Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Marshall McLuhan, Donald Trump, and the Revenge of Cool

I'll be in Toronto,  Friday October 14 - at the Toronto School: Then, Now, Next big conference - giving a talk about Marshall McLuhan, Donald Trump, and the Revenge of Cool (expanding a bit on an earlier talk of the same name I gave at the New York Society for General Semantics meeting at the Players Club in New York City on September 9, 2016).

Here, for those who can't wait, or want a taste of my talk, or won't be able to make it to Toronto at all, is a slightly expanded version of my abstract (updated on 13 October 2016):

It may seem strange to characterize Donald Trump, and his angry, aggressive rhetoric as "cool" in the McLuhanesque sense, but most of his statements, especially those on Twitter where he frequently posts, contain almost no content. You can't say much anyway in just 140 characters, but Trump says whatever comes into his mind, claiming one day that he's "softening" his position on immigration, the next day that he's really "hardening" his position, and the day after that he's softening. Like all cool presentations, this allows his supporters to see whatever they want to see in his tweets and other statements. McLuhan might have said that Trump as a politician is all medium and no content. The dark side of this is that, just as the cool medium of television flipped into maximum participatory violence in the 1960s, so Trump and his ice storms of cool have already begun flipping into violence at his rallies.   But cool can taketh as well as giveth not only for society, but the candidate who plies it.   Trump's stiffness with the teleprompter, and his egregious lack of preparation for his first debate with Hillary Clinton, are hallmarks of his cool, which may be poised to exert its revenge on Trump. And his vulnerability to release of a hot recording of explicit, sexually abusive remarks in October 2016 - which caused him to plummet in the polls and lose the support of dozens of officeholders in his own party - speaks to the fragility of cool. At the same time, the propensity of Trump's core supporters, i.e., those most caught up in the cool, to continue to see and hear whatever they most want in their candidate, provides the candidate with a rock-solid floor of devotees, whatever he may actually do or say, or whatever reports of earlier misconduct may reveal.
For more about the conference, here's the final program.   Come on by if you can.  I'll be on a 3:30pm panel on Friday, October 14.

For more about Trump, Clinton, and how McLuhan may have reckoned this campaign, see my McLuhan in an Age of Social Media, available on Kindle and in paperback.

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