016, as part of the initiative, The Glenn Gould Foundation, in collaboration with the Alliance Française and the Faculty of Music at the UofT, will present “Glenn Gould and the Toronto School: Words, Music, Images”. Conceived as a moving and engaging evening of pictures, performances, and conversations, this multimedia event will feature prominent commentators, musical performances, and screenings that will illuminate, celebrate and reassess the unique legacy of Glenn Gould and the giants of the Toronto School. Source: http://goo.gl/b3BbTV )
Toronto School Conference Link: www.thetorontoschool.ca
Photo: Estate of Jock Carroll
Addendum to: René Cera’s Mural Painting “Pied Piper’s All” (1969) is Returning to St. Michael’s College
Addendum: September 11, 2016
In a Google Group message from Rome on this date Eric McLuhan writes:
Just a note of correction or two: The piece by Cera was always three sections. They were put together and painted that way – so to say it was “cut into three pieces” is not accurate. When the Centre was shut down, the painting was taken to St. Michael’s and ‘stored’ in a hallway above the library there, just leaning against the wall. It was not taken away and stored in a barn in the country, but remained at the University of Toronto.
Best wishes from Rome,
– Andrew and Eric McLuhan
My Reply: My source for that apparent misinformation is a short article published online by U of T, with the author, unfortunately, unnamed. Here it is in its entirety:
Still Life with Fruit it’s Not
Created in 1969 for media guru Marshall McLuhan by his friend René Cera, Pied Pipers All is a wall-sized, psychedelic interpretation of an era in the midst of extreme technological and cultural change.
Unlike many people on campus at the time, Cera actually understood McLuhan’s ideas, interpreting the siren call of television as a frenzied dance of seduction and confusion.
But in 1979, McLuhan suffered a stroke, and the pipers fell silent. With the great communicator unable to speak, the administration decided to close his beloved classroom. The painting was sliced into three pieces and stored in a country barn while McLuhanites such as Pierre Trudeau and Woody Allen rallied for the centre to come back to life – which it did in 1983 as the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. http://www.greatpast.utoronto.ca/GalleryOfImages/VirtualMuseumArtifacts/PiedPipers.asp
Thank you, Andrew and Eric for correcting that published misinformation. It seems to me that it doesn’t much matter whether the mural was cut into 3 pieces after the closing of the Centre in 1979, presumably for storage purposes, or whether it originated in 3 pieces and was painted and mounted that way. Thank you for setting the record straight. But do you know for certain that the painting was “‘stored’ in a hallway above the [Fisher] library there, just leaning against the wall,” from 1979 until this year? That’s 36 or 37 years! Perhaps U of T moved it to a storage barn at some later date without your knowing. Again, it doesn’t much matter now that the painting is refurbished and soon will be back.
Either way, the disposition of this historically important painting shows scant respect for the artist, the U of T Centre for Culture and Technology for which it was created and its late Director, or the taxpayers’ money that was used to pay for it. That is a shame and I hope the University of Toronto’s recent largesse in supporting the McLuhan legacy at the University of Toronto in the form of the McLuhan Centre and its ambitious programming represents a measure of compensation for past neglect. Let’s hope that the institutional support continues.
Thank you again. And safe travels home………Alex Kuskis
“Pied Pipers All” by René Cera (1895 – 1992)
René Cera’s Dance of Media Seduction
René Alexandre Paul Cera was born in Nice, France, on April 15, 1895. An artist from the start, his biography describes him delivering messages to Renoir, sketching with Matisse while studying art and architecture at the Nice School of Art. Tasked to carry messages from the school’s director to Pierre August Renoir, Cera later stated that “Renoir was a genius but by the time I met him, he was almost crippled by rheumatism and was painting with the brush strapped to his fingers.”
He came to Canada in 1928 to take charge of architectural design for Canada’s largest department store chain, T. Eaton Company, for one year. But he remained in Canada for 32 years, during which time in 1969 he created “Pied Pipers All” as a mural for Marshall McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology. It was his take on “the medium is the message” and the siren call of electronic media, especially television, as a one-eyed dance of seduction and perturbation.
In 1979 after Marshall McLuhan suffered a stroke, which ended his teaching career, the University of Toronto closed his Centre for Culture and Technology, despite international and local protests and appeals. Cera’s mural was cut into 3 sections, thereby making it a triptych, which was stored in a barn in the country. Due to continuing appeals from McLuhan supporters that included Buckminster Fuller, Tom Wolfe, Woody Allen and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau the Centre was reopened in 1983 as the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology.
Today the painting has been refurbished and will be restored to public view at St. Michael’s College with the unveiling scheduled for Thursday, October 13 at 5:30 PM at the start of the International Toronto School of Communication conference (see below).
INVITATION TO THE “PIED PIPERS ALL” UNVEILING
TORONTO SCHOOL CONFERENCE REGISTRANTS, STUDENTS, FACULTY, THE GENERAL PUBLIC ARE INVITED TO ATTEND THE UNVEILING OF THE REFURBISHED PAINTING “PIED PIPERS ALL”.
PLACE: Brennan Hall, St. Michael’s College, 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto
DATE & TIME: Thursday, October 13 at 5:30 PM
To be followed at 6:00 PM by Lectio Magistralis
Paul Elie on “The Makings of a Spirituality of Technology:
Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, and ‘Electronic Participation'”
Reception to follow (John M. Kelly Library, 113 St. Joseph Street, Toronto)
Paul Elie is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University and the author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own (2003). He writes for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Commonweal, The Atlantic, newyorker.com, and onbeing.org. He lives in Brooklyn.
FREE EVENT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Registration required https://www.mcluhanoncampus.eventbrite.ca
From “An Artist of the Highest Order: René Cera of Lenox”
After Cera retired, he spent most of his time painting. Among several large murals dating from this period was “Pied Pipers All,” which he created for the late Marshall McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. This work echoes McLuhan’s sentiment: ”The media is the message.”
An article written in the August, 1971 issue of Mademoiselle mentioned the mural but attributes it to someone else. McLuhan corrected this misconception, writing, ”The 9′ by 12′ mural in the seminar room was not made by Buckminster Fuller, but René Cera, a French painter and architect. The theme of the painting is ”T.V. in Action” with the tube in the centre and the psychedelic images surrounding it. The title is “Pied Pipers All” since Cera saw that the tube was alienating the young from a generation of elders who had no thought of paying the piper for the latest technological caper”. McLuhan continued, ‘‘This is a splendid and impressive painting by a great craftsman whose prolific work has been bottled up in Canada.”
McLuhan and Cera were friends, together with McLuhan’s wife Corinne and Betty Trott, whom Cera married in 1966. (Mrs. Cera now uses the name “Liz.”) In a letter dated January 22, 1952, McLuhan wrote, “Cera just left. He brought over one of his best pictures to us. Had made the frame himself specially … He is a lot of fun. Very, very lively and facetiously egotistical in his talk. A walking mass of contradictions, paradoxes and conundrums which he likes to tumble out for everybody’s amusement.” (Access the full biographical pdf article at http://goo.gl/t6PjJk )
Media Ad-vice – Marshall McLuhan’s Introduction to Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America (1972)
Director, Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto
Customer in antique shop: “What’s new?”
Professor Key has helped to show how the deceits of subliminal advertising can be a means of revealing unexpected truth: the childlike faith of the ad agencies in four-letter words points to our obsession with infantile bathroom images as the chemical bond between commercial society and the universal archetypes.
The old journalism had aimed at objectivity by giving “both sides at once,” as it were, the pro and con, the light and shade in full perspective. The “new journalism,” on the other hand, eagerly seeks subjectivity and involvement in a resonant environment of events: Norman Mailer at the Chicago Convention, or Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood.
In the same way, the old history—as Michael Foucault explains in The Archeology of Knowledge (Pantheon Books, New York, 1972)–sought to show “how a single pattern is formed and preserved, how for so many different successive minds there is a single horizon.” But now the problem of the “new history” is “no longer one of tradition, of tracing a line, but one of division, of limits. It is no longer one of lasting foundations, but one of transformations that serve as new foundations….”
The study of advertising as contemporary cultural history, of history on the hop and in the hopper, of history as process rather than as a product, such is the investigation of Professor Key. Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance. But environments as such have a way of being inaccessible to inspection. Environments by reason of their total character are mostly subliminal to ordinary experience. Indeed, the amount of any situation, private or social, verbal or geographic, that can be raised and held to the conscious level of attention is almost insignificant. Yet ads demand a lot of attention in our environmental lives. Ads are focal points for the entire range of twentieth-century knowledge, skills, and technologies. Psychologists and anthropologists toil for the agencies. So, Professor Key has drawn our attention to the use made in many ads of the highly developed arts of camouflage.
T.S. Eliot long ago pointed out that the camouflage function of “meaning” in a poem was like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the house-dog of the mind so that the poem could do its work. Professor Key explains that the proclaimed purpose of the ad may, at one level, be just such a decoy so that the ad may do its work at another level of consciousness.
Secrets Within Banality
Today many people feel uneasy when serious attention is paid to objects and subjects that they are accustomed to classify as “trash.” They feel that the base commercial operation of ads is beneath any claim to their awareness or analysis. Such people, on the one hand, have little heeded the lessons of history and archaeology which reveal how the midden-heaps of the ages provide the wisdom and riches of the present. And yet, on the other hand, they know how their snobbish “freeze” (or surrender) in the presence of the horrid vulgarities of commerce is exactly what is needed to render them the cooperative puppets of ad manipulation. The ad as camouflage often uses the blatant appeal to hide more subtle and powerful motivations than appear on the surface.
Shakespeare’s oft misquoted remark about “one touch of nature” that “makes the whole world kin” really concerns the eagerness of men to swallow a flattering bait. He is not suggesting that natural beauty is a social bond!
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin:/ That all with one consent praise new-born gawds / Though they are made and moulded of things past, / And give to dust that is a little gilt / More laud than gilt o’erdusted.
Men are united only in their eagerness to be deceived by appearances.
The wise gods seal our eyes; / In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us / Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut / To our confusion
Thus part of the business of the ad is to seem frank, open, hearty, and direct. The business establishment long ago founded itself on ebullient attitudes of trust and confidence which were part of the discovery that “Honesty is the best policy” and “Crime doesn’t pay.” “Policy,” of course, is the Machiavellian term for “deceit,” so immediate and overt honesty can be camouflage for ultimate exploitation, in ads as in politics. However, we live today in the first age of the electric information environment, and there is now a sense in which we are the first generation that can say, “There is nothing old under the sun.”
Since Sputnik (October 17, 1957), the planet Earth went inside a man-made environment and Nature yielded its ancient reign to Art and Ecology. Ecology was born with Sputnik, for in an electric information environment all events become clamorous and simultaneous. An old adage at IBM is: “Information overload equals pattern recognition.” At instant speed the hidden becomes plain to see.
Minds Are Quicker Than Eyes
Since the mind is very much faster than light (it can go to Mars and back in an instant, whereas light takes minutes), the hidden structure of many old things can now become apparent. With the new information surround, not only specialisms and monopolies of knowledge become less useful, but the world of the subliminal is greatly reduced. Whatever the practical uses and expediency of the subliminal may have been in the past, they are not as they were. Even the future is not what it used to be. For at electric speeds it is necessary to anticipate the future in order to live in the present, and vice versa.
Necessarily, the age of instant information prompts men to new kinds of research and development. It is, above all, an age of investigation and of espionage. For in the total information environment, man the hunter and scanner of environments returns to supervise the inner as well as the outer worlds, and nothing is now unrelated or irrelevant.
T.S. Eliot has two statements that directly concern our new simultaneous world of “auditory” or “acoustic” space in which electric man now dwells on the “wired planet.” The first passage is from his discussion of “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” explaining that “the whole of literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.” It is the character of auditory space, which we make in the act of hearing, to be a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere, for we hear from all directions at once.
In the magnetic city of the new electric environment we receive data from all directions simultaneously, and thus we exist in a world sphere of resonant information that is structured and which acts upon us in the auditory pattern. Eliot had regard to the role of the individual talent faced by this new kind of richness of tradition and experience. So it is not strange that our time should witness a revival of many forms of oral culture and group performance, any more than it is strange that we should see on all hands the awakening and cultivation of occult traditions, and new concern with inner life and visionary experience.
For these are resonant things hidden from the eye. The wide interest in every kind of structuralism in language and art and science is direct testimony to the new dominance of the nonvisual values of audile-tactile involvement and group participation. In fact, it could be said that there is very little in the new electric technology to sustain the visual values of civilized detachment and rational analysis.
Mr. Eliot’s second statement on the world of the simultaneous concerns the “auditory imagination”:
What I call “auditory imagination” is the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word: sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end. It works through meanings, certainly, or not without meanings in the ordinary sense, and fuses the old and obliterated, and the trite, the current, and the new and the surprising, the most ancient and the most civilized mentality.
Eliot here speaks of the mind’s ear, the subliminal depths and reach of the corporate tongue bridging countless generations and cultures in an eternal present. Eliot and Joyce accepted language as the great corporate medium that encodes and environs the countless dramas and transactions of man. Their raids on this vast inarticulate resource have made literary history on a massive scale.
Meantime the enormous new environment of advertising has sprung up as a service for the consumer who hardly knows what to think of his newly bought cars and swimming pools. It is well known to the frogmen of Madison Avenue that those who read or hear the ads are mostly those who have already bought one of the objects displayed. “Ask the man who owns one,” or “You feel better satisfied when you use a well-known brand.” The fact is that the ad world is a colossal put-on as much as the world of fashion or art or politics or entertainment. The stripper puts on her audience by taking off her clothes, and the poet puts on his public by stripping or dislocating the familiar rhythms and habits of expression.
How about the adman’s rip-off? He must move on more than one level in order to obtain the interplay that involves the public. The poet lets us look at the world through the mask of his poem while wearing us as his mask: “hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere,” said Baudelaire to his reader. The adman shows us the world through the mesh or mask of his product while playfully putting on our cash and credit as his own motley. But that there may be another level of reinforcement, the ads sometimes provide a barrage of optimistic innocence along with an undercurrent of guilty joys and fears upon which the blatant, gesticulating commercial rides piggyback. It is the quest of Professor Key to unconceal this hidden ground of the ad as figure, and to reveal the conflict between them.
Scuba Diving into Hidden Backgrounds
It may be that the impulse of the admen to use the hidden ground of our lives in a furtive way in their ads is no mere surrender to base impulse and greed for power. By replaying the hot glamorous images in a cool scatological pattern, the subliminal message becomes a dramatic irony of the superficial and conscious one.
The subliminal replay of the open appeal thus offers an offbeat jazz quality of quarter notes sourly commenting on the full notes, by way of a wry twist. It is the role Freud himself played as diver into the dirty unhygienic depth beneath the dewy Romantic sentiment. At the extreme point, Freud the diver got a signal: “Surface at once. Ship is sinking.” When he came up for air he wrote about “Civilization and its Discontents.” After a long session in the dark unconscious, Freud recognized the visual and literate world as the location of civilized values and awareness. The dark within is the world of tribal or acoustic man who resists civilization as do our dropouts. Professor Key brings out the struggle between these worlds as inherent in the very structure of the not-so-humble ads that provide the directives and the competitive taste patterns of our commerce and our entertainment.
Bugging and Sleuthing have become a universal Business, like education. The electric age is the age of the hunter. It is the age of simultaneous information. The simultaneous ends the subliminal by making it as much a structural part of consciousness as former specialism or monopoly or secrecy. The age just behind us was the opposite of the electric age. The mechanical and industrial society was the age of steam and hardware and highway and monopoly and specialism. It was a visual world.
The age of the electrical and simultaneous is the age of environmental and ecological awareness. Structurally speaking, the simultaneous is acoustic rather than visual. We hear from all directions at once, and that is why the reign of the subliminal is ending. The subliminal or the hidden can be present to the hearing when it is not accessible to the eye.
It makes much sense when N. F. Dixon writes in Subliminal Perception that experienced psychologists of our sense lives have bypassed the subliminal and the auditory in favor of visual investigation. For the psychological, as much as for any other establishment, the commitments are to the preceding age of the visual. However, the new age is also subliminal to its predecessor. It is, therefore, easy to know that the eye may be solicited by lines it cannot see, and our judgments warped by motives that are not in consciousness nor in the habitual patterns of our nervous systems, “for the whole environment is full of subliminal influences which experienced psychologists have systematically neglected.”
It is only fair to add that the electric environment is manmade and new, and experienced psychologists, quite as much as the rest of the population, continue to adhere to the older and familiar and visually structured world of the hardware age in which they invested all they had. For the visual is the world of the continuous and the connected and the rational and the stable.
Since we have now put an electrical environment of resonant information around the old visual one, our daily adaptations and responses are at least as much to the new acoustic environment as to the old visual world. If one were to ask, “Which is the better world?” it would be necessary to explain that the values of an acoustical and musically oriented society are not those of the classically visual and civilized society.
Predictions of the Past
For good or ill, we have phased ourselves out of the older visual society by our electric technology that is as instant as light. If we want to get back into a visually ordered world, we shall have to recreate the conditions of that world. Meantime we have a new environment of instant information that upsets and “pollutes” all patterns of the old visual sequences. Nothing is “in concatenation accordingly” in the simultaneous world of sound. Effects now easily and naturally precede causes, and we can freely predict the past.
At the speed of light our space-time coexistence tends to give us the whimsical manners of the girl in Professor Butler’s limerick:
There was a young lady named Bright / Who moved with the quickness of light; / She went out one day / In a relative way, / And returned the previous night.
At electric speed, the goals and objectives of the old sequential and visual world are irrelevant. Either they are attained before we start or we are out of date before we arrive. All forms of specialist training suffer especially. Engineers and doctors cannot graduate in time to be relevant to the innovations that occur during their training period.
Change itself becomes the only constant. We seem to live in a world of deceits and fake values where, for example, those engaged in news coverage are often more numerous than those making the news. But the creation of a total field of world information returns man to the state of the hunter, the hunter of data.
To the sleuth, to Sherlock Holmes, nothing is quite what it seems. He lives, like us, in two worlds at once, having small benefit of either. Caught between visual and acoustic worlds, physicist Werner Heisenberg enunciated the “Uncertainty Principle.” You can never perform the same experiment twice. Heraclitus, living in the old acoustic world before Greek literacy, said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” And today in the electric world we say, “You ‘can’t step in the same river,” period.
In the Renaissance, when the old acoustic world of medieval and feudal order was quickly being overlaid by the visual order of the printed word, there was an epidemic concern about deceit and imposture. Machiavelli invented a new art of lying by stressing an extrovert mask of bluff, hearty sincerity. lago tells us that he will wear his heart on his sleeve for daws to peck at. Othello demands “ocular proof” of his wife’s infidelity, and is deceived by the same “proof.” Shakespeare’s great plays are devoted to the theme of the deceits of power. Hamlet is caught out of role. He is a medieval prince adapted to the medieval world of acoustic involvement and personal loyalty. His world of ideal musical harmony collapses into one of visual distraction and mere appearances:
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason / Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh
His dilemma is stated also by Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida:
Take but degree away, untune that string / And, hark! what discord follows; each thing meets / In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters / Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores, / And make a sop of all this solid globe.
Other Side of the Looking Glass
The auditory man is an ecologist because he imagines everything affecting everything, because all happens at once as in a resonating sphere. The clash between the medieval ecologist and the Renaissance man of private aims and goals is playing in reverse today. The new technology is acoustic and total. The old establishment is visual and fragmentary. All this concerns Professor Key’s study of the deceits of the admen.
These admen teams operate on the frontier between the worlds of eye and ear, of old and new. They are trying to have the best of both worlds by wearing both masks. Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s great contemporary, devoted much of his work to the presentation of the deceiver and the deceived, stressing the inherent appetite of most people to wallow in deceit as a delectable diet:
Still to be neat, still to be drest, / As you were going to a feast; / Still to be powdered, still perfumed / Lady, it is to be presumed, / Though art’s hid causes are not found, / All is not sweet, all is not sound.
This could be an anti-advertisement today if equal time were allowed to query the counsel of each ad. Saving the appearances mattered more and more during the Renaissance and after. Moliere’s Misanthrope and Tartuffe are built on the assumption that truth is a matching of inner state and outer behavior. The fact that truth is making not matching, process not product, can never satisfy the visual man with his mirror held up to nature.
By contrast, Walter Pater plunged his readers into the forbidden world of the unconscious when he presented them with the image of Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” He sought the truth on the other side of the looking glass:
The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary. . . . Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed? (The Renaissance)
Pater is fascinated by his image of a sick “soul with all its maladies,” spurning the slick white Greek goddesses of rationality. Pater has flipped, fashionably, out of the visual and back into the medieval acoustic world. “All art,” he said, “constantly aspires toward the condition of music.”
It is this music that began to be heard in the Romantic depths of the starved and rationalistic psyche of the visual cultures that reached from the Renaissance to the Victorian age. Pater’s pen portrait of “Mona Lisa” continues in a plangent tone that might win the applause of any ad copywriter:
She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.
This passage is a striking description of the Western subconscious with all its evocation of the occult and of delirious vices.
It is plain that the subconscious is a wicked witch’s brew of superhuman interest for all boys and girls. This Mona Lisa affair raises a major aspect of Professor Key’s study. Does the discovery of graffiti in the deodorants and aids to glamor threaten the public of consumers, or does it merely reveal the childish itch of the admen themselves? For example, the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may be both immoral and immortal because it links hair and gold, faces and feces. For gold and dung have always had affinities, even as the greatest perfumes include a subtle ingredient of excrement.
There is the further fetching factor of the author’s name, Anita Loos. It doesn’t suggest the prim Puritan altogether. Since the world of dung and excrement is quite near to the daily conscious level, are we to panic when the admen put these at the bottom of the big hamper of goodies that they proffer the affluent?
Will the graffiti hidden under the lush appeal expedite sales or merely impede the maturity quotient of the buyers? Will the graffiti lurking in the glamor crevices set up a resonant interval of revulsion against the consumer appeals, or will the confrontation of fur and feces in the ads merely sadden and deepen and mature the childish consumer world? It is a strange and tricky game to mount the sweet enticing figure on a rotten ground.
To use, on the other hand, four-letter words in the libretto of the siren’s song may prove to be a metaphysical discovery. The poet W.B. Yeats meditated in anguish over the plight of man:
Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement; / For nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.
He, too, is desperate over the appearances.
Just how precarious a boundary Yeats provides can be noted in his nervous betrayal in the ambiguous words “pitch” and “rent.” “Pitch” is filth and “rent” is venal. In a word, the “Love” of Yeats can no more be trusted to present a clean slate than the overeager admen with their subliminal reinforcement of glamor by graffiti. The passionately embracing young man asks his partner, “Why speak of love at a time like this?” The remark serves as a corollary to the moan of Yeats. But it also opens up the Playboy world where girls are playmates.
The Playboy’s Plaything
Things have changed electrically since I published The Mechanical Bride in 1951. The assembly-line love goddess, abstract and austere and inhuman, has been succeeded by hula-hooping, mini-skirted, tribally anonymous jujubes. Utterly embraceable, consumable, and expendable, they expect little, for they know that the fragile ego of the playboy cannot endure the threat of any strain or commitment.
Thanks to color photography, and then to color TV, the magnetic city has become a single erogenous zone. At every turn there is an immediate encounter with extremely erotic situations which exactly correspond to the media “coverage” of violence. “Bad news” has long been the hard core of the press, indispensable for the moving of the mass of “good news” which is advertising. These forms of sex and violence are complementary and inseparable. Just what would be the fate of wars and disasters without “coverage” could be considered a meaningless question, since the coverage itself is not only an increase of the violence but an incentive to the same.
The power-starved person can easily see himself getting top coverage if he is involved in a sufficiently outrageous act of hijacking or mayhem. The older pattern of success story by achievement simply takes too long to be practical at electric speeds. Why not make the news instead of a life?
The close relation between sex and violence, between good news and bad news, helps to explain the compulsion of the admen to dunk all their products in sex by erogenizing every contour of every bottle or cigarette. Having reached this happy state where the good news is fairly popping, the admen say, as it were: “Better add a bit of the bad news now to take the hex off all that bonanza stuff.” Let’s remind them that LOVE, replayed in reverse, is EVOL—transposing into EVIL and VILE. LIVE spells backward into EVIL, while EROS reverses into SORE. And, we should never forget the SIN in SINCERE or the CON in CONFIDENCE.
Let’s tighten up the slack sentimentality of this goo with something gutsy and grim.
As Zeus said to Narcissus:
– MARSHALL MCLUHAN – Document Source: http://goo.gl/zTqhfZ
“… it’s Subliminal Seduction that’s the real classic. Picking up on Packard’s contribution, it deconstructs a series of advertising campaigns, and particularly focuses on the manipulation of readers and viewers by the use of subliminal imagery. Well, look, this is the kind of thing:
You see? (You do see, don’t you?) It’s a cracking little book, still entertaining, still informative and packed full of stuff still vehemently denied by the advertising industry. Which, since it is the most deceitful, corrupt branch of human creativity, should never be believed anyway.” ( http://goo.gl/1YqSqr )
Earthrise: The Earth rising above the lunar horizon photographed from the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, looking west in the direction of travel. May, 1969
By Dr. Tim Ball
We live in small individual worlds that are composites of information from our senses, societal values, and education. It is not the real world but one deliberately created in education. It is not reality, but one easily created, distorted, and controlled by exploiters.
This is not new but one made easier today in a world drawn, described, and distorted by visual and electronic images: it’s the world Marshall McLuhan described 54 years ago as the global village.
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a political scientist [correction: English professor] at the University of Toronto analyzing the media. He originated two phrases that succinctly describe the modern world. The first, “the global village” appeared in the “Gutenberg Galaxy” (1962), and the second, “The medium is the message” in “Understanding Media” (1964).
In the 54 years since McLuhan introduced the idea, our view of the world has dramatically changed. It began, as it usually does, with a symbolic change, a phrase, an event, or in this case, an image.
The composite image of Earth from 22,000 miles in space taken by astronauts on Apollo 8 appeared in 1968. It reinforced the global village concept because of human connections. It was the first manned craft to leave Earth orbit and produce pictures taken with a camera held by a human. However, like everything else in the global village, nothing is as it appears.
Environmentalist used terms like “the small blue marble” or “space ship earth” to create the image that we live on a small, vulnerable planet. This reinforced the second great illusion they created of overpopulation in 1968 with the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”
The problem is there is no evidence of people on the planet from that distance, not even the Great Wall. At the surface, 95 percent of the land is uninhabited, contrary to the belief that the world is overpopulated.
It’s easy now to understand what McLuhan meant. The village is a good analogy for the Internet world because people who live in a village think they know what is going on, and are familiar with the physical dynamics. The reality is they know very little and understand even less.
It is a “global village”, but more than McLuhan envisioned. The most destructive people in a village are the gossips. They distort information and destroy people. The mainstream media are the gossips in the global village. They are the King makers and King breakers. Edmund Burke (1729–1797) said, “there were three Estates in Parliament; but in the reporter’s gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than them all.” It is why William Cowper wrote The Progress of Error in 1782:
How shall I speak of thee or thy power address,
Thou God of our idolatry, the Press?
By thee, religion, liberty and laws
Exert their influence and advance their cause;
By thee worse plagues than Pharaoh’s land befell,
Diffused, make earth the vestibule of Hell;
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise;
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies;
Like Eden’s dead probationary tree,
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.
McLuhan talked about rapid and extensive communication in a shrinking world. It is a transition similar to the one Daniel Boorstin, identified in his book “The Creators” as the written word replaced the oral tradition. Socrates held to the belief in the power of the spoken word; thankfully Plato recorded his words.
Now the communication is through a new language of computers and social mediaspeak necessary for the global village. The blog and social media are replacing the printed word and even radio and television. The problem is the volume, variety, and multiple sources of information, demand better skills at separating truth from fiction.
For example, the scientist who located, identified, and warned the world about Soviet missiles in Cuba gave another warning before he died. Asked if he would like to work with the new technologies, he said no, because it allows the creation of undetectable, unreal, data, and images. It is impossible to separate real from unreal; deception is disturbingly easy.
Author and medical doctor Michael Crichton identified the challenge in a 2003 address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. His opening paragraph explains:
I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.
McLuhan’s global village, the world created by electronic interdependence, is here, but it is virtual reality. It is not the real world or even a good approximation. It is the world exploiters want you to believe. The Internet makes more information available to more people but makes determining its validity more difficult. We don’t educate students in skepticism or verification.
Today’s education truly is indoctrination. Of course, the power brokers know if you educate people properly they ask questions, and that is inevitably dangerous. This is why the advice of Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta is wise but constantly discouraged:
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. Source: http://goo.gl/10wTjl
by S. Brent Plate
Excerpted from CrossCurrents (June 2012), special issue on “The Mediation of Meaning.”
“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves— result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves or by any new technology”. –Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964
Meaning is produced by, in, and through social, political, and economic institutions, cultural and religious forces, technology, education, and human bodily engagement with the physical world. Through these multiple movements and productions, meaning is mediated, which means it comes to individuals encapsulated and put into a format that we are taught to recognize, name, and engage. Meaning is enveloped, arriving like a letter in the post, stamped, addressed, and carried from one location to another, sealed by sender, opened by receiver. Just as the letter will not be delivered without proper postage and adequate address, meaning never appears apart from its existence as a particular embodied form. Meaning does not exist apart from its mediation.
The implication is that the medium, as McLuhan hyperbolically puts it, is the message. The metaphorical envelope is not a carrier that simply protects the integrity and insures the shipment of its lettered contents as it travels from town to town. Rather, the means of transport changes the nature of the contents. A written letter is not the same as a phone call or an email, and even if the same words are communicated, they will take on different meanings depending on their media. This is now a commonplace assertion for the many who have thought twice about it, but the constantly evolving nature of technology provokes us again and again to return to the implications of media on the human meaning-making process.
To think through the ways meaning is mediated is a challenge to older hermeneutic, iconographic, and semiotic frameworks that typically imagined meaning as a nut in a shell: the shell is broken open, discarded, and the nut is set free by the hermeneutical nutcracker. This outmoded model believed it could separate the outside from the inside, visible from invisible, surface from depth, with privilege given to the latter terms, the supposed true location of meaning. But there is no neat inside-outside distinction, no invisible (spiritual, mental) meaning within that can be easily extracted/exegeted by agents from without. “Depth,” as Erling Hope states in his contribution to this special issue, “has become cliché. This does not mean that it is false, only that we need to renew our thinking about depth.”
McLuhan’s tidy slogan, “the medium is the message,” is often repeated, though it is key to see the context of his 1964 phrasing, and specifically to understand that for McLuhan a medium is primarily defined here as an “extension of ourselves.” For example, the telephone enables “far-hearing,” the television “far-seeing,” and later the Internet would enable a “virtual community.” New developments in media allow humans to do things they were already doing—hearing, seeing, engaging others—but now to do them differently, in other places, times, ways, and with other sets of people. The “new scale” that is introduced by new media technologies rearranges the world: space contracts, time expands, sense organs are intensified, physical labor is eased, institutional structures and ritual practices are transformed. These are not secondary appendages that can be taken on and off willy-nilly while the core remains unchanged. Once the technological prosthesis of a new medium is in place, everything is changed and there is no going back. Within these human extensions, the message and the medium, the person and prosthesis, the inside and outside are but points along a continuum. In sum, the very nature of our being is altered.
Contemporary theorist Samuel Weber, taking McLuhanesque thought through a discourse via Kierkegaard, suggests, “Like all technology, the development of the electronic media follows the ambivalent law, or graphics, of prosthetic supplementarity: an ‘extension’ of human capacities, it simultaneously distances and undermines what it extends, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of the finitude it seeks to alleviate and protect.” The prosthetic media devices attached to our bodies extend our capacities as humans, allowing us to feel we are overcoming our limits, our finitude, our aloneness—newspapers at the tips of our fingers hold words of the world in front of our eyes, earbuds sonically connect bodily rhythms across space and time, companion robots vibrate and purr at our caress, new friend requests pop up on screen reminding us of a long lost friend and perhaps a long lost life. Yet these same devices simultaneously demonstrate and amplify our vulnerabilities, risks, and failures.
In her recent book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle, with some fear and trembling, concurs, “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” The most meaningful encounters of our existence are increasingly structured and carried out through media technologies. In a real sense, they always have been, since oral communication and written letters are themselves “media.” Yet questions as to how far these technologies have changed our closest relationships seem to be heightened in the present day in light of globally networked media. There is something still correct in McLuhan’s general claim that it is the “new scale” that creates “personal and social consequences.” But, is it like before only bigger and broader? How far are the implications of media scale tied to other factors like global capitalism? Global Christianity? Global Islam? Or McLuhan’s “global village”? What happens to the body in social media? The senses? Face-to-face encounters? Do we have new bodies? New identities?
Like the blessing and curse, poison and cure that is one in the same, media protect us like a “sacred canopy,” to borrow Peter Berger’s phrasing, but concurrently threaten to tear us apart. Among other attributes given to Homo sapiens, “meaning-making creatures” is one of the most prominent of the modern age. And since we cannot make meaning without mediating it, we are stirred to look again at meaning in and through the media of its making.
In the end, expanding on the idea of media as an “extension of ourselves,” we might come to the conclusion that humanity cannot be summed up by the scientific moniker, Homo sapiens, but instead constitute a whole range of mediated and mediating creatures: Homo medias, Homo ludens, Homo aestheticus, Homo religiosus, et al., ad infinitum, becoming transformed with each new media development and employment.
S. Brent Plate is visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. His recent books include Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-Creation of the World ; and Blasphemy: Art that Offends. With Jolyon Mitchell he co-edited The Religion and Film Reader. He is co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. Source: https://goo.gl/o0nQaN .