Hillary Clinton’s “Cool” Performance (on TV) at the Benghazi Congressional Hearing

23Oct15

Hot and Cool Media

Laurence O’Donnell on his MSNBC program last night cited Marshall McLuhan’s hot and cool media distinction  to describe Hillary Clinton’s impressive performance at the 11-hour Benghazi congressional hearing on Thursday: “It was in McLuhan’s 1964 seminal work ‘Understanding Media’ that he said ‘TV is a cool medium.’ He described the first televised presidential debate as a contest between hot and cool. Richard Nixon was hot and seemingly angry. John F. Kennedy stayed cool. McLuhan insisted that on TV cool will always win. Today is was as if Hillary Clinton reread McLuhan last night and Trey Gowdy has never heard of him.”

Marshall McLuhan offered a concise and clear explanation of the difference between hot and cool media for a popular non-academic audience in the Playboy interview in 1969:

“Basically, a hot medium excludes and a cool medium includes; hot media are low in participation, or completion, by the audience and cool media are high in participation. A hot medium is one that extends a single sense with high definition. High definition means a complete filling in of data by the medium without intense audience participation. A photograph, for example, is high definition or hot; whereas a cartoon is low definition or cool, because the rough outline drawing provides very little visual data and requires the viewer to fill in or complete the image himself. The telephone, which gives the ear relatively little data, is thus cool, as is speech; both demand considerable filling in by the listener. On the other hand, radio is a hot medium because it sharply and intensely provides great amounts of high-definition auditory information that leaves little or nothing to be filled in by the audience. A lecture, by the same token, is hot, but a seminar is cool; a book is hot, but a conversation or bull session is cool.

In a cool medium, the audience is an active constituent of the viewing or listening experience. A girl wearing open-mesh silk stockings or glasses is inherently cool and sensual because the eye acts as a surrogate hand in filling in the low-definition image thus engendered. Which is why boys make passes at girls who wear glasses. In any case, the overwhelming majority of our technologies and entertainments since the introduction of print technology have been hot, fragmented and exclusive, but in the age of television we see a return to cool values and the inclusive in-depth involvement and participation they engender. This is, of course, just one more reason why the medium is the message, rather than the content; it is the participatory nature of the TV experience itself that is important, rather than the content of the particular TV image that is being invisibly and indelibly inscribed on our skins.” – Playboy interview, 1969

The full Playboy interview can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/ppolwse

Read Corey Anton’s excellent reappraisal of the distinction between hot and cool media that was published on this blog here: http://tinyurl.com/nfrdcfw .

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2 Responses to “Hillary Clinton’s “Cool” Performance (on TV) at the Benghazi Congressional Hearing”

  1. When the Republican attack dogs made their ridiculous and outlandish accusations in angry voices there was nothing to fill in. They were hot under the collar. When Hillary smiled and smirked we filled in what she was was probably thinking: These folks are pathetic, they are not investigating what happened in Bengazi. They are trying to derail my presidential campaign. They are total losers. At least that is what I filled in. Hillary was calm, cool and collected.

  2. Right on, Bob. The same could be said of the Harperman and his insulting attack ads against Justin Trudeau. Harper’s hatred of Justin’s father and by extension Justin himself, was well known and not very well suppressed. Justin took it all in stride with good humour and grace. The political bullies and attack dogs are hot and both Hillary and Justin demonstrate the best way to defeat them – with McLuhanesque cool good humour.


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