In July 2011 there was a Marshall McLuhan special on ABC Radio National. Since I have written several pieces of prose and poems involving McLuhan’s ideas I have placed them below in this philosophy section of this FamousWhy.com Forum.-Ron Price with thanks to ABC Radio National, 16/17 July 2011.
Technology, media theorist Marshall McLuhan believes, reaches beneath consciousness and alters sensory balance and perception without human awareness or resistance. The artist is not the only social player who can counter technological effects, but the artist brings a certain expertise, a certain awareness “of the changes in sense perception.” McLuhan emphasizes the limited freedom with which human beings are endowed. He does this partly through his conservative and Catholic ideological perspective. The artist provides a map to adjust his personal psyche as much as possible, if not for others, to this limited freedom.
Of course the world is filled with many artists and there are, therefore, many maps for psychic adjustment. In the last several epochs, and given the speed of change it seems likes eras, people have been exposed to a plethora of maps. The result, the product of this exposure, fills libraries. The media bring many of these maps into our lives and they deeply affect people because the media are, for McLuhan, human extensions. It is possible to assess media effects as they are introduced into society thanks to the artist and the intellectual, the poet and the writer. I like this idea of McLuhan’s which he says helps us define our freedom of action through the arts.1 But the idea is too complex to deal with here in more detail.
Literary theorist Marshall McLuhan was one of the masters of metaphor back in the 1960s when I first came across his ideas. I was a child of the 60s: 15 years old in 1960 and 25 in 1970. McLuhan recognized how to leverage the power of metaphor for both rhetorical and pedagogical value. In literary critic Donald Theall's critical review of McLuhan: The Medium Is the Rear-view Mirror, published in 1971 as I was leaving Canada to live in Australia, he described McLuhan’s method as follows: "In McLuhanese, his metaphors could be described as providing a “Do-It-Yourself-Creativity-Kit.”
In this way, even the initially less adequate metaphors, those that seem to confound more than clarify, can be useful for meditation. This will lead to some kind of creative insight.” For me this became increasingly true in relation to my study of virtually the entire history of the Baha'i Faith, an organization that provided me with a framework for freedom in those tempestuous times. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man, New York, Mentor, p.33; and 2 Gordon Gow, "Spatial Metaphor in the Work of Marshall McLuhan," Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol.26, No.4.
STILL AT THE CENTRE
In 1962 three westerns were released: 2David Miller's Lonely Are the Brave, Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. The raw material for westerns came from the 1840s to about 1900 when the USA expanded at a staggering rate. The first western was shot, writes Gary Johnson1, in 1898. The western genre emerged out of the embers of the actual frontier history, a frontier which formally ended in 1893. By 1962, the typical city or rural-dweller lived imaginatively, to some extent anyway, in "Bonanzaland"3 thanks to the western.
1Gary Johnson, "The History of the Western," Article on the Internet; 2Richard Armstrong's Review of John Saunders, The Western Genre: From Lordsburg to Big Whiskey, Wallflower Press, London, 2001; and 3M. McLuhan in Philip French, Westerns: Aspects of a Movie Genre, Seeker and Warburg, London, 1977.
As the world was being turned
into one vast tourist attraction,
amidst war and horror,
free-wheeling anarchic community
and staggering complexity, I started
my life journey beyond my St. Louis1
amidst TV horse operas: Bonanza,
Gunsmoke, The Virginian, inter alia.
Not equipped to handle complex
socio-political ideas, we all lived
under the illusion that what we saw
was a neutral recording of events,
not cinematic artificiality, for the eye
was so much busier than the mind:
this was the case for most of us then.
We mapped out personal life-stories
over these simple tales; we found some
glue for the social order, little did we know,
for cinema did not question, was not critical.
The social consensus had not come apart back
then in the early days of my life.2 Perhaps it was
just taking many decades to totally unravel!!#*
And beside Bonanzaland a new narrative was played
on the stage, for some. It was told across the wide-wide
world, but to the observer of mass-culture it still looked
like other stories were winning: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,
Rosemary's Baby, Amityville Horror, The Clockwork Orange,
On Golden Pond, The Exorcist, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry---.
and on and on------went the complex tale we were told: as…..
liberalism failed, and conservatism triumphed;
as a strand of the radicalism of the sixties
slowly became organized in broad-based movements
that were still at the center of a quiet revolution
that was difficult to assess and had little to do with
the horse operas, which entertained but told us nothing
of any value: just pacem et cicenses in a modern dress.3
1 St. Louis Missouri was the beginning point of 'The West' in 1850; my St. Louis was Burlington Ontario Canada in 1962.
2 M. Ryan and D. Kellner, Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1990, p.3.
3 Bread and circuses
4 December 2001 to 19 July 2011
SOME COMPANY AROUND THE PLANET
The pioneer was an important part of the Western, a film genre about the period from, say, 1844 to 1894, when the frontier was officially defined several times and eventually closed, when the war with Indians saw years of broken promises, disillusionment and massacre. The Western gave viewers epic mountain vistas, Indian war dances, stagecoach chases, frontiersmen, valiant cavalry, noble Indians, fist fights, shoot-outs, ranches and man's best friend, the horse. As Baha'i Administration was finally assuming its first form and shape in the mid-1930s, John Wayne and Randolph Scott emerged and brazenly formulaic productions of Westerns, B Westerns, appeared.
Theatres packed with kids in the afternoon and adults in the evening alternately urged on or mocked their film screen heroes. Hollywood studios cranked out Westerns as if from an assembly line.1 In 1953 Hollywood churned out 90 Westerns and, by the 1970s, 10 a year was more than average.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Gary Johnson, "A Review of Westerns," Internet, May 27, 2001.
Suburbia, they used to say, lived
imaginatively in Bonanza Land,
or so McLuhan told us, through
our rearview mirrors. You could
sort it out with the quickest draw
when Indians were the bad guys.
Things got more complex and the
Westerns could not cope…...When
John Wayne died in '79 the Western
died with him, although the spaghetti
Westerns seemed to keep coming at us.
Their optimism and moralities turned to
muddy realities and the life on the frontier
turned to mud-and-rags, a new despair and
brutal blasts of tainted gold and glory.
But for several decades they helped to
usher in a new organizational form and
take a new world religion right around
the planet during its long planetization.1
1 1932-1963, Gary Johnson, op. cit., during the first three teaching Plans. Johnson says that in the 1950s a new "super Western" with an aesthetic vision of the West filled the screens.
27 May 2001 to 19 July 2011
ONE PLACE LEFT FOR THE PIONEER
The frontier ethic, ethos, spirit, vitality, consciousness, consensus, imagination, wrote de Tocqueville in 1831, “may be said to haunt every American in his ideas as well as his most important actions and to be always flitting before his mind.”1
In 1893 the historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, presented his famous frontier thesis in a paper before the American Historical Association in which he eulogized the pioneer and his role in the history of America. The next year the first Baha’i ‘pioneers’ arrived from the middle east. This was the beginning of what would be generations of ‘pioneering’, an international diaspora, as part of the Baha’i experience on a global level, especially after 1918 when generation after generation of Baha’is would respond to the Tablets of the Divine Plan.-Ron Price with appreciation to Alexis de Tocqueville in Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of the Industrial Man, Boston, Beacon Press, 1951, p.57.
One frontier closed down1,
one pioneer was becoming
and a new one was waiting
in the wings. Perhaps, he
had been waiting for 25
years to go West2 and, now,
four generations have gone:
North, South, East, West and
all points between. Like those
pioneers of old only a very small
fraction of the population went
to the backwoods, back-o’-beyond,
to the edge, to the wilderness, way
out there, in what was fast becoming
a global village where everywhere was
becoming a pioneering post, the concept,
attitude of the heart, constant movement
a style of life, periodic relocation part of
the warp and weft. Slowly, it would seem
that the tyranny of distance was at last being
overcome. The distant frontier was both a place
in the brain and a dot a long way off on the map.
He is an anachronism, now, this pioneer.
although the language is still used, a new
vocabulary is evolving, will evolve,
to capture the experience, ideals
that persist, that sustain themselves
under these new conditions. Emerson,
Thoreau, Melville dealt with them long
ago and now they are endless-mysterious,
unsearchable, unattainable, far beyond the
court of His oneness in the only place left for
all of us: the home of the Beloved with the doors
of joy flung open before our faces, seated in the
very presence of our King, anointed by the hopeful
acceptance of our life’s actions and our many deeds.4
4 May 1999 to 19 July 2011
1In 1890 the US Census Bureau proclaimed the American frontier closed, John W. Quinn, “Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis in American History”, from Reader’s Digest: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Patricia Limerick, “The Legacy of Conquest.”
2 It took a generation before the words of a private declaration(1863) and then a public proclamation(1868) of Baha’u’llah’s message could escape the confines of the Middle East and the prison into which He was cast and be taken to America,(1894) although they did get into newspapers as early as the 1860s.
3 Five generations(i.e. 25 years): 1894-1919, 1920-1945, 1946-1971, 1972-1997, 1998-the present
4 Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four on an Island, Oxford, 1983, p.83.
KEEPING SISYPHUS HAPPY
The philosopher and novelist Albert Camus believed that, for the artist, remaining aloof has always been possible in history until the present moment. Now, the uncommitted artist is unthinkable.
Everyone must now be pressed into service and must bend to the oars; for we are on the high seas and the artist must come off the sidelines into the amphitheatre with the lions and the martyrs to relieve humankind of oppression. The question is who are the slavedrivers and who is steering the boat? -Ron Price with thanks to Patrick Brantlinger, Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture and Social Decay, Cornell UP, London, 1983, pp.217-218.
Whatever form the world commonwealth takes, its creation will represent a new stage in an evolutionary process that began over 100 years ago or with the League of Nations or, perhaps, as far back as Columbus sailing to America. The process is evolutionary rather than some miraculous, new creation descending from the sky, ex cathedra. It will not be totally detached from the past and it will involve a plethora of international organizational forms and processes.-Brian D. Lepard, “From League of Nations To World Commonwealth”, Emergence: Dimensions of a New World Order, editor Charles Lerche, Baha’i Pub. Trust, London, 1991, p.96.
A treacherous superficiality
do I see in this lighted box,
false community, McLuhan’s
cool medium, indefinable shaper,
alterer of my world, no necessary
barbarism, decadence in some
electronic theodicy, psychic distance
created or eclipsed, producing anomie
bewilderment, without a centre, just
more and more and never-ending until
my last hour, in these antediluvian days
that are fast becoming the deluge, the new
Dark Age and it is getting harder to imagine
Sisyphus as happy.1 Do you understand Albert?
1 Reference to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man who spent his life rolling a rock up a hill and having it always roll down again—and again and again. The key, Camus said, is that one must imagine Sisyphus as happy.
16 March 1997 to 19 July 2011
PS Albert Camus said we must imagine Sisyphus as happy as he rolls a rock continuously up the hill until it falls down again and he must repeat the process.
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This post has been edited by RonPrice: 15 August 2011 - 05:01 AM