The Lost McLuhan Tapes


Author Peter C. Newman

Peter C. Newman

Maclean’s Magazine has just published the text of an interview that journalist and author Peter C. Newman did with Marshall McLuhan in 1972 from “lost tapes” in their issue of July 16, 2013, pages 48 to 51. Unfortunately their website does not include that article among other articles from that issue. Interested readers might want to purchase or view that issue at a library, if they are so inclined. Subscribers can download an iPad app to read the electronic text of that issue. Below I have included select McLuhan quotes on several topics, as well as an account of how those tapes came to be made.

Update July 17 – Maclean’s has just made the full Peter Newman interview of McLuhan available on their website here

A recently discovered interview [by Peter C. Newman] shows media guru Marshall McLuhan is still topical, even prescient (from Maclean’s, July 16, 2013, pp. 48-51)

Back in 1972, when Peter C. Newman switched from being editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star to the same slot at Maclean’s [Magazine], he found an unexpected ally by his side. Marshall McLuhan, the luminous University of Toronto guru, then near the top of his form, was willing to contribute his ideas to improve the publication. At occasional lunches, he would impart advice that was always compelling, and never limited to the magazine. His intuitive probes illuminated fresh dimensions of reality and revealed his sense of mischief. “Diaper backwards speaks repaid; think about it”, was one of his exit lines. Rummaging through his files, Newman recently discovered the lost tape of one of their luncheon conversations. “McLuhan was then in his 60s and had written most of his seminal studies of communication and the media, including The Medium is the Massage and The Gutenberg Galaxy,“ Newman recalls. “This really was a conversation over lunch rather than a formal interview. Although he had brought international renown to the University of Toronto, in 1979 McLuhan was ordered to vacate his office, which was really an otherwise unused, slightly renovated garage [known as the Coach House]. I [Peter Newman, along with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Buckminster Fuller, Woody Allen, Tom Wolfe and others] was one of the leaders of the ensuing protest that succeeded. McLuhan’s work remains his monument”.

Select Comments by McLuhan

On Politics: “Canadian politicians are faced with a serious “drop-out” problem. They’re still talking, but fewer people are bothering to listen. The successor to politics will be propaganda, not in the sense of a message or ideology, but the impact of the whole technology of the times. So politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will only be too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be so much more powerful than he could ever be”.

On Surveillance: “The new human occupation of the electronic age has become surveillance. CIA-style espionage is now the total human activity. Whether you call it audience rating, consumer surveys and so on – all men are now engaged as hunters of espionage. So women are completely free to take over the dominant role in our society”.

“The biggest job in the world will be espionage. Around the world, people are spending more and more of their time watching the other guy. Espionage at the speed of light will become the biggest business in the world”.

On Telecommuting:“People tend to acquire multiple jobs. And with the computer at home, the cottage economy returns via the computer terminal at home.  The idea of going out to work becomes obsolete.”

 On Higher Education: At jet speed we will mount a whole series of conferences around the world, which will represent a continual learning process at a higher level. The future of conferences is related somewhat to jets.

On TV in Education: “You cannot communicate our curriculum or our criticism through television. That problem did not arise with the movie period when prohibition was the big bugaboo. In the movie period it was drug addiction. But during the movie period you never heard anything about dyslexia. Dyslexia came in with TV. And reading difficulties. And attention spans being very much shattered”.

On Education: “The classroom is becoming obsolete. The education thing is completely up for grabs. Compulsory education will disappear. It’s meaningless. Why should people be compelled to become educated? The right-hemisphere kid, who is a classroom problem, tends to know more about the media than his teachers. But literacy has become a sort of privilege for cranks and elites. The first people who learned to write and to read were the workmen who carved inscriptions on monuments. Literacy came on the workman level before it came at the reading level”.

Other topics discussed: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, McLuhan’s critics, especially at the University of Toronto, politicians, the future of Quebec, citizen surveillance, espionage, cyberwar, Margaret Trudeau, corporate power and the power of the wealthy, satisfactions of the wealthy, lost identity, Americans go outside to be alone, community in cities, education, telecommuting, TV and education, Nixon’s image, obsolescence of classrooms and compulsory education.

Macleans Magazine, Canada’s national news magazine is at 

Logo Macleans Magazine.

One Response to “The Lost McLuhan Tapes”

  1. Forty years ahead, he saw it coming. Therefore, we should be attentive to things being said today, because they are very likely to be accurate.


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