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Dr. Mookerjea - Cultural Studies 9

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University of Alberta
Sourayan Mookerjea

SOCIOLOGY 345 MARSHALL MCLUHAN a way of understanding technological development sociologically tetradic hermeneutics hermeneutics comes from 19c biblical study, interpretation. • enhancement • retrieval • obsolescense • reversal there is something missing in these... a kind of politics of this interpretation, a politics of technical change. why it matters that we think about technology in the first place, this is missing from the tetrads. Marshall McLuhan - CanadaAsACounter Environmen▯ Articulating a politics of meaning. Think back to Debord's Detournemen▯ and how the production of meaning is a political matter. Emphasis on form over content in McLuhan's thinking. The message of a medium is another medium. The medium is the message. etc. These adages point to form of a media over and above the content expressed by the medium. We will see that Semiotics is also fundamentally about meaning, a formal theory of meaning. People used to and still do talk about meaning by focusing on content: what are the main themes of this or that thing. The Politics of McLuhan's Thinking About Technology Over the post war period there is a big debate happening in Canada and around the world concerning the rise of american power and the rise and spread of american consumer culture and popular culture. People outside American are trying to think about what it means that their children are listening to american music and wearing american brands etc all these completely foreign and remote to their national context but these are the desires and dreams our kids are being inundated with. Is it good or bad? most think bad, it is cultural imperialism, they are colonizing us with their culture. Society of the Spectacle etc. ie in Daffy Duck comic books a moneybags character comes and solves all the problem. the message being that america will solve all your problems, american money/capitalism specifically. this is what McLuhan is entering with his essays. Think back to Maurice Charland's pieceTechnological Nationalis▯. If you say you dont want to be turned into an american, we are canadian in some kind of way, then what is that canadian identity as opposed to the american one. Charland's essay points out that Canadians have a myth of technological evolution/progress that has become a form of canadian nationalism. That's one of our alternatives. McLuhan rejects that ideology, he doesn't want that nationalism. That is the way Canadians think of themselves at the time, in this context of technological nationalism. McLuhan takes a different position. There is nothing uniquely canadian about technological progress, it makes no sense to think of it as Canadian. He also rejects this linear evolutionary way of seeing technological development anyway. It is true that Canadian's see themselves as Charland says, but McLuhan thinks we ought not to. We need to find something else that is 'canadian'. Charland discusses the railroad as an ideological tool in nation building. (In talking about myth, Charland is using this word the way Barthes theorizes it, and the way Levi-Strauss theorizes it.) Charland points out that the railroad by itself didnt have enough mythical power on itself, so the state turned to the radio as a state project to create a canadian identity (in fact the first radios in canada were on the train!). By 1919 there are private radio stations broadcasting in canada, but they are rebroadcasting american programming! in the 40s and 50s there are a range of govt projects to keep out american culture. there is a broadcasting act of 1932 which founds something like a CBC radio service. Charland points out two contradictions to this whole CBC project: on the one hand you have this idea that the culture created will be canadian and yet the economics of how it is done in terms of a landscape of private broadcasting (which is not made illegal, cbc is just one station in a landscape of american broadcasters) is not canadian. the second contradiction is the technology itself, wihch becomes more pertinent with TV and internet, where the technology is not canadian in any sense. so what does it mean to talk about digital media as having some national cultural content to begin with, but then to say that this will be the carrier of canadian cultural content... all these attempts starting with the radio to mandat▯ a canadian culture using a capitalist economic system and then a technology that is not canadian is all a contradiction. McLuhan had realized this and saw that this whole project is bound to fail. it will not make a canadian identity. McLuhan thought this was a hopeless endeavor. Over the 40s and 50s the NFB the National Ballet the Canada Council for the Arts SSHRC the CRTC etc are created and all have this mandate to foster a canadian identity in some form and help canadians tell stories to one another abou ttheir own experience and in this respect serve as a dike against the sheer flood of american culture coming over the border. Observe: CBC is told to provide content that is no▯ american. Doesn't say what is Canadian. It is just not american. - that
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