McLuhan analyzes the presidential debates of 1976 09.04.2008, 10:19 AM
posted by bob stein
One of our terrific summer interns, Rick Williamson, just sent a link to this 1976 TV interview of Marshall McLuhan in which he skewers the presidential debates for being completely the wrong form for the medium of television. It's interesting to note that it's hard to imagine an interview like on the Today show of 2008. It goes on for ten uninterrupted minutes; there are no cut-aways to video footage or text crawls at the bottom of the screen; and most significantly McLuhan speaks his mind, critical of the mechanisms of political discourse to an extent unimaginable in today's sanitized mass media landscape.
Gary Frost on September 4, 2008 9:13 PM:
The interview reminds how much subjectivity, ulterior motive and interpretive agenda each reader brings to any transmission. This circumstance can recommend stable and uniformly shared transmissions that sustain unique responses in a context of fixed reference. What if transmissions themselves, as screen advocates sometimes visualize, were mostly different and mostly unshared? One outcome could be enclaves for deliberate unsharing.
Amanda French on September 5, 2008 8:28 AM:
Oh, I don't think that McLuhan's tone is that different from the ordinary punditry we see every day. He's deliberately contentious. Which isn't to say he's insincere.
Jon on September 7, 2008 1:48 PM:
"I'm talking about the self as a corporate territory."
Poor Tom Brokaw. The point about the nature of their voices just ZOOMS past him. They are so focused on content...Wow.
Dominique Dutoit on September 10, 2008 5:45 PM:
In my understanding, McLuhan doesn't skewer presidential debates in general but the showmen who have misused the television medium and blown the amplifier, revealing that the medium really is the message.
In form, the Ford-Carter debate was not different of the Nixon-Kennedy debate a few years before, but this time, all participants showed such a level of self-consciousness that they were acting instead of just sending their image. What was on was not television at all and the TV audience was unable to engage.
But what makes a good TV show? When asked the question in a CBC programme, McLuhan answered that "When you see that juice being poured out onto spaghetti, that's good TV... the glug, glug, glug... that is great TV."
Modern showmen have probably learned that lesson, just by counting the number of "glug" in the Obama's interview on the O'Reilly Factor show: "you bet!" "oh yeah", "ahah", "eh!", "that, the, that, the", "bah, boh, boh", "to do what we have to do, to change what what what", "right, yeah, right, yeah", "look... no no no no! hold on! no no no no!". The actual conversation doesn't matter, the glugs are what make the audience connects with Obama.
If one more evidence was needed, Time's "Obama Meets O'Reilly: No One Dies!" article demonstrates that the glugs do really matter: O'Reilly asked first if Obama believed we are in a "war on terror". "Absolutely," he said.
Gardner Campbell on October 3, 2008 10:29 AM:
I love this clip. It's vintage McLuhan, both ironic and earnest at the same time, fun to watch but resonant and even troubling to remember later. What's always interesting for me is that McLuhan is not only jumpy-minded, he is passionately interested in jumpy-mindedness. He's also a showboat, of course.
But your point is very well taken about how this kind of enigmatic intellectualizing can't be found in mainstream TV news coverage anymore. It's probably a happy accident that it ever was, just as it was a happy accident that the Beatles got a record contract in 1962. The sad part is that mass culture has become so fragmented that such happy accidents, even if they were to happen, don't get woven into the fabric of our shared lives. Who would Woody Allen bring out for a cameo today? Pontificating intellectuals like the guy in the line behind him at the theatre aren't much worth mocking anymore.
iñigo on March 19, 2010 7:55 AM:
Homo Modernus, Tractatus Philosophicus.
If in a parallel universe Ludwig Wittgenstein and Marshall McLuhan had married, their robot child would have created something like this animation. We hope you will enjoy it.
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