Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Halloween Thought

All ghost stories are optimistic, not scary. They assume we continue after death, even if our afterlife ambitions always seem to be fixated on afflicting or terrorizing the living.

If you were a spirit, free from the need for food, water or bathroom facilities and all the time in eternity at your “fingertips”, wouldn't you think of better things to do, like world travel or catching up with other deceased acquaintances? Imagine chatting philosophy with Socrates and Samuel Clemens or exchanging poetic bon mots with Dorothy Parker? What do any of them think of Kanye West? Have any of them ever voted post mortem in American elections? That would be interesting to know. Maybe you’d organize with other ghouls to protest shoddy cemetery maintenance?

Halloween night frightening might be fun, but doing it 365 days a year for all eternity would bore me to death!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Putin's Coup Has Already Failed

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Keep in mind that Putin isn't as smart as he thinks he is. For his social media machinations to be really effective, we should never have found out about them, but we did -- in real time. Mueller even knows the names of Putin's GRU deputies and how they carried out his disinformation campaign. We know all about his troll farms and his hacking efforts and we are now on guard.

Putin should never have selected a total buffoon like #WhiteSupremacistTraitorTrump to be his pawn, but he did. What an imperfect vessel he chose to overturn the United States! The catch for Putin is that only an utter fool would be stupid enough to collaborate in his grandiose world domination scheme that seems pulled out of a 1960's James Bond movie, so it always was going to be a lose-lose proposition.

Everyone not in the Trump Cult (and they are a minority) sees him for what he is. Putin underestimates the intelligence of most of the American people and the resilience of our Constitutional Republic. He doesn't appreciate the checks and balances scattered throughout our tri-cameral federated political structure, or the power every citizen has to resist. He was able to take advantage of a temporary crack in the social media influence wall and now we are alerted to his activities. You can fool some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

Putin has not gained sanction relief and probably never will. His dreams of a reconstituted Soviet Union will never happen. Russia remains a third-rate kleptocracy teetering on the verge of another political collapse. He has already lost.

Hang in there.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Statue of Liberty Protest as a Pseudo Event

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The Statue of Liberty protest was all about optics, not disruption.The people whose vacations were disrupted were random tourists from all over the world, not Trump policy makers or even his supporters. Disruption as part of a political protest works best if the entities being disrupted matter. 

Occupying a representative's office is disruptive. Marching en masse down Pennsylvania Avenue is disruptive. Blocking a major highway is disruptive. Boycotting a company to protest their political stance is disruptive. Working to make sure everyone eligible to vote CAN vote is disruptive. Showing up November 6 and voting the bastards out is disruptive.

In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America Daniel J. Boorstin wrote about the nature of pseudo events. Boorstin defined a pseudo-event as an ambiguous truth that appeals to people’s desire to be informed. He argued that being in the media spotlight was a strong incentive for public figures to stage artificial events, which became real and important once validated by media coverage.

Shutting down a national monument is an optics generating pseudo event. Not dismissing it's effectiveness as a one day pseudo event, just disputing it as disruption or as effective in bringing about real change. For Federal officials on scene it was par for the course. They train for just this kind of thing. For families whose vacations were affected, it was disruptive. Is that who we should be targeting? 

It's not a question whether disrupting a family’s vacation is trivial. It's a question of effective protest affecting the parties responsible for an issue. 

At this point we don't really need optic events to raise awareness about what's happening at the border. All of America is aware. We need actions that stop the Trump administration from carrying out their racist policies. Inconveniencing Stature of Liberty tourists does nothing to accomplish this. I don't doubt Therese Okoumou's sincerity. I just question her tactics. 

There have been 700+ marches against Trump's border policies in just the last two weeks. More attention-getting actions aren't necessary. 

Ms. Okoumou's type of "protest", scaling a national monument's base (not to the top mind you, just the base), is really a sign of impotence. Terrorists follow the same logic. "I can't really attack the powers causing the problem, so I'll attack innocents to raise awareness." 

One difference between Ms. Okoumou and terrorists is she didn't put anyone in actual danger except herself (and the police who had to "rescue" her). Another is that there actually are other actions that directly affect Trump and his lackeys she could have attempted: 

1. Work with those people and organizations trying to identify separated family members. 

2. Document ICE's movement of children in and out of the Bronx facility and other places with 24/7 surveillance.

3. Contribute time to staff the pro bono attorneys who are working to reunite the families in court.

4. Work with local political organizations to ensure Democrats take back Federal and State governments in November.

I'm sure other more creative, knowledgeable people than me could come up with other possibilities.
Perhaps none of these suggestions would have been as attention-grabbing as climbing the base of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps it was actually a valid "Kodak Moment". But perhaps they would have accomplished more.

Due to her grandstanding, Ms. Okoumou will be spending a lot of time in court and perhaps in jail. That time could be better spent.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Response to: Nicholas Carr's "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds"

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Funny how Nicholas Carr's  "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds" in the October 6, 2017 1 issue of the Wall Street Journal echoes Socrates who believed that writing would also weaken our intellect. Let me offer an alternative. Off-loading some functions to our pocket computers frees the mind to pursue other things. I have posted about the notion of the Human/Computer Centaur before. Chess masters have discovered that human/computer teams win more games than either humans or computers by themselves. Here is a link to a PARC blog "Half-Human, Half-Computer? Meet the Modern Centaur"about modern centaur hybrids.

Just as Socrates couldn't foresee the benefits that would accrue from a culture that could write things down, share thoughts across generations, etc, I don't think Carr can see where we're going, for better and for worse. He is looking through a rear-view mirror.

Classic Greeks lost a vast capacity to memorize when they adopted writing, but they gained the capacity to analyze, to separate themselves from and critique the material of their culture and they gained the ability to speak to generations beyond an individual's death. The memory exercises we all were given in grade school are merely the cultural residue of a previous human state of existence where memorization was the ONLY way to preserve a culture's heritage. We think they made us smarter for the same reason we extravagantly reward our modern bards for singing love songs to us. Cultural residues are from a time when memorization and singing were paramount. There are always winners and losers when there's a technological paradigm shift.

I'm not saying we'll be better off in the "computer with a cellphone app future", but we can't really see right now, except through a rear-view mirror, whether we'll be worse off. Bottom line, it's going to happen and what we need right now are defenses against the trolls, bots and fake-news-propagating social media that exploit the weaknesses of a transitional population.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Note About American Racism: We Are All Racists

My former wife is native Venezuelan and I met her while we were both in graduate school in New York City in the 70's. We would watch American TV and I would have to explain the culturally-based humor of American comedy shows like Saturday Night Live.

One other thing puzzled her. We'd watch Harry Belafonte perform and she'd ask "Is he Black?" We'd watch Lena Horne perform and she'd ask "Is she Black?" In her native Venezuela, Belafonte and Horne were not considered to be Black. They were just like everybody else. Her confusion made me realize how indoctrinated I was by my culture's imaginary racial distinctions.

I noticed a "difference" because I have been taught to notice a difference. We all have been taught to notice a difference. We are all racists. Some of us are just aware of how contrived and ridiculous that indoctrination has been and how we must strive to overcome it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why Are We Fascinated By Super Hero Movies?

Why the recent global fascination with the super hero genre? Is it just the advances in CGI allows realistic portrayals of unrealistic abilities? I don't think so. I think as a culture we are contemplating the notion of having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (and women).

Marshall McLuhan wrote that all our tools are extensions of our natural abilities. The hammer extends the fist. The knife or sword extends our fingernails. Telescopes extend our vision. PA systems extend our voices. His seminal work is even titled "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man."
Paraphrasing John Culkin, McLuhan wrote in UM: “we become what we behold... we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Super heroes represent the OPPOSITE of that cultural process of extension. With notable exceptions, super heroes internalize our tools. Superman doesn't need a tool belt because his abilities include super strength, x-ray & heat vision, etc. He doesn't need armor because his skin in invulnerable. He doesn't need a airplane because he can fly on his own. And so forth. (Yes, I know Batman doesn't have any super powers. His ability is the ultimate extension of normal humans. All his Bat gear makes him a super hero. As Joker/Jack Nicholson said in the 1989 Batman movie, "Where does he get all those great toys?")

What does that have to do with us? For the first time in human history our tools now allows us to extend our mental abilities, not just our physical abilities or our senses. Not only do computers relieve us of mental tasks ("computer" was the term first applied to human calculators), they allow us to offload those tasks, including memorizing, calculating and everything else they can or will someday do. How many reading this know by heart all their family member's phone numbers and how many rely on speed dialing?

Recently a group of computer scientists investigated which was the better chess player, the humans or the computers. Their surprising result was neither. Chess players who partnered with computers did better than computers or human alone. Their term for this human/machine hybrid was "centaur":

"In 2005, an advanced chess tournament took place that allowed any combination of humans and computers. Steven Cramton and Zackary Stephen, who only held amateur status in Elo (named after physics professor Arpad Elo) chess rankings, took their regular desktop computers and squeezed them for their purposes. They won that tournament against chess masters with superior chess ratings and even superior hardware and software. Both players had leveraged their expertise to align computing power to win chess games. They created a superior team comprising humans and machines. In essence, a new form of chess intelligence had emerged. Kasparov concluded, 'Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.'"-- From computer to centaur- Cognitive tools turn the rules upside down 

We all carry smart phones now. They aren't really "phones", they are pocket computers that happen to have a cell phone app. We off-load all sorts of information to our smart phones/pocket computers and come to depend on them to make calls, keep us up-to-date on appointments, purchase products and entertain us, among many other possibilities. Classical Batman with all the toys his billions could buy would have killed to have access to the capabilities of the little iPhone we all own. Smart phones/pocket computers give us powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal humans.

It is my hunch that we are all becoming human/computer hybrids, i.e.. centaurs. We are all become "super" in the sense of enhanced abilities afforded by our centaur status. Hence, we contemplate this transformation through the stories we tell ourselves about the gods and superheroes of previous cultural paradigms.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why We Progressives Are Against #TraitorTrump's Proposed Space Program

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When I was young and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied "First man on the moon." Then Neil Armstrong beat me to it and I never got over it. Now I'm too old for space travel and I feel if I can't go into space then no one can. I'm that petty. So you see, it's not about my being petty about #TraitorTrump's proposed space program at all. It's about my being petty about Neil Armstrong and my unfulfilled childhood dreams. I think there's something noble about that!

 Actually, what really happened to me when I was young is I knew that pilots were always the ones chosen to be astronauts and so I vowed to be a pilot. However, my nurse, being hard of hearing, misunderstood her instructions and instead of apprenticing me to be a pilot, she apprenticed me to a band of pirates. I never got over that either and THAT'S why I'm against #TraitorTrump's space program. I'm just that petty a pirate. (I won't even go into the being born in a leap year thing, which space travel time dilation would have corrected!)

 OK, OK. To be completely honest, we Progressives are against #TraitorTrump's "space program" because we don't believe him. Why would he support this one sciency thing while his administration is disparaging and tearing apart EVERY other sciency thing the government does? We Progressives believe he has neither the intention nor the capacity to conceive, fund and legislate an actual long-term space program whose potential benefits others have commented on. We believe it's just a PR stunt while he tears down our representative democracy to make himself look more the forward thinking visionary he isn't and less the ignorant, narcissistic, narrow-minded tyrant wannabe he actually is.

 THAT'S why we Progressives are against #TraitorTrump's "space program."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

About Bill Maher's Comment:

Before we condemn Bill Maher we should consider the fact that we are ALL racists. He is a racist. You are a racist. I am a racist.

That I am an unconscious racist was brought home to me when I began dating my former wife, a Venezuelan native and visiting graduate student. We'd watch TV and she had a hard time understanding the distinctions we Americans make concerning color. Harry Belafonte appeared on a show and she asked "Is he black?" Lena Horne appeared on a show. Same question. In Venezuela Harry Belafonte wasn't considered to be black. Lena Horne wasn't considered to be black. My Venezuelan girlfriend had a totally different mindset concerning race. Only someone deeply black, as in African black, is considered "black" in Venezuela. Others with lighter skin or whiter skin are considered to be the same. Remember, in the final analysis we're using the amount of melanin in a person's skin to make value judgments about that person. These are culturally transmitted learned judgments,

Our discernment concerning race are a totally learned aspect of American culture. We see differences because we are taught to see differences. As long as we can look at two individuals and decide based on appearance alone that one is "black" and one is not, we are racist. This also applies to distinctions for Asians, Latin Americans, etc. As long as we continue to distinguish a fellow human being as "other" we are all racist. That we have institutionalized that distinction, and we all, in ways big and small, contribute to that institutionalizing, is our national shame.

I'm not writing this to excuse Bill Maher. As a public figure with a national platform, it is incumbent on him to be especially aware of our institutionalized racism and the impact his words have in the time of #TraitorTrump. Because his unconscious racism can sometimes slip out on a national stage doesn't mean the rest of us get a pass.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump Advisor Tom Barrack Puts Lipstick on the Pig on MTP Sunday

Just watched Trump inaugural manager Tom Barrack on Meet the Press. Barrack is a slick character, good at twisting the truth to put lipstick on a pig. I think the Trump he described exists only in his mind. "President Trump's inauguration was equally brilliant (compared to Obama's)"

I especially liked when he tried to characterize what was going on in Obama's mind as he listened to Trickster Trump's inaugural diatribe:

"I was sitting on the platform and I was looking at President Obama and President Trump. You could see compassion in President Obama's eyes saying 'Wow! I really feel for you with the weight of the responsibility you're going to take.' And yesterday I could see in President Trump the glibness is gone. He feels the weight. He's there. He's going to do it. We all just need to give him a break. A hundred day peace treaty on all sides, his side, the media's side and it'll be on"

Great imagination and useful for spin and propaganda purposes. In some ways, with his easy manner and reasonable seeming demeanor, Barrack is more dangerous than Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer or the Trickster himself.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"I Tweet, Therefore I Am" Launched Monday, January 16, 2017 on Amazon!

Please enjoy at a special introductory price and then post your review here on Amazon! 

Never has there been a more timely book or a more timely acknowledgement of there being a more timely moment to read this timely book.

Our Twitstery So Far:

Police Detective Arkaby thought he had resolved the strange murder of millionaire industrialist and bleeding edge bio-scientist Willum Mortimus Granger, whose completely severed body he discovered at the beginning tweet of "Executive Severance", Book 1 of my Twitstery Twilogy. Arkaby is a by-the-book procedural investigator so full of himself he tweets every particular of his investigation, even though he is not, and never has been himself a billionaire Presidential candidate. Though he solves Granger’s murder, Arkaby’s habit of tweeting his every move nearly costs him his life at the hands an adversary who secretly follows his Twitter account.

Imagine now suspended Detective Arkaby's surprise when, in "The Golden Parachute", Book 2 of the Twitstery Twilogy, he receives a ghostly visit from someone who appears to be the previously deceased Willum Granger and who offers him big bucks to find his missing daughter, Regi Granger, but only if he continues tweeting. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Still skeptical Detective Arkaby reluctantly travels to the Caribbean where he not only locates Regi, but also stumbles across the now reconnected body of Willum Granger in a Caribbean medical school autopsy lab. Arkaby describes Regi as "a cool drink of water he'd like to swallow in one gulp," but that may just be the Caribbean heat talking.

In "I Tweet, Therefore I Am, Book 3 of the Twitstery Twilogy, Arkaby and Regi return with her father's body to the States where a new murder mystery awaits them. Strange things are happening at Willum Granger's medical hospital and cloning laboratory, Body Parts R Us, where someone liquidates his brother, Farley Granger, in a gruesome and humiliating manner. It is up to Arkaby and Regi to solve this second murder and uncover the secret of his original mystery visitor. One problem: Arkaby is the chief suspect in Farley Granger's murder!

I Tweet, Therefore I Am was preceded by national best selling Twitter novel Executive Severance, (NeoPoiesis Press, 2011) which won The Mary Shelley Award for Outstanding Fiction and by The Golden Parachute, (Kindle eBook, 2016).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Machinegenation? Humans Marrying Robots? Experts Say It's Really Coming

    I deal extensively with some of the implications of the Singularity in "I Tweet, Therefore I Am" (available January 16, pre-order now!) but I admit I didn't think of man-machine matrimony, or "machinegenation" as I like to call it.…/human-robot-love-marriage-relationshi…/

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sign the Petition Demanding a Reboot of The West Wing!

Why settle for a fake real president when we can have a real fake president? Reboot the West Wing! … #neverTrump

Understanding Social Media Through The Emancipation of Authorship

Social media can best be understood according to the notion of "the emancipation of authorship" proposed by Andrey Miroshnevchenko. All the hiccups, antagonisms and politically incorrect postering, including that of our Trickster President to be, represent the birth pangs of a whole society suddenly provided with the means to publish their thoughts, images, culinary choices and dating experiences etc. to a mass audience, but no formal training on how best to do so. We are all making it up as we go along, and as James Joyce wrote "His consumers, are they not his producers?" (FW, Viking Press, p. 497)

It's not just the sheer number of new authors, it's the rate of change that is upsetting our media, political and religious norms and institutions. When a five year old can get millions of views and make millions of dollars on YouTube reviewing his toys, you know we have entered a new era.

This first chart from Miroshnevchenko's "Human as Media" shows the sudden explosion of authorship we are experiencing as a culture

and is further documented by the second chart from Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow's Seed article "A Writing Revolution"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Age of the Centaur

For better or worse we are entering a time of human/machine symbiosis known as the Age of the Centaur. This term comes from the chess world which has always seen the computer as a challenge to human dominance of the chess board. In various tests, chess champions acknowledged that computers have grown so sophisticated that they regularly beat Grand Masters. The surprise they found is that when chess masters team up with computers they win the most games. Hence the Age of the Centaur. We have to view the current interaction of our students with their smartphones as the intense preoccupation of a Centaur learning how to use a new tool that will become part of them. Something may be lost in this transformation, but something else may be gained.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jon Stewart — the enabler of Donald Trump by Steve Almond

Steve Almond of The Boston Globe Misuses Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" to Slam Jon Stewart

The Boston Globe, May 16, 2016

Steve Almond , the author of this Boston Globe column, misses two keys points, the first is related to his reference to Neil Postman, the second is about how the media enabled Trump's rise. Almond neglects to discuss the basis of Postman's discussion of politics as entertainment, that is, that as a presentational medium, television is biased toward the non-discursive and favors image over substance. Jon Stewart is not a cause of this bias, he is a result of it, and at best a critical reaction to the information vacuum left by the traditional news media being totally subsumed by the presentational prejudices of television.

Second, Stewart didn't enable Trump's current political dominance, the traditional media did by giving him billions in free coverage and by failing to adequately fact-check his assertions. Stewart's nightly broadcast served as a model for both media criticism and contrarian political analysis and could in fact be seen as the TV medium's attempt to remediate its most onerous effects. Stewart wasn't a Trump enabler, and if he failed to change the political landscape, it wasn't due to a failure of his vision or a lack of trying.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Things Come in Fours

Comparing Marshall McLuhan's Tetrad and Claude Levi-Strauss's Canonical Formula


The figure-ground structure of a four part approach to analyzing media, merging McLuhan's "Laws of the Media" with the Claude Lévi-Strauss’s "Canonical Formula," allows us to focus our inquiry on the ways a new technology transforms society rather than technology content alone. The hidden biases of a new technology can change our assumptions about what is valuable and what is not, what is true and what is false, and who are the winners and the losers in the new Media Ecology. Ultimately, as Levi-Strauss suggested in his study of myths, we may be able to go beyond traditional media content analysis to understand how technological transformations operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact.
It may seem strange in an essay exploring Marshall McLuhan’s use of formal cause in media analysis to talk about the contributions to the Media Ecology canon of French Structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. After all, Lévi-Strauss studied the myths, kinship systems and cultural artifacts of low technology societies while McLuhan is famous for his insights into the impact of mass communications and high technology on our modern civilizations. I will suggest that these theories are complementary and in fact address many of the same concerns.

In 1977 I participated in a communications studies conference panel at Fairleigh Dickinson University which featured Marshall McLuhan as a respondent.  Panel members were doctoral students invited to present their research exploring the relationship of current mass media and society.  Dr. McLuhan then commented.
I opened my presentation with a brief overview of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss's use of the "triad" to analyze the structure of human cultures. Based on structural linguistics techniques, Lévi-Strauss sought to devise a means of analyzing and interpreting the kinship systems, myths and totemic practices of pre-literate populations. His work provides insights into how a cognitive framework affect how activities are carried out in oral societies, and gives us an opportunity to anticipate how they might evolve in our age of Digital Literacy. Lévi-Strauss’s goal was to “show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact.”(1964, p. 11)

Figure 1: Transformation of “raw” material into edible/inedible foodstuff
Lévi-Strauss used his "culinary triangle" to demonstrate how cultures differentiate that which is natural from that which is cultural by describing how foodstuffs move from their original "raw" condition to the condition of "cooked" or "rotten" depending on whether they go through a cultural or a natural process. One side of the triangle represents a cultural transformation; the other side represents a natural transformation. In most cases, “cooked” signifies edible and “rotten” signifies inedible.

I then presented my own triad analyzing television content:

Figure 2: Transformation of “raw” data into program content

Out of a “blooming, buzzing confusion,” television programmers in the United States filter the raw stuff of reality into three major categories,

1.      News. (the most raw)

2.      Entertainment shows. (the most cooked) and

3.      Advertising. (the most rotten.)

While the average viewer experiences these three types of television content as separate and discrete, they actually represent a continuum of possibilities. 

Figure 3: The Television Content Continuum

Between news shows and entertainment shows the continuum runs from the totally “objective” to the totally “subjective,” ranging from

Ø   Raw footage hard news to

Ø   Happy news to

Ø   reality shows to

Ø   Docu-dramas to

Ø   Scripted dramas and comedies

If news in its most uncooked form is the truth (and of course this is not the case), then advertising at its extreme is the most propagandistic.  Again, there exists a continuum between the two, ranging from

Ø  The “see it now” productions of Edward R. Murrow to

Ø  The “see it my way” admonitions of Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow to

Ø  Infomercials to

Ø  What McLuhan called the “good news” that is advertising.

 Between entertainment shows and advertising there exists the continuum between attention and action which ranges from

Ø  Those 30 second interruptions we have learned to tolerate to

Ø  Sponsorship images appearing within sporting events to

Ø  Product placement within regular programming.

Television content reinforces social norms. Entertainment programming focuses on how rules are the broken and re-established on the interpersonal level. News programming deals with rules on the public level. Advertising is preoccupied with the breaking and re-establishing of social expectations on a personal or intrapersonal level.

Figure 4 Television reinforces social norms
A 1976 advertisement for Vaseline Petroleum Jelly represents an easy point of entry into the structural system of television.[1]  This advertisement demonstrates the way the concrete product, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, becomes an abstract concept. Within the space of a thirty second commercial we see a young boy in three different situations. In each case, there are two constant elements: the boy himself, and the use of the Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. since the boy is curious about what the adults are doing, let’s examine their behavior more closely:

·         The father suffers from chapped lips.

·         The aunt is keeping her skin smooth.

·         The mother is protecting her baby from diaper rash.

In each case, an adult is using Vaseline Petroleum Jelly to counteract a physical affliction brought about by some natural process. In other words, the cultural product is a remedy for the natural affliction. If this culture/nature opposition is taken as the underlying message of this advertisement, it then can generate a table of permutations according to the procedure for structural analysis outlined by Lévi-Strauss.


Assuming that there is no point in presenting either term as neutral, a positive or negative value is assigned to each term within the Culture/Nature opposition. The table tells us what we might look for in other advertisements.

Figure 5: The Permutation Table
Let’s consider another example.[2] At the beginning of an advertisement for Wisk laundry detergent a man and a woman are preparing a dinner party. In all cultures the sharing of food is a primary social situation, and when food is scarce and hard to acquire, many rituals and myths are devoted to the origins and continued availability of the staples. In American society, where most people get enough to eat, much attention is still paid to the quality and the quantity of the food we eat and the people with whom we share it.

Figure 6: Applying the Permutation Table

In this advertisement the dinner party is disrupted before it begins by the discovery that the husband has “ring around the collar.” Mary Douglas[3] has defined dirt as “matter out of place,” (35) and it would seem that this social occasion cannot take place if dirt is present. Notice that fast upon this dreadful discovery we are told that “anyone can get ring around the collar,” as if to emphasize that there is no personal guilt involved here; it is a chance occurrence that can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. What is the effect of this discovery? The dinner party vanishes, and the wife is suddenly sent down to the laundry room to get the dirt ring out of the collar.  First she uses a spray, an ineffectual cultural product. Success is finally achieved by use of Wisk. Compare the woman’s initial and subsequent situations. In the first scene she is engaged in a “positive” activity, preparing for a dinner party. Anything which disrupts a cultural activity must be seen as an attribute of its opposite, a natural situation. Typically, this advertisement does not portray a situation in which nature is positive while culture is negative. It is thus possible to align the narrative of this ad according to the table of permutations developed previously.

The sudden incursion of nature into the sphere of culture seems to be a preoccupation of advertising. If the way advertising content is structured concerns an opposition between culture and nature, then within the other “legs” of the Television Triad there may be other hidden structures that a thorough structural analysis will reveal. 

After I completed my talk, Dr. McLuhan observed that I had missed the point in focusing on the triad, because, he noted, "things come in fours." In 1977 McLuhan was working on his own methodology to explain the structure of television. His "Laws of the Media" Tetrad described all technologies as metaphors with their own biases and hidden assumptions. It is the metaphor of a technology, not its content, which determines its true impact on society.

The nature of these technology metaphors can be revealed by asking four questions:

·         What is enhanced?

·         What is made obsolete?

·         What is retrieved that was previously lost?

·         What does it reverse into when pushed to an extreme?

For example, the impact posting on Twitter can be understood by the following effects.


·         Enhances “many to many” communication.
     As a medium, tweeting allows me to get my message out to many without the need of access to television, radio, print or film production facilities. Tweeting also allows me to receive messages from many sources.

·         Obsolesces  “one to one” or “many to one” communications.

Telephone chats and television binges are replaced by blogging connections.

·         Retrieves the habits of 18th letter correspondents or diarists.

At the minimum blogging requires that we capture and express our thoughts via the keyboard. some bloggers go much further than that. in the blogosphere, we all become nascent Montaignes.

·         Reverses into total narcissism.

When pushed to an extreme, I write only to myself, for myself. I put myself into the blogosphere, and seeing my own image, become entranced.
So while I was thinking about the media in terms of Lévi-Straussian "threes", McLuhan was thinking in terms of his Laws of the Media "fours." and it is clear that he and I were operating at differing levels of abstraction.

McLuhan believed that the four part structure of the Tetrad more accurately reflects the working of the human mind. The Tetrad tells us something about the way the mind sorts things into categories and makes sense of the world. “A four-part analogy is a figure-ground structure. (in a metaphor there are two figures and two grounds in ratio to one another)”[4] (Laws of the Media, p.120) McLuhan admitted in a 1975 letter to the journal “technology and culture” his debt to Claude Lévi-Strauss:

How did I arrive at these ‘Laws of the Media’?  By a structural approach.”[5] (74)

McLuhan also stated that his Tetrad was not a logical technique:

“The whole point about my Tetrads is that they are analogical. that is there are no connections between any of them, but there are dynamic ratios.”(78)

If the elements of McLuhan’s Tetrad are in a ratio to one another, then we can see that the Tetrad brings to the foreground the underlying narrative of that technology’s impact on society.

Claude Lévi-Strauss also believed that things come in fours, especially with regard to the structure of myths.  Lévi-Strauss demonstrated that the there is a logic of myths that can be discovered if we think of them as a kind of musical score.  When we listen to a single mythic tale it is as if we are hearing only part of a musical score.  To get the “message” we need to consider the entire body of myths of a culture.

For Lévi-Strauss, the structure underlying a culture’s total body of mythology can be codified as a series of ratios which has become known as his “Canonical Formula.”
A myth begins by contrasting two elements.  The function X of element A is presented in the myth as the opposite of the function Y of element B. The myth then considers the effect of applying the original condition of “A” to “B” as the function X of B.  According to Lévi-Strauss, the contradiction of the original opposition of pairs is resolved by comparing this new term to the first term as it is transformed into a new condition where the positions of function and element are reversed.  The reversal resolves the contradiction that was the original concern of the myth. While presented as a logical formula rather than a series of questions, the Canonical Formula also represents a four-fold approach to analyzing cultural artifacts. Just as the enhancing impact of a new technology in McLuhan’s Tetrad flips into its opposite when pushed to the extreme, Lévi-Strauss asserts that within the structure of a myth, an initial contradictory relationship is mediated in such a way as to transform the original condition into its opposite, thereby mitigating the contradiction.

Any culture contains inherent contradictions and inconsistencies.  According to Lévi-Strauss, myths are created to reconcile these contradictions or to deny that they exist. In a similar fashion, McLuhan’s Tetrad helps us to reconcile inconsistencies that occur when a new medium or technology is introduced into a culture.  The Tetrad attempts to discern the technological metaphor within enhancements of human capabilities and can itself be viewed itself as a type of mythic narrative.

I would argue that the approaches of McLuhan and Lévi-Strauss are complementary.  Any new medium or technology contains its own bias, a type of mythic narrative, which we introduce into our culture when we adopt that medium or technology. By combining the two approaches, we can develop a better  methodology for interpreting and understanding technology effects.  It may well be that “things come in fours.” because the Lévi-Strauss’s triad doesn’t permit a transformation from within its terms, there is descriptive power, but no capacity for prediction or reconciliation.  The figure-ground  structure of a four part approach, merging McLuhan's Laws of the Media with the Lévi-Strauss’s Canonical Formula, allows us to focus our analysis on the culture or social transformation encouraged by a technology, not the technology itself. The hidden biases of a new technology can change our assumptions about what is valuable and what is not, what is true and what is false, and who are the winners and the losers in the new media ecology. Ultimately, as Levi-Strauss suggested in his study of myths, we can go beyond content analysis to understand how technological transformations operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact.


Csapo, e. 2005. theories of mythology. p.226 (blackwell publishing)

Lévi-Strauss, c. The raw and the cooked: introduction to a science of mythology, vol. 1. new york: harper & row, 1964, p. 11.

McLuhan, m. Letter to the editor in technology and culture, vol. 17, no.2, p.263

McLuhan, m. and McLuhan, e. Laws of the media: the new science.  (toronto: university of toronto press, 1988), p. 148