Gerald O’Grady, Marshall McLuhan and Spiral Perception


Gerald O’Grady, Ph.D.

Founder/Director of Media Study (Buffalo) and Initiator/Director of Center for Media Study (S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, Buffalo, NY) Dr. O’Grady came to the University at Buffalo in 1967 as a medieval specialist in the Department of English. He had become interested while at Rice University in Texas with the new media as a code of communication; at UB he was the initiator and Director of the Center for Media Study in 1972, and he founded the independent, not-for-profit media center Media Study (Buffalo).

His concept of the wide-ranging effects and possibilities for “new media” was universal in scope, presciently forecasting that with the advent of film, video and television cameras, broadcast industries and computer technologies there was to be a dramatic change in the way people throughout the world would receive information, do business and communicate with each other. He was particularly sensitive to the need for artists to be supported and to work with the advanced thinkers of the scientific communities to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas that would enable the flourishing of the new art forms…. His mission was the preparation of artists and teachers of media whose mode of personal expression would grow from a cross-disciplinary base of general education, and further, to bring the public an awareness and understanding of a new era of media literacy.

Gerald O’Grady, Ph.D., was the founder and Director of two public-service organizations: The Media Center in Houston, Texas and the Center for Media Study at the University at Buffalo (then known as the State University of New York at Buffalo) and Director of its Educational Communications Center which served 128 departments. Most recently, he has been Visiting Scholar in the Department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University where, as Fellow of the W.E.B. DuBois. Institute for Afro-American Research, he worked on the Films of the American Civil Rights Movement.

He has produced documentaries on arts and on social issues for PBS, and his projects have been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Markle Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Since 1979, Dr. O’Grady has edited, independently published and contributed essays to over 30 catalogues for film retrospectives or series including The Films of the Civil Rights; Remembering Malcom X; and Czech Filmaking, 1963-1990 for Joseph Papp’s The Public Theater; on the Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Pereiros dos Santos for the Film Society of the Lincoln Center; on Theo Angelopoulos for the Museum of Modern Art in New York; on Dziga Vertov for the Collective for Living Cinema (NY); on MIZOGUCHI Kenji for the Cinématheque Ontario (Toronto); on David MacDougall for Media Study/Buffalo; and Articulate Energy: The Emergence of the Abstract Film in America for Harvard University and Anthropology Film Archives.

In 1974, O’Grady coordinated the November 21-22 conference entitled “Educational Communication Centers and the Television Arts” which was conducted at the State University of New York at Albany. The conference host was William Mulvey, director of SUNY at Albany’s Educational Communications Center. The purposes of the gathering, as set forth in the program, were threefold: first, to present the latest developments in the video arts and their related technologies and systems; secondly, to suggest ways in which the facilities of communication centers within colleges and universities might be prepared to serve developing video artists on their own campuses and surrounding communities; and finally, to indicate ways in which centers might stimulate activity in all of the arts and humanities.” Presentations included: O’Grady on defragmenting overspecialized media course by engaging interdisciplinary processes in contemporary media education; Mulvey on educational productions; Steina Vasulka screened videotapes “illustrating the history of the generated image”; Filmmaker and Video Artist, Tom Dewitt showed his new work “Fall”; and Gerd Stern, president of Intermedia Systems Corporation, talked on “the present state of communications systems and some possible directions for evolution” … (Read the rest at )

What the above account does not mention was the influence of Marshall McLuhan on Gerald O’Grady, who started his academic career as a medievalist in English literature (like McLuhan) but switched to media and film studies after his encounter with Marshall McLuhan around 1967. In this segment of a video O’Grady discusses his late 1960s encounter with Marshall McLuhan whose perceptual mode was a spiral in form, influenced by Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists. On spiral perception see The Spiral Structure of Marshall McLuhan’s Thinking by Izabella Pruska Oldenhof and Robert K. Logan. (Available at )

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