McLuhan:A Family Tradition

By Peter Budnick

Eric McLuhan, son of renowned Marshall McLuhan, is in love with thinking. He writes about his thoughts on subjects that dangle on the razor’s edge of relevancy, fascinating those who still hunger for revelation and understanding. His latest book, entitled The Dance of the Ages, on the obscure topic of kinetic aspects of static art, created by Egyptians 3,500 years ago, is typical of his mental exploration.

Having exposed the substance of his new work, he says to me, “Did you know that watching colour television could be more fatiguing than watching black and white television?”

“What’s that got to do with Egyptian art?” I asked puzzled.

“Well” he said, “communication is the basis of social interaction. Style, technique, technology, and vantage point enable communication”.

I thought I was starting to get the message, but I was still floating in a cloud of mystical bewilderment. Eric, it appears was leapfrogging his father’s celebrated principle of “the medium is the message”. He was telling me that the same medium can be delivering different messages and have a different impact on the mind.

Eric McLuhan is a popular University Professor of English. He does not restrict himself to lectures on literature. He conducts experiments with his students to reveal how technology can influence perception.

During the recently televised Presidential debates in the United States, he divided his class into two groups. One group watched the debates on television and the other group restricted themselves to only hearing the debates without watching the participants on the television screen. Eric was demonstrating to his students how the same medium could deliver radically different messages, depending on the vantage point.

Fascinated, I sat with Eric, in a mutual friend’s cluttered living room. We discussed topics such as religion, politics, science, and even mythology. With Eric’s clarifications and explanations, I began to appreciate our complex, threatening world in a comfortable, simpler, even amusing light. Our friend’s living room started taking on the aspect of a very ordered space.

I could not help but smile and envision this profound, exciting personality, clad as a precocious leprechaun, gleefully dancing around a glimmering pot of gold. This leprechaun was not interested in concealing his intellectual treasures, but was very eager to share them with me and the whole world.

Eric was born into a family of six children. His upbringing was secure, loving and always stimulating. His mother, Corinne, a talented actress and theatrical director, choose to place herself in her husband’s shadow, when Marshall McLuhan’s star lit up the heavens and he even appeared as himself in Woody Allen movies.

Corinne’s retreat from the limelight was made willingly but not silently. At the age of 94, she is still fond of pronouncements such as “ behind every successful man is an astonished woman”.

Marshall, on the other hand, was known to respond with, “Hell hath no fury like a woman playing second fiddle”.

Eric McLuhan continues the family tradition with his startling, twisted humour, penetrating intellect, and mind-bending ideas. I’m compelled to read everything Eric McLuhan has ever elevated to the printed form.

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