Marshall McLuhan on Video: The Dick Cavett Show on TV (1970)


I am planning to watch, document and catalogue all of the videos available on the Internet that: 1. Show Marshall McLuhan lecturing, being interviewed, or otherwise holding forth on his ideas about media, technology, culture and education, and 2. Offer video commentaries by others seeking to explain McLuhan and his work that have something useful to say. These videos will appear here more-or-less one per week, with keywords and key phrases identified indicating the major ideas discussed. This will aid my own research, locate videos that I might wish to use in my teaching, and hopefully be a useful resource for researchers and McLuhan enthusiasts seeking to locate his comments on specific themes and ideas.

Description of McLuhan’s appearance on the Dick Cavett Show from the ECHOVAR blog ;


In December of 1970, Dick Cavett hosted a conversation with Al HirtGayle SayersTruman Capote and Marshall McLuhan on his television show. It’s difficult to imagine the crosscurrents of this discussion happening on television today. McLuhan’s probes draw each of the guests into his orbit, and he demonstrates how each participates in the theme of his new book, From Cliche to Archetype.

The cyclops, the motorcycle cop…

McLuhan describes himself as an outsider in the course of his appearance on the show. One has to wonder how he broke all the way through to the medium of popular television entertainment. Howard Gossage and Tom Wolfe had something to do with it, but it’s McLuhan’s love of exploration through dialogue that really shines through. It’s perfect for television.

Once the earth was within the surround of the satellite, Planet Polluto was in need of the attention of the ecologist…

In a letter McLuhan wrote: “I am not a ‘culture critic’ because I am not in any way interested in classifying cultural forms. I am a metaphysician, interested in the life of the forms and their surprising modalities.” The jazz musician, the professional football player, the novelist, the comedian and the metaphysician find a common ground within the probes McLuhan unleashes. 

This year we celebrate 100 years of Marshall McLuhan. In some ways, he remains an outsider. After all this time, we haven’t consumed, commoditized, or co-opted his thought— he’s as dangerous as ever.

Also read the From Marshall & Me blog on McLuhan’s Cavett Show appearance:

Key Themes & Ideas Discussed: Relationship between music & speech – English language & jazz/rock&roll – R & B from US South & cockney England – rejects theories in favour of probes – understanding is not a point of view – TV demands audience participation – TV affects nervous system, hence it’s an inner trip – deprives people of external goals, drives them inward, more Eastern – TV undermines identity – peope are numbed by movies – TV more social, less isolating than movies – TV demands play, dialogue – TV not pictorial, but audile-tactile – sharply-defined images are not good TV – it’s not a monologue medium – Nixon-JFK presidential TV debate – radio a hot medium – putting on masks, role-playing – miniskirt as tribal costume -political TV image e.g. Trudeau’s – resonant interval – jokes are based on grievances e.g. Newfie, Polack – cliche-archetype theme – ecology started after satellites orbited Earth – old movies become art forms after being retrieved by TV – what will make TV an art form? 

This video of McLuhan on the Dick Cavett Show offers the audio portion only, no images. Duration: 21 minutes, 07 seconds.

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