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How Marshall McLuhan Helps Us Understand Mad Men

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 6:02pm

The final TV episode of Mad Men, set in the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, will be broadcast on AMC this evening. Whether you liked and watched it or not, as I did, since its premiere on July 19, 2007, the series received huge critical praise for its acting, writing and historical accuracy, winning 15 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. It was also the first basic cable series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama series in each of its first 4 seasons.

It has been of special interest to advertising people and the article below can help the rest of us understand the program better. One mistake the article’s author makes is his comment that “I’ve always found the lack of any mention of media writer and thinker McLuhan the most inexplicable”. It’s true that McLuhan isn’t mentioned by name during the series, but his most famous aphorism “the medium is the message” is mentioned, specifically by then office manager Joan Holloway in a comment to Peggy during Episode 6 of Season One. Viewers who don’t know where that phrase comes from should. See my March 24, 2012 posting on this blog about Marshall McLuhan and the Mad Men here: http://tinyurl.com/lln38cm .

The Media Thinker Whose Quotes Explain Mad Men  Marshall McLuhan understood advertising before everyone else—and gave its creator Matthew Weiner a premise. – By Stephen Marche, May 12, 2015 “During the Second War, the U.S.O. sent special issues of the principal American magazines to the Armed Forces, with the ads omitted. The men insisted on having the ads back again. Naturally. The ads are by far the best part of any magazine or newspaper. More pains and thought, more wit and art go into the making of an ad than into any prose feature of press or magazine. Ads are news. What is wrong with them is that they are always good news.” – Marshall McLuhan (1964), Understanding Media, MIT Press Edition, pp. 209-210.

I sometimes wonder when I’m watching Mad Men, if and when the various characters read the passage above, from Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, which came out in 1964. Of all the great sixties cultural icons that are missing from Mad Men—and some of the absences can be glaring—I’ve always found the lack of any mention of media writer and thinker McLuhan the most inexplicable. Maybe he was just too close to the bone.

McLuhan is the perfect guide to Mad Men for one obvious reason: He loved advertising. [Editorial comment: That’s an exaggeration; McLuhan’s attitude towards advertising was decidedly ambiguous, being both fascinated by it, but also repelled.] He was among the first to celebrate unreservedly what he called “the Madison Avenue frog-men-of-the-mind.” The business of trying to sell people more stuff neither frightened nor appalled him. He didn’t look down on it, as so many of his contemporaries did.

“Many people have expressed uneasiness about the advertising enterprise in our time,” McLuhan also wrote in Understanding Media. “To put the matter abruptly, the advertising industry is a crude attempt to extend the principles of automation to every aspect of society. Ideally, advertising aims at the goal of a programmed harmony among all human impulses and aspirations and endeavours. Using handicraft methods, it stretches out toward the ultimate electronic goal of a collective consciousness. When all production and all consumption are brought into a pre-established harmony with all desire and all effort, then advertising will have liquidated itself by its own success.”

Such a Utopia is of course only an ideal, but at least it’s a grand one. Now that Mad Men is coming to an end, we are starting to see what advertising looks like after its triumph, and the answer is more than somewhat grim. (You can watch McLuhan speaking about the future of advertising here.) The show begins with Don’s genius commercial for Lucky Strike. It’s not cancer-causing, “it’s toasted!” A neat trick. But Betty is now going to die from that trick, as we discovered in the penultimate episode. As for Don, he finds himself in small-town America, where the honest citizens beat him for a crime he didn’t commit and refuse to judge him for the crime he did commit. His conman life has left him as homeless and identity-free as ever. Read the rest of this Esquire article here: http://tinyurl.com/l2m5gpj .

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A recent short note on The Guardian by Roy Greenslade likewise recognizes Marshall

McLuhan’s canny advertising foresight

Further proof, as if any were needed, of Marshall McLuhan’s prescience. In 1964, he wrote:*

“The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

*Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (ARK edition, 1987) p.207

And, while we’re on the subject, here two more McLuhanisms on advertising:

“Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.”

“Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise an hypnotic spell, especially on sociologists.”

And finally, how about this? “I don’t necessarily agree with everything that I say.” (http://tinyurl.com/mdss6zr )

Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.  - Marshall McLuhan


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New Book Announcement: McLuhan – Social Media Between Faith & Culture

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:49am

MLN 2012 poster

The book’s cover art

Editor: Domenico Pietropaolo, Principal, St. Michael’s College

Co-editor: Robert K. Logan, Fellow, St. Michael’s College

Marshall McLuhan, who spent most of his career at St. Michael’s College, from 1946 to his untimely passing in 1980, revolutionized our thinking about media, communications and the impact of technology on the human mind. He was also a deeply religious man, totally committed to his faith. The essays in this collection explore the relationship between faith and media in McLuhan’s thinking. They are based on the presentations made at the two-day international conference held on September 21 and 22, 2012, at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, where the McLuhan legacy lives on through the Book and Media Studies program (see http://stmikes.utoronto.ca/bookmedia/default.asp ).

For the Marshall McLuhan: Social Media Between Faith & Culture Conference (2012) see http://tinyurl.com/pof3qzv

The Book’s Table of Contents

Preface  –  Domenico Pietropaulo and Robert K. Logan

McLuhan: Social Media Between Faith & Culture Conference Programme

St. John Fisher College and Marshall McLuhan  –  Timothy Madigan

Spiritual Symmetries: Blake and McLuhan – Tim Buell

Semiotics of Simultaneity: Religious Reflections in McLuhan’s Mass (Age) – Pouneh Saeedi

The Trials of Susanna Told Through Tetrads – Ruthanne Wrobel

 ‘In the beginning was the Pun’. McLuhan, Derrida, Brisset: McLuhan’s Word-play as Faith-in-practice” – Peter W. Nesselroth

Loving The Lord With Your Whole Mind: Reflections on Theology, Church History, Neuroscience & Media Ecology – Michael Giobbe

Passion and Precision: The Faith of Marshall McLuhan – Derrick de Kerckhove

When New Technologies are Old: Re-Thinking about Electric Communi(on)cation in the Age of Social Media – Elena Lamberti

Marshall McLuhan’s Catholicism and catholicism Thomas Cooper

Comparing the Realism of  Etienne Gilson and Marshall McLuhan – Rev. A. Leo Reilly

McLuhan as Mystic: The Role of the Artist  – Dan Browne

A Return to Magic: The (Go) Spell of Technology in Marshall McLuhan’s Thought – Paolo Granata

Physics and McLuhan’s Theology of Information – Malcolm Dean

McLuhan as Pedagogy: Waking up Narcissus – Jenna Sunkenberg

The St. Michael’s College Course Religion, Media and Culture – John Pungente, SJ

Did McLuhan’s Deeply Held Roman Catholic Convictions Bias His Scholarship? – Robert K. Logan

The book can be purchased from  amazon.ca and amazon.com, and is distributed by the University of Toronto Press Distribution Centre. It can also be ordered directly from the publisher Legas Publishing http://legaspublishing.com/ .

© 2015 Legas Publishing, New York, Ottawa, Toronto  –  ISBN 978-1-897493-51-9

Number 61 in the Language, Media & Education Studies Series, Center for Communication & Information Sciences

 St. Basil’s Church, the college parish


Categories: Blog

Publishing from the Marshall McLuhan Archive with the Hybrid Lecture Player

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 05/10/2015 - 5:19pm

Traces of McLuhan – A Media Sprint at the Marshall McLuhan Salon

This posting is a supplement to the previous posting just below this one, to try to better understand how this Hyrid Lecture Player technology works to create a new information mashup using materials extracted from an archive. The archive used in this case was the Marshall McLuhan Archive in the National Library & Archives of Canada (see http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx ). To see the holdings of the McLuhan Archive, you can download a pdf Finding Aid from http://data2.archives.ca/pdf/pdf001/p000000288.pdf ……. Alex

Christina Kral & Simon Worthington

Marshall McLuhan Archive – Archive Sprint

The Hybrid Publishing Consortium (HPC) is an Open Source publishing infrastructure research group and proposes a session on ‘Publishing from Archives’ based on the Marshall McLuhan fonds in Library & Archives Canada, in Ottawa. The archive contains video, audio, manuscripts and experimental transmedia work of Marshall McLuhan himself. 
We use an Open Source tool chain of; Pando.ra (video archives), Tamboti – Heidelberg Research Architecture (collection management. Cluster Asia Europe, Heidelberg University) and famo.us (3D, GUI interface), Amara (video sub-titling. Participatory Culture Foundation) and Transpect (multi-format publishing. le-tex, Leipzig).

With this tool set we allow users to author a data enrichment layer on-top of the existing collection data, allowing the public to become archivists and share their knowledge and insights. We use the model of the Book Sprints, but instead use transmedia content (video, audio, text, annotation etc) to create a trace on the archive or a new publication.

This ‘Archive Sprint’ user layer on the archive creating a rich visual and auditory interface, secondly it leaves a new data source on the archive which is VRA, MODS meta description US Library of Congress compliant.

The objective is to allow users to move from a light experience of creating ‘playlists’, to authoring on the involved level of Wikipedia. At the same time ensuring the data structure created is machine readable and so re-usable for—visual styling, citation, annotation, distribution and metrics etc.

This project remixes a lecture given by Graham Larkin in 2011 in Berlin.

Christina Kral: As part of a transdisciplinary research team, Kral explores the future of publishing in relation to open educational technologies. In particular, Kral researches forms of communication and engagement, learning habits and routines and develops transitional platforms and encounters that push publishing beyond normal conventions. In her capacity as an artist, she explores practical utopias in form of experimental facilitation and publishing projects. She is co-creator of an educational reality game (YKON Game). She is co-founder of Betta Zine, an artistic research publication project that draws from first hand experiences with the goal to open multiple perspectives/entry points to seemingly contradictory combinations such as shopping & war, education & war. She has been awarded artist residencies & stipends at Eyebeam, Art and Technology Center in New York, the EdLab Digital Arts Residency at Columbia University, New York, the Interdisciplinary Residency in Art and Ecology in Guapamacátaro, Mexico and at SPACE in London, UK.
Simon Worthington: works on open source software infrastructures for independent publishing—realtime, transcluded, transmedia, scaleable and cloud-based. In 1994 he co-founded Mute magazine. In 2012 he founded the Hybrid Publishing Consortium as a technology research organisation to support publisher innovation and book liberation.

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Traces of McLuhan – A Media Sprint at the Marshall McLuhan Salon

In late November, the Hybrid Publishing Consortium held a one day workshop at the Marshall McLuhan Salon in the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. This intense and positively stirring event brought together McLuhan scholars and software developers who all shared their views on working with and publishing from the archive. Together we mapped out these perspectives, potential needs and approaches.

The day concluded with a practical session hosted by Erich Decker and Matthias Helmut Guth from Cluster Asia Europe at the Heidelberg University. After showcasing their cross media annotation tools, they walked us through the technology, applying it to the specific case of the McLuhan archive and its video and textual content. Naturally this session could only raise awareness of what can be done and provide a feel for the workflow—it’s only just the beginning.

Hence, in early 2015 we plan, together with participants from the workshop, to complete two smaller projects that will focus on two particular works within the archive and employ the technology introduced during the media sprint. The aim will be to create small, tangible packages that can be used for educational purposes and the promotion of the archive and its content. More on that soon.


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