Spectacle’s Child: Trudeau 2.0

Three years before Justin Trudeau was born, Justin’s father, Pierre, began a correspondence with  Marshall McLuhan.

Justin’s rise to power, and the manner thru which it occurred, has made this correspondence a national treasure and a marvel to behold.  Trudeau the First was not even Prime Minister when this banter was struck up. But his friendship and correspondence lasted the remaining 12 years of McLuhan’s life, until a stroke incapacitated him and he died in 1980. 

The conversation between Pierre Trudeau and Marshall McLuhan is especially interesting in light of Justin’s rise to power. It was all about media. How media impacted the thinking and behaviour of people. What was happening with media. Television was just coming in then, and McLUhan had the whole thing cased. Scholars, at the time were just beginning their ques to debunk him – Pierre Trudeau began his quest to listen and learn. He listened, and he acted upon what things McLuhan told him that he thought might have merit. 

The correspondence, began with a letter from McLuhan to Trudeau while Trudeau was waiting to be sworn in in as leader of the Liberal Party and interim Prime Minister of Canada. 

You know, it’s the most peculiar thing. Marshall McLuhan once famously remarked that the rear view mirror is a tool of divination. When people look into the rear view mirror when driving, they do so not to see what has passed, but to see what’s coming. 

Justin Trudeau’s sudden emergence as the prime minister of Canada has made this analogy especially, almost ridiculously apt – when parsed from McLuhan’s point of view, Trudeau’s social media coup and it’s reverberations suggest an understanding and a foresight on McLuhan’s part that is so accurate it even feels creepy. How? We have to follow McLuhan’s advice. We have to look backwards to see forwards. Let’s look backwards. Let’s look backwards to April 16, 1968.  On this day McLuhan described the way the technology of the digital age would come to change social and political conditions on a global level: 

“The all-at-onceness of electrical data is not only organic and inclusive but reshapes the entire imaginative lives of highly literate communities.”

Collected Letters, p. 350

‘All-at-once. Organic. Inclusive.’ In terms of electrical data in 2015, no two imagination-shapers quite meet this description more than Facebook and Twitter, whose data is created simultaneously, by both sites’ members, by anyone who wants to publish anything at any time. But the accuracy of McLuhan’s prognosis – i.e. what McLuhan said – is less important than who he said it to.

In this case,  intended reader of the words he wrote on this day was Pierre Eliot Trudeau, Justin’s father. At this stage in his marvellous career, Trudeau the senior was Defense Minister – he had not yet been sworn in as prime minister. McLuhan, for his part, had not yet reached the heyday of his own international glory – he merely saw it as a foregone conclusion, so both iconic blokes were in more or less the same boat. 

Trudeau didn’t need McLuhan; McLuhan didn’t need Trudeau. They were rising stars in their own right.  But from this introductory letter, McLuhan and Trudeau became great friends. Trudeau was a confidante of Marshall McLuhan right up until McLuhan’s death in 1980. You could say that McLuhan was wise in courting Trudeau, because Trudeau was about to be sworn in as Prime Minister, and McLuhan, that consummate rear-view mirror-gazer,  always had a fair eye on what was coming next.

But perhaps Trudeau was wiser in keeping up his correspondence with the man that Guy Debord once described as ‘the sage of Toronto’. Without question Trudeau certainly valued McLuhan. If we wanted to be a tad adolescent about it and keep track of numbers we might note that though McLuhan wrote Trudeau first, the total number of letters they exchanged over a 12 year period was: Trudeau 44; McLuhan 42. 

But part of the argument of this book will be that these Trudeaus are smart. They can recognize the winners, the things that actually work, and latch on to them, much like the sailor in Poe’s maelstrom, whom McLuhan liked to talked about, and, also, much like McLuhan, who probably would not have sought Trudeau out in the first place had he not seen something in the emerging political celebrity that convinced him (MM) that Trudeau had what it took to become a piece of media flotsam, in the new age of visual media ushered in by television. 

But at this introductory stage, before we suggest and explore the great conspiracy claim, let us return to something else McLuhan said in that first introductory letter to Trudeau. He was talking about the way that the people who understood the true way medium and its messages could evoke change and effectively seize power in the new age. In a couple years the acolytes of Adorno will even come to appreciate this, but for now they will remain with the Harperites of Canada: bemused. How did we let this one slip away so humiliatingly?

Before we talk about what McLuhan said to Pierre Trudeau in this first epistle in 1968, let’s look at what Justin Trudeau has just done. Justin Trudeau, in a relatively short span, has just gone from last-place in the election polls, to resounding winner, prime minister of a majority government, total domination on election day. 

“”The old political professionals simply exhaust and liquidate themselves by going through the old methods , making room for quite unexpected candidates at the last moment” (p. 351)

This remark of 45 years ago, is perhaps the most concise way to sum up what took place in the 2015 federal election. 

What McLuhan was explained to Justin’s father happened to Justin.  Harper government, the big TV ad: Just not ready. A massive waste of money. People don’t think that way anymore, but Harper was of an older school. More a TV man. Better at controlling a medium that was not quite so ‘organic and inclusive’. As Marshall told Pierre: 

The 2015 Canadian federal election was a three-horse race. Harper, Tom Mulcair and Trudeau 2.0. Mulcair and Harper were the old political professionals; Justin, is the new prime minister of Canada.”

 spheres of electrical data today  you consider the extent to which Facebookers are creating the bulk of electrical data

It is appropriate, then, that if we wish to appreciate the forwardness, the foresight 

Justin Trudeau has just masterfully manipulated the instantaneous environment of social media to become Prime Minister of Canada. In an environment of digital media that looks almost exactly like the one Marshall McLuhan predicted and described 35 years before it happened, Trudeau 2.0.

McLuhann, of course, had been communicating with Pierre Trudeau since before he became prime minister of Canada and throughout the senior Trudeau’s first reign which ended one year before Mcluhan died. McLuhan’s advice to Pierre often contained uncanny advice about how to utilize the newest electric medium of information – namely, at the time, television – for great political gain. Trudeau was known to follow McLuhan’s advice, and has marvelled on the record at McLuhan’s knack for accuracy. 

Justin Trudeau has just completed an impeccable digital media campaign that saw his party surge from last (of three) the start of the polls to winning an absolute majority government just  six months later. In the early days of his prime ministership, he continues to actively engage and manipulate the social media stream for great political gain . Could Marshall McLuhan possibly have had anything to do with this? 

It is one objective of this book to investigate this question. Whether Trudeau 2.0 owes anything directly to McLuhan is less important than the fascinating situation that has been created by Justin’s rise to power. If one wanted to build, or at least consider, a case for McLuhan’s influence on the younger Trudeau’s campaign, one would most certainly want to know just what it was that McLuhan communicated to Trudeau senior about using media to influence people in the age of instant information.  If there were any striking parallels, one might give the issue some further thought. 

The medium is the message. The very fact that Trudeau

A celebrity boxing match is a striking parallel in even the most literal sense. Tom Mulcair may wish to take notes on advice McLhuan gave to Pierre about shaving his beard when he wanted to let the people know he was serious about leading the nation again. A great place to start is the letters. There were many letters passed between McLuhan and Pierre Trudeau spanning from 19– all through Trudeau’s first 11-year mandate. 

This book will first examine what McLuhan said about the ways instant media would envelope the planet and alter the behaviour of the human beings upon it. Lots of people have tried hard to make his concepts out as quackery,  but he totally foresaw it. He arrived at his conclusions via abstruse, unorthodox pathways. He studied pattern minus the theory. He channeled Poe of the old literature to look for effects in the new world, and from these effects he traced causes, and from these, found the future. It was a rear-view mirror approach to prophecy that could come off as quackery quite easily because it seemed so lunatic. But if it was quackery, it was a most perverse quackery. Pairing McLuhan’s vision of the impact media systems could and would have on the human race with the impact we see media having on the human race today, we see an almost mirror image. Effects before causes, remember. 

What does this mean? McLuhan gets the notion from Poe. Effects before causes refers to the what’s rather than the whys. To survive, McLuhan asserts, we must look closer at the whats than the whys. Study the pattern, not the theory. In Poe, the situation involves a mariner who has gone overboard and is in the stormy sea and on the verge of being sucked down a whirlpool to his death. On the brink of this whirlpool, the mariner observes that some items are not being sucked down. They are able to resist the pull of the great swirling hole. While all the other shipwreck debris else gets sucked down and does not resurface, certain items continually get sucked down and continually resurface. The mariner identifies one, clings to it for the duration of the storm, and in this way is able to survive. 

The mariner studies effects before causes. The mariner does not occupy his precious seconds with investigating theoretical concerns, like: ‘why is it, precisely, that this item is sucked under for ever after whilst this item continually resurfaces. No! Such intelligent query would be the height of stupidity in such a situation.  The mariner just sees what works, what is working, and seizes upon it – even if the reasons behind it make no sense to him. 

Marshall McLuhan spent twelve years observing what worked in media and channelling what he learned to the prime minister of canada. A review of their correspondence, in light of the manner in which Justin Trudeau’s campaign got him elected prime minister of the same country, divulges some extraordinary coincidences and insights. 

In the very first Letter McLuhan wrote to Trudeau, while he was still defence minister, in 1968, he made two astonishingly prescient claims>

“The all-at-onceness of electrical data is not only organic and inclusive but reshapes the entire imaginative lives of highly literate communities.” (p. 350)

“The old political professionals simply exhaust and liquidate themselves by going through the old moti0ojs, making room for quite unexpected candidates at the last moment” (p. 351)

As further testament to the truths of the claims made by this book, In the swirl of history

Justin Trudeau’s election as prime minister is, in a way, Supreme Vindication of Marshall McLuhan’s  genius, and relevance to his time. 

Trudeau’s stuff. 

The book needs to have:

poe’s maelstrom: the flotsam. 

Justin as Image

Let’s face it. We don’t know Justin. We know Justin as an image of Justin Trudeau. We don’t know Justin, but we’ve seen him all thru his life

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