Marshall McLuhan Is the Message

Marshall McLuhanFrench astronomer Jean Picard was born on this day in 1620. I bring this up only because I never understood why Star Trek‘s Jean-Luc Picard had a British accent. And that includes the episode where he goes home and we find that his brother had a French accent. And what did the family do for a living? Make wine, of course. That’s because the only thing that Star Trek writers knew about France is that they make a lot of wine. Pathetic. French pioneer of thermodynamics, Henri Victor Regnault was born in 1810. So that’s two famous Frenchmen who didn’t make wine for a living. Just in case any Star Trek writers are reading…

Train robber (who apparently always had their picture taken) Sam Bass was born in 1851. Austrian painter Emil Orlik was born in 1870. As much as he was a fairly awful human being, the absolutely great writer Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. Painter and sculpter Constant Nieuwenhuys was born in 1920. That same day, the great violinist Isaac Stern was born. Just how good was he? Well, here he is playing one of Bach’s ridiculously difficult pieces for solo violin, Chaconne in D minor. Admittedly, unlike when a flute player does one of these pieces, Stern doesn’t need to worry about breathing. But it is hard to make these pieces musical, and just listen to what he does. It is a joy:

And finally, comedian Don Knotts was born in 1924. Here he is in the still very good The Ghost And Mr Chicken:

The great Hollywood director Norman Jewison is 87 today. Janet Reno is 75. I bring her up only because libertarians really hate her for the Waco siege. Ken Starr is 67. The only reason I bring up this villain of American history is because he is so much like Russell George. I guess there isn’t much variation between different Republican lackeys. Two great artists are turning 65 today, so of course, they will retire and we won’t be seeing any work from them. (In case you haven’t noticed, that is the same joke I use every day that anyone turns 65.) First is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau. The second is Steven Demetre Georgiou. Or Yusuf Islam. Or Cat Stevens. Here he is as the second name (just to show you that he still has it) performing “Where Do the Children Play”:

Wildman Robin Williams is 62. And not so wildman Jon Lovitz is 56.

The day, however, belongs to communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. I never really understood him until I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. That was when I understood that The Medium is the Massage. If you really want to understand the modern world, you have to read McLuhan’s work. Because how you take in information really does change it. And more important: it limits you. Approached in the right way, McLuhan is the most terrifying writing in human history. Here is a wonderfully ironic interview with him where you can misunderstand his ideas in the visual medium:

Happy birthday Marshall Mcluhan!


Here is, sadly, what McLuhan is most remembered for:

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Marshall McLuhan Is the Message

  1. A few years back I got one of Yusef/Cat’s newer albums from the library, and his voice is amazing — it sounds EXACTLY the same as it used to. My SO, who teaches piano and voice, observed that this is probably because he stopped publicly performing for years. The SO says that most pop stars, as opposed to opera singers, say, don’t have the training to sing in a manner that protects their vocal chords. Taking the time off saved Yusef/Cat’s. So that’s one observation.

    The other is that his new songwriting did nothing for me, and I thought that’s a perfect example of what you mean by organized religion discouraging spirituality. Not that some Muslims don’t make profound spiritual quests — not that Yusef hasn’t, for all I know. The newer album, though, with every song being a (positive, happy) salute to Allah, struck me as less spiritual than his old work as Cat (which was obviously inspired by religious themes.)

    It’s the difference between asking spiritual questions and searching for answers. Answers may comfort many and be of service to them, but they do little for me. Can I blame a Cat Stevens, a very soulful individual, for turning his back on stardom and choosing a life that had more meaning to him? Hell, no. His music just resonated more for me when it was more about asking than answering.

  2. @JMF – It’s always interesting what you grab onto in these posts. I will have to check out some of that stuff. I often like religious writing, but it really depends upon the writer. I rather like Van Morrison’s stuff. The name change bugs me though. As with Elvis Costello, Cat Stevens isn’t a name; it is a brand. No one questions that Elvis Costello is performed by Declan MacManus. The same should go for Yusuf Islam.

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