Coupland on McLuhan

In my previous post, I talked about hearing Douglas Coupland last Friday evening at a University of Winnipeg conference on Marshall McLuhan. I gave most of my attention to his physical presence and manner, because that’s what we so often want to know about celebrities we might try to see in person, but also because it seems the kind of investigation of “medium” that fascinated McLuhan, and in his wake, Coupland.

McLuhan (1911-1980) was a communications theorist who became something of a media guru in the 1960s — during my teens — drawing attention to media in a way we hadn’t encountered before, both dazzling and mystifying us with his critique. He came up with “the global village,”  “the medium is the message,” and notions of “hot” and “cool” media. He was provocative and controversial then, and remains so.

Several years ago I read Philip Marchand’s biography of Marshall McLuhan and enjoyed it. I haven’t read Coupland’s treatment of the man (one of the biographies in the Extraordinary Canadians series) but there’s lots of Google discussion and reviews of the book. (Since Coupland claimed to get a lot of his material for the biography from Google, why not access his book the same way?)

Here, for the record, a few scraps from his talk, things that interested me, more or less as he said them:

— We’re back in the 50s again…. [Then] everyone was going through this collective convulsion….  [Now] we’re back in this point. Time is beginning to feel funny…. We want it now… [Can’t do without] emails 48 hours without having a meltdown.

— Marshall thought the inner voice [we all have] came with reading.

— He was kind of kooky.

— He was a God-seeker. [It had to do with] the limbic system at the back of his brain.

— He’s good at helping you trigger your own ideas… He never preached…. He was a leaf-blower but he didn’t preach.

From Mennonite “madness” to Marshall McLuhan

The past days have been unusually stimulating for me. The main reason is the annual conference of the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, this year on “Mennonites, Melancholy and Mental Health.” I attended much of it, from Thursday evening to this afternoon, hearing papers on a whole variety of topics connected to mental health – from the history of attitudes, to the history of institutions (like Bethania in Russia, Bethesda in Ontario, Mennonite Youth Farm in Saskatchewan), to personal and family histories, and a lot in between. Continue reading

More stories on sports

There’s a great article in today’s Globe and Mail on the Bilodeau family, by Ian Brown. It picks up the heartwarming story already familiar to us about how oldest son Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, inspires his brother Alexandre, Canada’s first gold medallist of the current Olympic games. But Brown pushes a little deeper — not to undo the inspiration, but to give it greater nuance, greater complexity. He asks, for example, if Alexandre also inspires Frederic. And he gives Frederic, now something of a celebrity himself, a presence for readers that includes but is greater than his disease.

I always enjoy Ian Brown’s writing, and here I appreciate — and also marvel a little — at how directly he pushes into Frederic’s reality, more boldly than many journalists might, I think. I’m guessing this is because Brown has a son with severe disabilities and is not, therefore, uneasy or afraid of him. I haven’t yet read Brown’s book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, which recently won both the Charles Taylor Prize and British Columbia’s National Award, but I remember the compelling honesty of the series in the Globe that became the book. (A good review of it here.)

Today’s story also reveals how much Alexandre’s win is affecting the family. The change doesn’t feel entirely good. The father, Serge, insisted two nights after the win that they have a meal as a family again. He didn’t want to let the media “steal Alex from us.” But, of course, he’s already been taken. When the family arrived at the hotel to eat, hundreds of people were there, clamouring for Alexandre’s autograph.

It makes me wish we could all just leave him alone now; he has his medal; we Canadians have ours. But as soon as I write this, I realize the irony. I’m feeling quite free to discuss him and his family, as if, in fact, they belong to all of us. This too is part of the complexity of sports.

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Speaking of which, I’d like to draw attention to a comment by Leona written to my earlier post, reacting to Christopher Hitchens’ cynical view of sports. Comments add a welcome and unique dynamic to a blog, but I want to highlight this one in particular. It counters Hitchens’ grumpiness with a personal witness to the sporting event featured in the movie Invictus. Leona and her husband were living in South Africa at the time. Invictus is a good movie, and so is her story.