Was the Rolling Stones 1969 Hyde Park Concert crafted using McLuhan’s ideas?

Was this concert crafted using McLuhan’s ideas? Or, is it as it appears, a prime example of a return to tribalism via electronic media? Early in the video, Mick Jagger even speaks about the audience as participants.

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As far as I am able to determine, there is nothing documented that indicates The Rolling Stones were consciously crafting the Hyde Park concert around your father’s ideas. As artists, they were certainly responding to the cultural trends that constituted the focus of his work, so I can understand how it might seem that way. That being said, I did find the following interesting reference to the counter-culture in the Marchand biography.

“If McLuhan was unhappy about the assault on the Church by theological revolutionaries, he was not particularly pleased about the use of his work by cultural revolutionaries such as Abbie Hoffman, who in 1968 was saying, “The Left is too much into Marx, not enough into McLuhan.” When Hoffman published his Revolution for the Hell of It in 1968, McLuhan regarded it simply as a manifesto for the new tribalism. What was absurd, according to McLuhan, was that Hoffman seemed to think it meritorious to embrace this tribalism, when such embrace was almost as automatic, in the new electronic environment, as taking off one’s sweater in a warm room.” (Marchand, 1989, 206-207)

It seems reasonable to assume that the Stones were reading Hoffman and may well have been avid McLuhan-ites. I will certainly ask them if I ever get the chance! By the way, I particularly liked how the automatic nature of the tribal embrace was an issue for [McLuhan]. This makes perfect sense, since he stressed the need to observe the effects, and potential dangers, of new media environments. The tragedy of Altamont, only five months after Hyde Park, would seem to bear this out.

Thomas MacFarlane
Author of The Beatles and McLuhan, Understanding The Electric Age

Screen reading and literacy

New York Times Web Site with video ad

A hypothesis for investigation is that screen reading is an impediment to understanding. Conventional reading develops distinction and concentration. Reading on displays tends to confusion and distraction.

Eric McLuhan’s Fordham Experiment with film (albeit more of a demonstration) seems to show that light on, light through alone is significant. And that would just be comparing reading on a paper page versus an eReader.

At a major newspaper’s Site, there might very well be animated popup ads demanding attention, flavoring the experience more like the Star Wars cantina than a library. And there’s no location at a newspaper Web Site. In the paper copy, news, opinion, sports are in different neighborhoods, immediately indicating value and relevance. Online, everything and anything resides in the same one click away long house. With print reading, everyone is literally on the same page; the physical experience is identical for all. Published through the Internet, text differs according to screen size, specs and configuration. For Online reading, it’s very likely that ads and suggested Pages will vary from user to user.

A high level of literacy was an important factor in the American Revolution. Any George III of the future will be secure in knowing that when his Thomas Paine writes Common Sense, very few will even try to read it on a small screen. And for most of those that do make the attempt, something will appear over to the side about an actress in a bikini and that’ll be that.

Mensa sells ads on membership cards.

Mensa 2014 membership card, with ad on back

As might be expected, Mensa America — the US branch of the international high IQ society — has taken a great leap forward and landed on the cutting edge of marketing. The Mensa 2014 membership card is “sponsored” by Layne Walker of Northwestern mutual.

Subtle throughout, there’s no call to action, no Web Site address, no motto, . . ., not even a mention of what Northwestern Mutual is. These lacunae might leave a lesser audience confused, but Mensans will have the intellectual fortitude to do an Internet search and then will learn that Layne Walker is an insurance agent in Lubbock, Texas. Those lacking mental firepower might find this curious, but to Mensa members it’s all instantly clear. Lubbock, Texas was the home of Buddy Holly, that American saint who is forever twenty-two and with us always in the night sky. For anyone who strained their lungs singing “My Country Tis of Thee” in kindergarten, a card with an ad from an insurance agent in Lubbock, Texas is like a splintery sliver of a relic of the cross for a Medieval pilgrim.

And just think where this innovation might lead. States can sell ads on drivers’ licenses. When you get pulled over in Arkansas, the motorcycle cop can learn about “HAL’S DUTY FOOTWEAR — LARGEST SELECTION FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN — FREE SHIPPING!” And then there are colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning. Promotional messages can be splattered all over diplomas like some diner placemat menu. And this advertising — for a reasonable one-time charge — will be good for decades. Years after an attorney’s graduation from law school, a client might glance up at a framed document and see “NIFTY BRAKE AND TUNE UP — MENTION THIS AD AND GET A FREE OIL CHANGE WITH ANY TUNE UP!”

Mensa membership card 2014 mailer

Why is the NYC talk radio market at room temperature?

The 77 WABC Facebook Page has 10,249 Likes; WOR 710 has 2,928.

New York area independent music broadcasters do much better. Freeform radio WFMU shows 49,853 Fordham University’s station,WFUV, received 25,569.

KFI AM 640 in Southern California — analyzed by the great the great David Foster Wallace — has 46,259 Facebook Likes.

One possible interpretation of the Facebook figures is that, for talk radio in New York, nobody’s out there. Another is that the platform does not persuade. (If listeners won’t even click on a Like button, then what’s the chance of their opening a wallet?) I see the stations failing in their fundamental mission: the creation of a community with the brand as something central to it. This power of radio should be nothing new. Jean Shepherd noted that his show appeared in Kerouac’s On the Road because the broadcast served as a communal hearth to the New York City Beats.

The Facebook Page should be working to drive the size of the listening audience. That’s not happening with low traffic. Facebook numbers are a yardstick that potential advertisers have within easy reach. And given the proximity to the financial district, one that investors also might use.