Saturday, 27 August 2011

McLuhan and the Unvironment

I wanted to try and explore what I see as a misunderstanding of emphasis in Marshall Mcluhan’s thought process. in a recent blog Lance Strate writes that Marshall Mcluhan saw how the televisual environment moved us away from a characteristically linear mode of thinking. Earlier he made the point that Mcluhan, being a Catholic, down played the influence of the Guttenberg press on the Reformation. The very Reformation that was, if you chose to see it that way, the first major foothold in the triumph of the left brain in modern times. I suspect that Strate did not engage with Mcluhan’s far more visual book “The Medium is the Massage”. In this book through a less linear and altogether more cut-up style he makes it unequivocally clear that he thinks the move away from the linear mode of thinking is a good thing. Yes the Guttenberg press made it easier to share knowledge but the technology demanded that we start to conceive of it in linear chunks.This book also makes clear that any interface, the alphabet for example, predisposes us to certain ways of thinking or experiencing life.
       Mcluhan, perhaps rather naively, believed that modern electronic technology could return us to an horizonless multi-sensory state of being. He gives as an example by way of a photograph The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI) in which participants and performers merge and “experience” a shared perceptual ritual. I am greatly intrigued that Mcluhan was a Catholic because despite the religion's many faults it does understand metaphor – the language of the right brain. Metaphor is not there to be unpicked and decoded, it just is. Mcluhan emphasises this point with the inclusion of the words of Wordsworth “The cock is crowing - The stream is flowing”. The writer and the reader are as one being present in the flow of life. (These "romantic" poets took the gamble of jetisoning self awareness and risking looking like fools so that we too may share their sense of wonder.)
     I am not sure that electronic technology has redeemed us from a life that is un-experienced. If anything is seems to have thrust us further towards a physically withered way of being. Of course in a rich and diverse environment technology can facilitate a cohesive communality as witnessed in the riot clean up responses but the language that comes across loudest is still that of consumerism. The objects themselves have this language built into them. Consume me doesn’t need to be on a label around a smart-phone or trainer for even the most privileged and urbane human to feel like doing just that. The objects are adverts for themselves. This is the medium and this is the message. The tools are the extension of man yes?  So what is man now? Take me, I love my smart phone. Or come as near to loving an inanimate object as a sane minded individual can come. It allows me to share and create simply and easily. Increasingly, however we are invited to share a homogenised version of events. Behold beautiful people at joyous festivals where Beady Eye are somehow messengers of the gods. But adverts don’t need to tell you to buy stuff anymore because the stuff itself is screaming that out loud all the time.
Here then is a conundrum. The Reformation sought to redress the balance of over fixation with what it saw as symbol and iconography. First this is a misinterpretation from a steadily bureaucratised mode of being brought about by enlightened thinking but secondly form and function really have morphed together into a free base version of efficiency. The function is to sell itself and if possible to sell other stuff too. How then do we stop the brooms from dividing and flooding the place? *music strikes up*
Yes in his article Strate says how McLuhan's insight was brought about by seeing the present and not the past “in the rear view mirror” but this being present is frowned upon by the urbane-cynic factory setting of modern man who is no one if he can’t demonstrate self-awareness. Perhaps if we allow are selves to be present we will see that the Victorian way of learning the basics is the wrong code. Children are sponges and we feed them the language of success from the moment they are born. I remember as a new father seeing product called “baby Einstein”. This product it seemed was all about helping your baby to distinguish black and white shapes because then when it came to reading they would be a genius. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is akin to taking the most sophisticated automaton yet to be devised and showing it off at country fairs by getting it to shout “roll up roll up!” We teach children to succeed in the system. End of. This to me feels like madness and I am sick of art that justifies itself by claiming to reflect this madness back at us like an idiot with a dead rat on a shitty stick expecting a medal. I am sure that our obsession with detectives is part of a longing for an intuitive and experienced form of life. Remember the detective can only solve the case when he’s suspended from duty. These plots are far closer to a noble and enriching form of art than anything the white Saatchi cubes serve up. Think of how Raskolnikov was haunted by the spectre of the detective in crime and punishment. The detective who seemed to understand and know intuitively what drove him. Raskolnikov had rationalised goodness away and he was no longer present, living as he did in a hall of mirrors of over awareness. Today, I feel, a culture of over specialisation means there is a danger that no one is responsible and no one needs to use their intuition. The intuition I am referring to is the “whole” intelligence not just the words off the training manual for damage limitation (As a tutor assessing I actually have to tick a box on a scale indicating the students knowledge of health and safety) So would Mr McLuhan demand more detective dramas on TV? More programmes like “Unforgiven” that explore ideas of nature and nurture and redemption.
I have digressed and find myself circling the point I’m trying to make. It's something to do with the futility of trying to teach the ‘basics” to children growing up in an un-vironment. The young generation need to be present and recently they were certainly that. In this sense they were equally as articulate as the message coming out of the language of the physical world around them.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Air waves

I have in my hand a biro with a round barrel as opposed to the more familiar hexagonal bic shape - designed for ease of grip. The irony being I find the round barrel both easier to grip and more pleasing on the eye. Oh how we laughed. Lots of products would have us believe that we really are useless at holding onto things and developers build their unique selling points around their improved ability to facilitate ease of grip. Even when wet! It's obvious really but the economy is driven by innovation. Innovation cross the nation instant salvation. Or something like that. Is this the same as needs must as the Devil drives? Or necessity is the mother of invention? Really it's we need something to keep all this money making more money so let's invent a process called innovation.
     I really must confess to a sense of major existential angst derived from my inherent love of a piece of gadgetry at a bargain price. There is a feeling of futilty that surrounds this. The sense of scrabbling for paper money fluttering down from a window near the top of, say, Canary Wharf. Or the child in Orwell's 1984 who steals the family's last piece of chocolate and runs off to eat it alone. All probably as a result of my catholic guilt but I'm interested in exploring this non the less. As a child I had on my bedroom window sill a replica John Player Special racing car that was actually a radio. At the time this struck us as a miracle of modern science. My parents had bid for it at a street market where the crowd are whipped into a frenzy of desire by genuinely luxurious electrical goods being sold (to ringers) at insanely cheap prices. I seem to recall a calculator selling for 50p! This is probably what the car-radio was worth but despite the shame I felt about my parents spending £10 on such an item it did bring with it a sense of mystery that has remained with me. This is the pleasure I derived from turning the tuning dial scanning the airwaves and picking up split second whafts of other worlds breaking through the crackle. I seemed to make intuitive assumptions about how far away the source of the signal was.There is perhaps a rational explanation for why, for instance, Police dialogue seemed closer. Now I ask myself if I ever really did hear the police? Don't you need a special receiver for that? I recently derived much parental pleasure as my sons conversed with a nearby mini-cab controler on their walkie talkies. I feel sure were they to have done this on face book I would not be so pleased. At the time i was sat on a bench observing their navigations around the local boating lake and our shore to vessel communications made it doubly thrilling.
    With the innovation of digital radio signals are much clearer and there are no choppy seas of static to cross. The interface is in place. Trawling through a list of radio station names (hazarding a guess as to the music they play - Gaydar, Chill, Smooth) is not the same as moving a red line across a baffling spread of complex numerals waiting for sonic cohesion to occur. On my digital radio the wait whilst the radio tunes into the selected name removes all sense of wireless sweeping. I prefered having to listen until I found out what I was listening to. Sometimes you would never find out. Scanning the radio waves in the small box of my bedroom was a way of connecting to the infinity of the space beyond the walls - the enclosed meets the eternal. I could easily imagine my bed as a small fishing trawler adrift on an endless ocean of unfathomable depths.
I can remember feeling oddly ambivalent towards the state issued stickers to help you remember the new wavelengths of the BBC radio stations. Red for the trustworthy plodding Radio 2 and blue for the yapping puppy of Radio 1. It was still up to you to place these stickers in the right place which makes it seem like a very tactile version of the initial set up on a digital set. I was never a radio fetishist in the sense of wanting to be a pirate radio dj and whilst I did get a thrill from occasionally happening on Radio Caroline, I was equally in thrall to the static between the stations. No static, however was desired when tuning into the top 40. this proved problematic when I held my new radio cassette player on the back seat of my parents Wolsey (or was it the Citreon?). there aren't many times in life when I can genuinely recall where I was when something epoch defing happened but I still have a very clear memory of us negotiating the round about just outside Broadbridge Heath as Rock Lobster came in at number 39. Here was a song that literally coalesced all the radio waves into one enchanting sonic spell. Later I bought the album and the opening track Planet Claire () tried to do this in a more direct fashion. I do believe, thinking about it now, that it was that sense of a signal beamed from another world that we (David Devant and His Spirit Wife) were trying to summon on the opening track to our first album.
Just over a year after hearing Rock lobster I came down to breakfast on my thirteenth birthday to hear the breaking radio news that family icon John Lennon had just been shot dead. It seems I remember radio news but not television.
Back then popular culture and indeed any culture seemed like the tip of the iceberg. We all knew that there were inky depths available to be explored should we be able to find a route through the earth's crust to a subterranean lake. Now all you need to do is type "what's on the tip of my tongue?" into Google to get various images of Mark Ronson's white trainers in profile. Or perhaps, if you're lucky the Fit-Flop a shoe that keeps you fit. It is the innovative brain child of a lady too busy to exercise because she is immersed in promoting a shoe she has created that keeps you fit when you're too busy to exercise.

Human Man

Aman sits in bed pondering whether or not he would sound better in the past tense. His head, or rather my head was aching. The riots of the past week had played no small part in sending him into a state of mental paroxysms and withering his gonads. Whilst brushing his teeth he had planned to compose a narrative about the unsayable that somehow said everything was alright. But because it was late he had already forgotten that which he would have ordinarily remembered in the morning. The streets outside were now calm but he could not shake off a sense of guilt for not having taken his firm bristled broom to the clean up operation that had taken place in the daytime. And thus slowly running out of steam or indeed the will to engage he he he he he he he he he he what? He he he he remembered that the man had planned to write about how he was happy to embrace insanity as a political action, whilst silently hoping that this would be what would slowly propel him back to a saner state of love and wonderment like an astronaut spacewalking back to his module.

Three Men

three men try to gather
together using social networking technology

This goes on for a long time
It becomes slightly embarassing
And so one of them decides
Enough is enough an he
Writes to the other two
To say I am in bed
Do not disturb the trees
Do not walk on the glass
If at the end of this
you bring me the golden feather
then you can marry my wife
The other two
Sent into paroxysms of mental confusion
Agree to meet
To discuss what this could possibly mean.
The no longer bedridden riddler
Sits in a cafe opposite.
Sipping a campari
Hiding behind a copy of Le Nuts
He gets up and begins to walk over
But sadly (and I have forgotten why)
He falls down a sink hole
That happened to appear at that precise
Moment in Southwark.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Blackberry Picking

Blood and brambles
Bloody Shambles
Cameron gambles
On Hardline angles
"its criminality undiluted"
Nations youths have been poluted
And while economy takes a tumble
I'm at home making blackberry crumble
Filled with fruits harvested in scrubland
Behind Sainsbury's full of thorns and
Smelt of decaying vegetation
Seemed emblematic of the nation
Made my young son feel ill at ease
Paths ill defined,shapes in the trees
Such physical pursuits to him
Seem unnecessary and alien
I tell myself it does him good
As any self-respecting father would
Hands made for grasping a controler
Each bramble scratch will make him wholer
But now its my hands that are stained
With crimson juices - fear I've refrained
From doing this when he was younger
And somehow bred one more war-monger
But thorny pricks upon my skin
Convince me I should not give in.
Who needs another liberal deserter
In face of national inertia?
Instead of always asking why?
Perhaps we should give it a try.
For kindness and mutual affection
Evade the grasp of rational detection.
Does nature fear over production?
Advertising for her own destruction?
Her shiny globules go unseen
Coming as they do with no touch screen
And yet there they are and in plain view
Within the reach of all through a few.
Backberries are cheaper than an I-phone
There's a new crop behind the pleasure dome.
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Monday, 8 August 2011

gadget land

My sons end of year school production contained a brilliant parody of consumer culture revolving around a warehouse shop called gadget land. The scene ended with salespeople offering shoppers a remote for the remote for the remote... I feel sad today that the very real gadget land round the corner has been the centre for a very real manifestation of the desire for all things shiny and gizmo. Plasma screen news bulletin. I hear certain people of brixton have responded by handing out free iced cup cakes and I can think of no better response.
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Saturday, 6 August 2011

0:0 Scale

Inspite of
The Trolley bagsying kerfuffle
The keeping up with the Jone's
The "I was a playschool assistant
before I retired"
The "Do you think I am being reasonable?"
The "you (the AA man) were quicker than calling an ambulance"
The withered academic who never holds your gaze
The England 2 India zero mob
The coins dropped into a pint glass bar game antics
The not on my manor-ness
The bring your kids up to be respectful
The professional looking hiker sandals
I had a blissful time in a crinkled corner of Kent
Thanks in no small part to
The cycling along the front between the Ds
THe smell of aniseed from the weeds
The blurring early blackberries
The pebble dash
with the wind behind you
The flag in the breeze atop
The cottage castle (Queen mother's favourite)
The flash of firm thigh above the knees
The hour in the bay
Behind a windbreak
While the boys have a hack
is there nothing I lack?
The sight of Grandmas ghost having a paddle
With R and A sitting tall in the saddle
The mind coming to rest
In the heart's garrison
Beyond the range
of London's projectile comparison.

Friday, 5 August 2011

e-con-yer-money (Andrew Cooper's phrase not mine - not I )

So we all know now that the economy is a belief system and is as equally valid as homeopathy. Homeopaths don't tend to give themselves millions of pounds in bonuses at the expense of national misery. Money it seems has become too abstracted. Too rooted in the left brain. Money allows the Exchange of specialised services which is all well and good but it is surely no coincidence that we live in an age of over specialisation. The problem with an homogeneous single currency is that it takes money further away from the identity and ideas of a nation. It's also less fun when traveling. More convenient but less engaging. We are as a result disengaged from money. Hence lots of abstract debts. Can you imagine if fishermen kept all the best fishes for themselves? They would soon rot. So is money rotting? It certainly smells like it.
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Thursday, 4 August 2011


When we first started coming to Triangland it was like a blank canvas. Always so quiet with just our own hang ups to mishape the sense of wonder. I am typing this on an android phone and this seems to shape my perception in the same way that meeting other citizens of Trinagland does. You would not believe how much it feel like Jonathan Swift is writing each day as it comes. This Swiftian move from innocent anticipation to detached cynicism is enhanced by the necessity of concentrating on each separate letter as I type rather the flow of the pen. There was trouble last night. The kind where you have to forgoe the decompression chamber and launch yourself back into the real world. I should say before I go on that Rob and Ro who own our triangle have lived here all their lives and our contact with them has never done anything other than guide us gently into another picture book realm. Ro's shed which is held up with ivy was a recent winner of shed of the year. Perhaps last night was just another kind of picture book. More Barrie than Blyton. It seems all the young men aged between 8 and 11 were engaged in a water battle over the length and breadth of Triangland. Our sons took on the roll of rally crying arms dealers with gusto. By the end, however, someone had filled a gun from the hot tap - boys are want to experiment - and kicks and punches were exchanged. More Golding than Barrie. Now here is where my mind is dragged from its metaphorical hammock onboard hms sleepy head. I was outside the public lounge where we were playing a local card based variant of bingo when i saw a more senior lady appearing to tell a younger lady how to bring up her children to be responsible and considerate of others. I am one hundred percent certain that she was quoting directly from the constitution of Triangland. This to the best of my knowledge was drawn up in march when the owner occupiers returned. The sound of anyone telling anyone how to bring up their kids always seems to bypass my wait a moment before becoming involved area of the brain. This was revolution. I said my piece and returned dazed to the public lounge. Steve the bar ( I mean lounge) owner apologised to me for the behaviour of the owner occupier who needed to remember this was a holiday park. Not a retirement home. I never wanted to consider Triangland as a something or other - just a place we go to and let time drift us along merrily down the stream. I sign off as two unknown Barrie-esque boys are outside the bedroom door on the deck with large water canons. My own boys have been banned from such activities today.
NB Further muddy footprints in the pure white icing of my cake of eatingit were made by Rob having installed free Sat - does he really want a Chanel called Filth available to his tenants? Before we got Canal if the wind was blowing in the right direction. Secondly mothers of other marauding water gun boys making jokes about feeling dirty and needing to get wet which I only get the next day. Thirdly I am wearing a jumper today.
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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

triangular houses.

In the advert for a certain three sided chocolAte the idea of triangularisation of everyday objects is intended to suggest a better dreamily perfect world. My family and I are once more staying in such a place on a gently undulating hilltop by the sea. It seems, however,that the designer of this particular paradise stopped at the houses themselves. There are no triangular recycling bins for instance. There are some vaguely triangular trees but they were the work of a different altogether more elusive designer. This triangular village is how England could look in a Aldus Huxley post war idyll. This feeling is added to by the mysterious total absence of phone signal and a phone box painted a disconcertingly minimally more yellow shade of red stationed by the tennis court. This place takes an idea of the same but different way beyond what I have experienced at caravan parks. For a start a caravan park, I assume, has to be flat and this place undulates in typically english proportions. When WE the residents walk around we all say hello and a mutual understanding that we have found a secret happy land seems to pass between us.
In all happy lands no one really mentions the parts that don't work especially if they are so fundamental they cannot be changed without ripping apart the very fabric of your society. something about the ergonomics of a triangular house make life literally clunky. The clunk being the sound of your head against the tongue and groove as you search for a stranded plastic soldier behind the sofa. Within the triangular home any action beyond simply sitting seems to take excessive amounts of forward planning, dexterity and bodily flexibility. Admittedly most of these actions involve plugging something in (phone ready should we venture beyond our village perimeter) but as any loft converter will tell you plug sockets weren't designed for slopping walls. Ones judgement becomes skewed here in the same way that it so thrilling when visiting a crooked house at a funfair. Our triangular home feels as if I tried to build such a wonky abode from a set of instructions but misread one vital step resulting in the creation of something unsettling but less visually dramatic. This seems to be a pattern in my life. I shoot for normal and things come out skewed. Still moving quickly on it strikes me that all the cabins (not a wholly satisfying noun in this case) are loft conversions without the main body of the house holding them up. Looking out at the world from a loft does create sense of otherness even alienation. What we could see as a poetic distance except here we are all looking out from our lofts at each other. Yesterday a lady came to our veranda and gave us their milk and a home grown cucumber because they were going back home. Home she told me was near the dartford crossing and so under the spell of her non essential altruism (surely a cucumber would keep on the journey home) I responded that we lived "near" Dulwich. This had the effect I hoped of making us seem of rather more ambiguous wealth than simply saying Dulwich would have done.
Last year a leather clad man named john strode up to the door of our loft. His mission to preserve utopia for his family before returning to work himself. It seems my sons had used non-utopian language and he was firmly ( I said aggressively) explaining how perfect life could be here if we all get along. At the end of the week John was back and I saw him at the bar (non triangular) reading aloud from a quiz book no doubt amassing triangular wedges in his minds eye. I pondered how John's utopia would probably be more of a Noel's house party kind of affair than the one I was imagining. Mr Blobby and triangular chocolate does have a certain inevitability about it though.
Note to self. My sons seem to have invented the art of shouting mastication.
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