Collecting McLuhan #2
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Card Deck (1969)
A difficult to find item of McLuhaniana is the DEW line card deck, printed in 1969 as an adjunct to "The Marshall McLuhan DEW-Line Newsletter", published from 1968 to 1970. The DEW Line was of course an integrated chain of some 63 radar and communication stations, stretching 3,000 miles across Arctic Canada at approximately the 69th parallel, from Alaska to the eastern shore of Baffin Island. Completed in 1957, a later extension connected eastern Canada to Greenland. Built at the height of the Cold War, with its threat of nuclear annihilation, the system was designed to provide advance warning of imminent air attack to Canada and the United States. The DEW Line became a perfect metaphor for McLuhan on the role of art and the artist at a time of rapid social and technological change and he repeated the idea frequently. For example, he wrote in Understanding Media (1964): "I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it."
Since the newsletter was the brain child of New York publishing entrepreneur Eugene Schwartz, the off-shoot card deck might have been as well. Aimed at decision-makers and influential people, the card deck was intended to stimulate problem-solving and thinking, in a manner that later came to be known as "thinking-outside-the-box", and perhaps "lateral thinking". The instructions direct the player to think of a personal or business problem, shuffle the card deck, select a card and then apply its message to the problem.
Some of the messages on the cards repeat well-known McLuhanisms, some are attributed quotations, some are funny, while others are sardonic. All are suggestive and revealing of their author. For example:
Although it is difficult to see what bearing some of the sayings might have on business problems ("Thanks for the mammaries?"), the card deck reveals McLuhan’s love of jokes, especially one-liners, puns, and pithy aphorisms. It illustrates as well his willingness to experiment with a variety of communication media, no matter how lowly or taken for granted.
That playing cards might have communication and information value beyond their mere play function has recently been illustrated by the U.S. military in Iraq issuing pictures of the 55 most wanted Saddam regime loyalists depicted on playing cards. With Saddam as the Ace of Spades, son Uday as the Ace of Hearts, the other son Qusay as Ace of Clubs, and so on, the hierarchy of the Baathist regime was suggested in a manner easy to understand by the lowliest soldier looking for them. The playing cards were far more effective than wanted posters, and have resulted in the apprehension of many of the individuals depicted. An accompanying, unintended subtext, is the idea of war as a game, which meshes for the Americans with the British nineteenth century notion of "the Great Game", the strategic rivalry that existed between Czarist Russia and the British Empire in Central Asia, throughout the nineteenth century. The Americans have embarked on their own Great Game, the outcome of which is far from certain. Sold over the Internet, the Saddam Card Deck is reported to have sold over a million copies as a novelty item. Once again, McLuhan seems to have been onto something.
Collectors seeking to purchase the DEW Line Card Deck will not find it easily. It occasionally appears in antiquarian bookseller listings on ABE.com, at prices somewhere between $100 to $200 U.S. If you seek to purchase it, make sure the card deck is accompanied by the playing instructions.
Alex Kuskis - Let me state at the outset that I am not the sort of collector who is interested in first editions. I am a teacher and scholar, doing most of my teaching via the Internet, with an interest in the relationship between education and media, and with the intention of eventually publishing something about McLuhan on education. Therefore, I am always on the lookout for items by and about Marshall McLuhan, in support of my research.
I started collecting McLuhaniana about 10 years ago when I wanted to add to my collection, which consisted at the time of only the 2 major works: "Understanding Media" and "Gutenberg Galaxy". Having always been an inveterate frequenter of antiquarian bookstores, I was able to acquire "The Mechanical Bride" and "Counterblast" from bookstores in the Toronto area. However, McLuhan collecting became much easier with the advent of the Internet and online bookselling. Books were one of the first products to be sold online, first by Amazon, and subsequently in Canada by Chapters and Indigo. New books were the first to be sold online, but antiquarian books were not far behind. Using online sources for antiquarian books, over time, I was able to purchase all of the book titles by McLuhan, and much important secondary literature as well.
Currently my online searches are for rare McLuhan items, such as the issue of "THIS MAGAZINE is about SCHOOLS" (Vol. 1, Issue 1, April 1966), which contains an article about education by McLuhan: "Electronics & the Psychic Drop-Out" (pp. 37 - 42). Not listed in any of the standard McLuhan bibliographies that I have seen, this article has some really interesting comments on education, such as this one:
[Canada's] educational system is anachronistic; students are still being processed through the old fragmented specialist chopper and they might as well be on a carousel or a merry-go-round in some entertainment park. Our youngsters at school are reacting to this, and dropping out of school is one response. The youngsters coming out of a highly integral electronic environment go to school and are confronted by a fragmented, specialist environment of subjects and hours of instructions which baffle them. They know that this form of fragmentation does not correspond in any way to the world they're living in. (p. 40)
Well, plus ça change! The educational system of the mid-60's that McLuhan saw as out-moded by new media is now reeling from the advent of the Internet, with new forms of e-learning, distributed learning and knowledge management challenging the primacy of classroom-based instruction. This is an important article to have retrieved and it deserves to be better known. Perhaps it will be included in some future collection of "McLuhan on Education."
There are 2 major sources online for used books and journal articles by McLuhan:
A recent search of the latter found such rare gems as: McLuhan's article on "The Future of Sex" in "Look" Magazine of July 25, 1967; "Sorel Etrog: Recent Work" (1976), with a Preface by McLuhan; Hugh Kenner's "Paradox in Chesterton" (date?), with an Introduction by McLuhan; the "Playboy" magazine of March, 1969, with its interview of McLuhan; "Explorations 6", with its McLuhan article on "The Media Fit the Battle of Jericho". 532 McLuhan-related items were listed by Bibliofind on July 20, with at least as many at ABE.
So, if you're looking for a copy of "From Cliché to Archetype" or "Through the Vanishing Point", any of the standard works, or some of the rarer books or articles, try the above online sources. Finding McLuhan-related literature has never been easier.Alex Kuskis
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