McLuhan Nostalgia at Fordham University


This is republished by permission from Lance Strate’s Blog Time Passing. Follow the link at the end for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So, when I organized the Media@ the Center Marshall McLuhan Centenary Symposium at Fordham University, which took place this past Saturday (see my previous post, Media @ the Center: A McLuhan Centenary Symposium at Fordham), I thought it would be a great idea to have a session on the year McLuhan spent at Fordham as our Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, back in 1967-1968.
To this end, I was able to recruit, with Eric McLuhan’s help, Jacqueline Nardi Egan, who in turn got me in touch with Anthony Perrotto, and I already had John Carey on board, he’s now on the Fordham faculty in the Communication and Media Management program in the Gabelli School of Business.  All three were students who took classes with McLuhan, and Edmund Carpenter, while they were at Fordham, all having been recruited, interviewed, and vetted by John Culkin, then a Jesuit, and the Fordham communication professor who brought McLuhan to New York. And all three also spoke very highly of Tony Schwartz, the media producer and McLuhan associate.
I was especially pleased to be able to recruit radio legend Pete Fornatale for the session.  Pete now does a show on Fordham’s public radio station, WFUV, and was a Fordham student back in the sixties, taking courses with Culkin, and at that time met and was influenced by McLuhan, and Tony Schwartz for that matter, although he graduated before McLuhan came here as the Schweitzer Chair.  Rounding out the panel was video artist and media philosopher Paul Ryan, who also teaches at the New School, and was McLuhan’s teaching assistant for his Fordham year.
I was the moderator of the panel, I should add, and Eric McLuhan was in the audience, and participated in a major way during the question and answer session.  Here’s a picture of Eric: 
 And here’s one of Paul Ryan (left) and John Carey (right) on the panel:

Both photos were taken by Janet Sassi, who wrote up the story for Fordham’s website, where it’s filed under the headline of:  Former Students Recall Marshall McLuhan’s Fordham Year.  And I’m sure Janet won’t mind if I share her report here with you all.  It starts like this:

The year was 1968. The Vietnam War was raging, counterculture was flourishing, and Marshall McLuhan was teaching media at Fordham.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, a group of McLuhan’s former Fordham University students shared their recollections as part of a Centenary Symposium recognizing what would have been the media theorist’s 100th year. The symposium was coordinated by Lance Strate, Ph.D., professor of communication and media studies.

Thanks for the shout-out there, Janet, I do appreciate it!  Ok, back to the story…

One of the most enigmatic theorists of the 20th century, McLuhan equated the rise of electronic media with a revolution in human thinking and group behavior, and launched the idea that “the medium is the message.” In the 1960s, he predicted the proliferation of the Internet and the shift to electronic books.

During the 1967-1968 academic year, McLuhan, the Albert Schweitzer Chair in Humanities, oversaw an alternative curriculum of lectures, film showings and independent study assignments for students. McLuhan’s appointment came about through communications professor John Culkin, S.J., a longtime colleague of McLuhan’s and himself a media expert.

Pete Fornatale (FCRH ’67), recalls the first time he heard of McLuhan at a seminar during the summer of 1965 on how to use media in the classroom.

And here is an often overlooked fact:  McLuhan’s relationship with Fordham didn’t begin with the Schweitzer Chair.  Culkin was bringing McLuhan down to New York to speak to his students and talk at conferences he organized for a number of years prior to his appointment here.

“We were astounded by this man,” Fornatale said. “To this day, I say that it was the day that changed my life. Everything I have done in my career has somehow reflected the wisdom that I got from that core group of people that Father Culkin brought to Fordham in the ’60s.”

Following McLuhan’s lectures could be difficult, said students, given his belief in—and fascination with—non-linear means of communicating in the electronic age.

“There were times when I couldn’t understand a word he said,” said video producer Anthony Perrotto (FCRH ’69). But Perrotto was impressed with a film lab he did with McLuhan, in which they got access to the original studios where Thomas Edison did his early filmmaking.

“We took the studio over,” he said. “We painted it all kinds of psychedelic colors and made sound and light shows with music from the ’60s,” he recalled. “That was what gave me the seeds of love for communication and film.” 

 I knew that Edison had a studio in the Bronx, but I didn’t realize it was right by Fordham’s campus.  And you gotta love that bit about painting it psychedelic.  Well, I gotta love it anyway, that is so sixties! And what was the sixties without the antiwar movement? Source:

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