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‘Real total war has become information war’: ‘This Is Marshall McLuhan’ wild experimental NBC TV doc
04.15.2015
01:01 pm

Topics:
Media
Television
Thinkers

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Marshall McLuhan


 
In the 60s and the 70s, Marshall McLuhan, the pithy and eminently quotable Canadian philosopher of media and electronic communications occupied a rarefied niche (along with R. Buckminster Fuller) that really doesn’t seem to exist much in American culture anymore, that of the “public intellectual.” More to the point, McLuhan, who never met a TV camera he didn’t take an immediate liking to, was an intellectual celebrity.

Marshall McLuhan was once such a ubiquitous part of the media landscape that you could turn on the TV and see him hamming it up on the Today show or read Sunday funnies where cartoon characters debated his ideas. McLuhan even appeared as himself, employed as a human punchline in Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning Annie Hall. These days only someone like Slavoj Žižek has anything even close to that same sort of “smart guy” star power, but it’s difficult to imagine NBC devoting an entire hour to his work, like they did with 1967’s This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage.
 

 
An episode of the NBC Experiment in Television series, this was in fact pretty experimental stuff. A quasi-documentary cum visual essay (based on McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore’s best-selling coffee table book, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects) it was heady and decidedly avant garde programming for middle America in 1967. Just how avant garde was it you ask? Well, it’s got Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman in it for starters. She’s not playing her cello topless here of course, but is seen wrapped in plastic. Artist Allan Kaprow, father of “the Happening” also makes an appearance. There’s a long quoted passage from John Cage and the piece is littered with Pop art trappings and evocative visuals. The producers, Ernest Pintoff and Guy Fraumeni, were obviously making a sincere effort to be forward-thinking. And it was, and is still very much a satisfying viewing experience nearly half a century later. The only thing I can think of today that would be similar in any way would be one of Adam Curtis’ films. (There’s one section where the VO discusses how all pervasive the mediasphere is on all of our lives while onscreen hands are seen kneading dough as a stand-in for our collective brains. It practically screams Adam Curtis.)

McLuhan reveals that many of the subjects he investigates are things that he in fact finds irritating and exasperating, causing him to wish to mentally “take apart” things like television and radio. It’s might seem counterintuitive to view him as a Luddite, yet here he all but describes himself that way (which makes him even more fascinating, if you ask me.)
 

 
Topics include the “causes” of go-go dancing and “the discothèque,” the passing of one style of humor in favor of one favored by younger people (Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Bill “My name — José Jiménez” Dana are shown as examples of the new!), how politics had become show business, why teens often seek out corporate involvement for their fashion trends, the influence of the Beatles, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and Pablo Picasso, how images of abundance (things as commonplace to us as refrigerators) seen worldwide via our television programs would have inevitable and far-reaching consequences in poorer nations who would perceive themselves as deprived of something which they would then aspire to.
 

The Velvet Underground and Nico make an appearance in McLuhan and Fiore’s book in this two page spread.

We hear McLuhan’s blunt musings on the Vietnam War, the first televised war, which the nation was then in the middle of. Also touched upon is how the media revolution would eliminate entire classes of jobs. That would have seemed an eerie thought at the time, a sci-fi prediction if you will, but flash forward to today and we’re living in that future.

As Tom Wolfe once asked “What…if…he…is…right?” In retrospect, McLuhan was right about practically everything! From the perch of nearly fifty years ago, he was extraordinarily prescient. His track record as a futurist is much better than… well, anyone’s, when you get right down to it.
 

 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Marshall McLuhan on the dangers of television and the rise of the one-liner
09.03.2013
06:23 pm

Topics:
Media
Pop Culture
Television
Thinkers

Tags:
Marshall McLuhan

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Marshall McLuhan explaining how the “one-liner” is symptomatic of the shortened attention-span of children. It’s all to do with television, which McLuhan claims, has a negative effect on the nervous system.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Books By Their Covers: Oliver Bevan’s Fabulous Op-Art Designs for Fontana Modern Masters

Fontana_Modern_Master_Books_1_10
 
In 1970, Fontana Books published the first of 7 paperback books in a series on what they termed Modern Masters - culturally important writers, philosophers and thinkers, whose work had shaped and changed modern life. It was a bold and original move, and the series launched on January 12th with books on Camus, Chomsky, Fanon, Guevara, Levi-Strauss, Lukacs, and Marcuse.

This was soon followed in 1971 with the next set of books on McLuhan, Orwell, Wittgenstein, Joyce, Freud, Reich and Yeats. And in 1972-73 with volumes on Gandhi, Lenin, Mailer, Russell, Jung, Lawrence, Beckett, Einstein, Laing, and Popper.

Fontana Modern Masters was a highly collectible series of books - not just for their opinionated content on the likes of Marx or Proust, Mailer or McLuhan, but because of Oliver Bevan’s fabulous cover designs.

This eye-catching concept for the covers came from Fontana’s art director, John Constable, who had been experimenting with a Cut-Up technique, inspired by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin and based on The Mud Bath, a key work of British geometric abstraction by the painter David Bomberg. It was only after Constable saw Oliver Bevan’s geometric, Op Art at the Grabowski Gallery in London, did Constable decide to commission Bevan to design the covers.

The first full set of books consisted of 9 titles. Each cover had a section of a Bevan painting, which consisted of rectilinear arrangements of tesselating block, the scale of which was only fully revealed when all 10 covers were placed together. Bevan designed the first ‘3 sets of 10’ from 1970-74. He was then replaced by James Lowe (1975-79) who brought his own triangular designs for books on Marx, Eliot, Pound, Sartre, Artaud and Gramsci. In 1980, Patrick Mortimer took over, with his designs based on circles.

The original Fontana Modern Masters regularly pop-up in secondhand bookshops, and are still much sought after. Over the years, I have collected about 20 different volumes, but have yet to create one complete painting. Here are a few samples, culled from my own collection and from the the web.
 
Fontana_Modern_Masters_Set
 
A small selection of Fontana Modern Master covers, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
“The whole world becomes kaleidoscopic”: Birthday Boy Marshall McLuhan Meets Norman Mailer

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Marshall McLuhan would have turned 99 years old today, and his status as the god-daddy of media studies still seems pretty rock-solid. I wasn’t previously aware of how often the Canadian theorist appeared on TV, and was especially unaware of his November 1967 duet with New York novelist Norman Mailer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show The Summer Way, bravely moderated by Ken Lefolii.

Recovered from recent treatment for a benign brain tumor he suffered while teaching in New York, McLuhan gamely tugs at a few of Mailer’s pretensions. Mailer is recently back from levitating the Pentagon with the Yippies, with the siege of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention in his future.

McLuhan pops off a bunch of gems, including:

The planet is no longer nature, it’s now the content of an artwork.

Nature has ceased to exist…it needs to be programmed.

The environment is not visible, it’s information—it’s electronic.

The present is only faced by any generation by the artist.

Communications maven Michael Hinton goes speculative on his hero’s televised meeting with the Jersey-raised boxer-novelist, but of course it’s best to just check the thing out yourself.
 

 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment