1964 -The Pivotal Year for Marshall McLuhan and the 1960s Decade

25Aug14

Beatles, 'Life' magazine, August 1964.
Beatles, ‘Life’ magazine, August 1964.

1964 was the year that Marshall McLuhan’s most important book – Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man – was published. After that, his best work lay behind him and he was increasingly met with growing criticism, misunderstanding and hostility. It might be useful to recall what else was happening in the world in 1964 to provide the context or ground out of which Understanding Media emerged. Marshall McLuhan and Understanding Media are very much part of the warp and woof of that revolutionary decade of social and political change.

A May 27, 2014 article in The Atlantic recalls that year in America 50 years ago:-

1964 was an eventful year — a half-century ago, humans were making strides toward space travel beyond the Earth’s orbit, and Tokyo hosted the 18th Summer Olympics. The Beatles took America by storm, as Race Riots gripped big cities — and the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. Boxer Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and the heavyweight champion of the world. Cyprus devolved into civil war between Turks and Greeks, and President Lyndon Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nqhvzjc )

One is tempted to say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. This article by Stephen Hume comments on Canada in 1964:-

It was 1964 and Boomers began coming of age

I was among them, part of a generation that changed the world — but at the time we rode the wave without really noticing the depth of the changes

‘When I was 17, it was a very good year,” sang those harmonious, well-groomed, early-’60s coffee house folkies, The Kingston Trio, their lyrics’ fame later amplified by a Frank Sinatra cover. I turned 17 in 1964, one of the teenage multitudes at the leading edge of that Baby Boom we hear so much griping about; the one that my war-weary parents had passionately helped launch in 1946. There were more than 8.5 million Baby Boomers born in Canada. The simple demographics of those pent-up Second World War desires transformed society. The so-called pig moved through the population python, creating demand by demand for bigger houses, bigger suburbs, bigger cars, more schools, more shopping malls, more fast food outlets, and so on.

But 1964 was also the year in which Boomers began to separate from the careful, conformist, Silent Generation that had created its gigantic successor.

That’s what adolescents approaching adulthood do — and have always done. They challenge assumptions and expectations, rebel against social norms, define themselves in the world by emphasizing not their inherited similarities but their invented differences from exasperated parents.

So 1964 marked the beginning of an era of tumultuous change that would transform political, social and cultural institutions for the province, the country and the continent.

Canada would get a new flag, the red maple leaf on a white bar, shedding its colonial ensign and beginning a discussion about patriating the constitution from Britain. In Vancouver, the Indian Centre Society would open on West Broadway to serve its youth, the first in Canada to have an all-First Nations board of directors.

In 1964, the Boomer vanguard was about to leave the family and make its own way in universities and the workforce. For the United States, it meant a whole generation arriving at the age that made it eligible for military conscription into an emerging war that much of that generation rejected.

We were also entering adulthood in a society scarred by social injustices: racial segregation, religious bigotry, class and gender discrimination — and we reacted with the civil rights movement, Black Power, Red Power, Gay Power, Flower Power, Women’s Lib, the development of a counter-culture.

It was the year that Clint Eastwood became a star with the wry, genre-spoofing spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars but it was also the year of Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, offered a bitter satirical antidote to Goldfinger, the latest in the James Bond franchise.

In Ontario, the legislature abolished a 114-year-old law permitting segregated schools. In the U.S., the Ku Klux Klan — including a local sheriff and his deputy — greeted President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Bill by murdering three young men registering black voters. A few months later, the first schools in Mississippi were integrated but there were riots in Harlem, a harbinger of the 1965 riot in Los Angeles that would leave 34 dead and $40 million in damage.

Yet, really, what teenager actually thinks deeply about political portents?

I was playing for a very good small town high school basketball team and writing sports stories not just for the school paper but for the small town weekly, selling the occasional squib for 25-cents-an-inch to a big city daily and so, as the song says, for me, when I was 17, “it was a very good year for small town girls,” too.

Who’d have thought then that the Kingston Trio were among the musical tremors that preceded a pop culture upheaval. Few of us actually noticed in the moment but those tremors would banish pop chart sensations of a few years before to the easy listening lounge. Move over, Old Blue Eyes, here come The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.

It’s like that with a lot of these immense social trends. We ride the wave but we never really notice until much later how Bobby Vinton, the gold record heartthrob of those girls on the school bus a few years earlier, was suddenly clinging by his fingernails to Billboard’s Top 100 list for 1964 while British Invasion bands like The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five dominated the top 20.

The communications visionary Marshall McLuhan saw what was coming in his book Understanding Media: the extension of man, advising us that “the medium is the message” but it didn’t make my reading list until university.

In 1964, as with many teenage boys, what commanded my attention were sports, cars and girls — and by a kind of self-interested default, the music that interested girls — not necessarily in that order.

Read the rest of this article at http://tinyurl.com/nu4s4ju .

1964

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