Divine Inspiration

How Catholicism made Marshall McLuhan one of the twentieth century’s freest and finest thinkers

By Jeet Heer
Art by David Rokeby Media

Installation view of Through the Vanishing Point

Installation view of Through the Vanishing Point, commissioned by the 2010 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival and the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, Coach House Institute, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

Appropriately enough, a century after his birth in 1911, Marshall McLuhan has found a second life on the Internet. YouTube and other sites are a rich repository of McLuhan interviews, revealing that the late media sage still has the power to provoke and infuriate. Connoisseurs of Canadian television should track down a 1968 episode of a CBC program called The Summer Way, a highbrow cultural and political show that once featured a half-hour debate about technology between McLuhan and the novelist Norman Mailer.
Both freewheeling public intellectuals with a penchant for making wild statements, Mailer and McLuhan were well matched mentally, yet they displayed an appropriate stylistic contrast. Earthy, squat, and pugnacious, Mailer possessed all the hot qualities McLuhan attributed to print culture. Meanwhile, McLuhan adopted the cerebral and cavalier cool approach he credited to successful television politicians like John F. Kennedy and Pierre Trudeau, who responded to attacks with insouciant indifference.

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