Friday, February 14, 2014

#30 Paul Butterfield & Medium Cool

    Every generation picks people to play the role of hero while they travel from the innocence of childhood into the reality of the adult world. Similar to all generations, young people tend to look for heroes who will give a voice to the feelings they have about the future world they are facing. 

   While many of these heroes will prove to be mere fluff and blow away, others will actually attain sustainability by changing the direction of lives.  In the early sixties, Bob Dylan plays this role as does Timothy Leary a few years later, but one of the most influential heroes of the baby boomer generation is Marshall McLuhan.

     McLuhan who is a Canadian philosopher of communication theory is thinking, teaching, and writing in the world of academia well before the sixties arrive. However, it is during this decade that the enormous wave of baby boomers latch on to many of his ideas, adopting some of his expressions, and concepts.  

     Around this period several of McLuhan's expressions enter into English, and maintain an active position to this day: the global village and the medium is the message are only two. (He also predicts the world wide web thirty years before it begins.) His influence on the English Language alone, places him in the position of a very influential person of at least a couple of generations, and quite possibly several others. It isn't too strenuous a stretch of the imagination to consider that Marshall McLuhan is in the company Freud, Einstein, and a select few modern thinkers.   

    Remember, during the twentieth century  there are many major changes to the way all people communicate. Telephones, radios, films, televisions, and recorded music all evolve from expensive novelty status to necessary additions in our daily lives. So, McLuhan's ability to make sense of these changes elects him as an ideal candidate for the position of hero.   

    In 1964, he publishes Understanding Media: The Extensions of ManIn it he labels media as either hot or cool . He creates these terms to describe the viewers interaction with a particular media. For example, movies are a hot media because they enhance a single sense (in this case vision) however, television is cool because it requires more effort on the part of the viewer's imagination to fill in the blanks of the story. Consequently, ideas like his have a huge impact on academics, public intellectuals, as well as film makers.

    One of the people McLuhan influences is film maker Haskell Wexler, who writes, and directs the film Medium Cool (the title evolved from McLuhan's ideas in the book mentioned above). The setting of the story is Chicago, during the 1968 National Democratic Party Convention, and blends both fiction with non-fiction. In 1968, this a new approach to storytelling through movies, and it grabs the attention of both the public as well as the News industry. It is one of the first films to openly question the responsibilities of television and its newscasts. By 1970, it is rated R, and is criticized for its use of nudity, but many feel the rating is more likely a result of the criticisms it levels at the news media. 

    So, how does Paul Butterfield fit into this lineage?  As it turns out, Haskell Wexler hires the counter culture guitar hero Michael Bloomfield to organize the soundtrack. Bloomfield also happens to be Wexler's cousin, but it is doubtful his involvement is a product of nepotism, but rather a choice by Wexler to hire an excellent musician. However, the fact that in 1968 Mike Bloomfield is a national hero of the counter culture doesn't hurt either. There is a probably that Bloomfield includes Paul Butterfield because by 1968 he too is a national hero of the counter culture movement, in addition to being an excellent musician.

    The soundtrack does not seem to be available for purchase separate from the film, this may change as Medium Cool has been recently re-released, so these two tracks featuring Bloomfield and Butterfield have been copied from the film. (There are other artists on the soundtrack of the film too, including, a very young Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention as well as Love.   


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