Sunday, February 05, 2006

McLuhan and Carpenter: Mid-20th Century Collaboration

Anthropological studies are unique in their lack of cross-disciplinary collaborations. Imagination, creative out-of-the-box thinking? No. Boring, tedious, self-absorbed studies that give sleeping pills competition.

Endless undergrad anthro courses, offered to fulfill multicultural requirements, focus on the usual overexposed cast of characters—Mead, Leakey, Goodall, etc.—great anthros of their time, but the icon parade just gets old. Uninspiring, somewhat removed from our budding ipodded, TiVoish 21st century lives. Potential 21st century Goodalls get turned off fast from the tedium…and lack of collaborations with other disciplines.

Other sciences thrive on collaboration. Sociologists constantly tune themselves into other fields and latch on, elucidating points of study that are current and relative to living now. Biology also has its collaboration stars, and reaped such hybrids as nanotech and omic studies. But anthropology continues its relevancy slide in university budgets because the discipline seems less and less congruent to practical 21st century application. Yanomamos and Masai make great PBS specials, but how does that relate to my car payments, job interview skills, or globalized economy?

Sure there were collaborations, grudgingly in some cases I suppose, but you never hear of them in undergrad or grad anthro classes. Perhaps the internet is changing that. Old school, embedded in stone anthros are losing their control over the focus of anthropology via the internet, possibly the best thing since sliced pita.

Hidden anthro information, long forgotten from study, comes forth to the light of day. Including interesting collaborations long buried by those who's lack of imagination launched a thousand snoozing students.

One of the most interesting anthropological collaborations that never gets discussed is between the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter and the media prophet, Marshall McLuhan. Who knew? McLuhan, father of media studies and 50 yrs ahead of his time, recognized anthropology as a useful tool towards furthering his analysis of media, and its lasting changes in the public zeitgeist.

Here's a link that discusses the Carpenter/McLuhan collaboration in detail, including quotes from their short-lived journal, Explorations in Communications. Apparently they became lifelong friends. Certainly a terrific example of the POTENTIALS collaboration has to offer the anthropological discipline.

Don't know much about Marshall? Here's some more Marshall Media:
McLuhan at Wikipedia.
Marshall's 'official' website.
20 min. mp3 soundclip of McLuhan on Dick Cavett in 1970.

Remember: the media IS the message :)


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Mon Feb 13, 07:57:00 PM 2006  
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