McLuhan Hates That You Like Him

Light Industry Presents: This Is Marshall McLuhan
Part of New Silent

This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage
Ernest Pintoff, 16mm, 1967, 54 mins
Introduced by Alex Kitnick

Marshall McLuhan thinks you’re living in Bonanzaland. Mid-20th century TV programs like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger glorified the Old West, giving McLuhan grounds to state that if you’re filling up your new medium with content from the past, well, then you’re living in “Bonanzaland.” That’s just one of McLuhan’s witty remarks scattered throughout This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage. McLuhan’s popularity – the screening was sold out – resides with a crowd of new media artists, critics, and curators who’re dealing with daily digital communications and miscommunications. But really, McLuhan isn’t that great. He never wrote anything that other writers hadn’t already discussed, but he did it in a way that was more accessible and by using various media – TV, film, and records – more in keeping with the time than those that solely kept to print media.

What’s McLuhan’s legacy now? Watching him on screen, his sometimes wooden expressions mixed with goofy jokes, captured why he was became a popular public intellectual – the type that our current generation lacks. In McLuhan’s own words from the film, “If intellectuals spoke as simply as me, I’d be out of work.” It’s a humble brag, but it also points out that McLuhan didn’t invent any new way of thinking; he was just better than other academics at making complicated theories easy to understand and relevant to a large number of people. Until our gen, whatever it’s going to be called, has a public intellectual, some of us will pine for the past by packing a museum theater for a McLuhan screening.

McLuhan may not be an art historian, but Alex Kitnick is, and his introductory remarks helped recreate the historical scene of 1967, the year this film was released. At the time, McLuhan staged an aggressive media blitz by releasing a torrent of books, records, and media stunts; all of which boosted McLuhan’s sheer aura of influence. Kitnick incorporated some of the media theorist’s dry humor in his talk; he’s one of the few art historians I’ve heard who can tell a joke.

This Is Marshall McLuhan featured dozens of McLuhan’s catch phrases. What follows below are some of the more memorable ones:

“The old medium is always the content of the new medium.”

“Many of the things I investigate because they’re irritating.”

“TV watching is scuba diving.”

“Instead of explaining, I explore.”

“Time has stopped. Space has increased.”

“Artists are people who enjoy living in the present.”

“The future of the future is the present.”

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