Today would have been the trailblazing media analyst’s 100th birthday.
Fr. Raymond de Souza takes note of a new biography, and takes note, as well, of McLuhan’s devout Catholicism:
In the Internet age, his ideas appear more relevant than ever. The mark of a great idea is that it is obvious once stated. That how we think and act is shaped by the mode of communication itself is now obvious to all.
“Printing, radio, movies, TV – they actually alter our organs of perception without our knowing,” McLuhan wrote, observing and also anticipating how patterns of thought, friendships and philosophies would change in the electronic age. When McLuhan was raising his six children, being sent to one’s bedroom was a punishment of deprivation; today, parents try to get their kids out of their bedrooms, away from the laptop, video games and mobile phones.
McLuhan is rightly celebrated as a scholar of communications and mass culture, but his ideas about communication and religion, which is at the heart of culture, are generally neglected. As a devout convert to Catholicism, a man who went to Mass daily, prayed the rosary with family every night, and rose early to read the scriptures, McLuhan’s religious thinking is essential to understanding his entire work.
“Above all, he believed that because God made the world, it must, in the end be comprehensible, and that a sense of the divine could lead to an understanding of the mundane,” writes Douglas Coupland in his quirky biography of McLuhan, published as part of Penguin’s “Extraordinary Canadians” series. “He came to feel that his religion was indeed a sense, a sensory perception that coloured his life as much as, if not more so than, sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell or gravity. He’d found his key to eternity.”
Yet that same biography by the perceptive Coupland does not examine in depth McLuhan’s Catholicism.
“In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message,” McLuhan would write. “It’s the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”
And of course, no tribute would be complete without this classic scene, from “Annie Hall”:
After watching the above, I can’t help but ask: Remember when people actually wore neckties to go to the movies? Remember when people who went to movies were over the age of 25? Remember when people actually smoked in movie theater lobbies?