First published in Hamilton Arts & Letters, June 11, 2019
Review by J.S. Porter


“The new electric environment is a collective poem.” – Marshall McLuhan

Two implicit questions skulk around in B.W. Powe’s new book: Who are we?
Or, is the more accurate question, What are we? And: Where are we?

The short answer to the first question is: No one. No one or nothing yet. We are still under construction. We are still making our character, our identity, our destiny. And the answer to the second question is: Nowhere. ”Increasingly we reside in cyberspace – on cell phones, online, in the mediascape. We’re plugged in beings who move like ghosts through electronic membranes”. In Powe’s words, “We’re wired up, inside borderless, transnational, immediate, entangling, speeding, here-there-everywhere-now states, in an always intensifying, mutable milieu.”

C215 Annotated, Barcelona 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

We have made our tools, as Marshall McLuhan said years ago, and our tools have remade us. By extending our brain into networks, no tool has so thoroughly remade us as the computer.

Antenna Head, Havana 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

In Powe’s update on tools and their remaking of the human, we move from the Earth to the Global Village to the Cosmopolis to the Global Theatre or, in other words, from the first brightened cities to the Village (made possible by telephone, radio, TV and cinema) to the Theatre to Satellite Wi-fi Networks to the Membrane Cell. This new “hyper-evolution is both biological…and sensory-psychic—we’re webbed into complexity, sensation, information, imagination, emotion and soul-making.”

Powe’s words and Soules’ images take us into the post-McLuhan world with joy, fun (don’t miss Powe’s take on Trump’s Covfefe, Trudeau’s ums and Obama’s pauses) daring, alarm, wisdom, playfulness and zest. Powe and Soules are master guides of the Here and Now.

Powe tells us where we are, and maybe who we are, by sound: “All is hum, hack, flicker, tweet, leak, feed, livestream, buzz and more buzz.” Soules shows us who we are by image. The Human Face is shocked, stunned, peeling, morphing, the new not-yet born:

Future Shock, Barcelona, 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

The Charge in the Global Membrane is an original, mind-stimulating, heart-expanding book and a work of great hybridity. It’s a book of epigraphs (Emily Dickinson contributes two), poems, prayers, mini-biographies (on David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen), a handwritten diary, a long letter to the Net generation (Net-gens), mini-essays, memos, proclamations, manifestoes, quotations, questions. A presence ever-powerful and lucid throughout Powe’s pages is the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, an indispensable Elder of the Tribe.

My favourite question is Powe’s borrowing from Lama Anagarika Govinda: “Do we really know what electricity is?” The book is also an art gallery of contemporary wall art from cities in Europe and the Americas, Barcelona and Havana most prominent among them. It’s a child’s paint box with splashes of colour, variegated fonts and typefaces. It’s a snapshot of the future and the now. It’s a call for soul-making – quiet and reflection within the frenzy.

In Powe’s words, the book is “a seizing of moments/a venturing into the vibrations/ a poetry collage essay/ a journal diary/ a gathering of aphorisms/a thought experiment…” The multi-genre book flows without pagination as if it were one long breath.

You can read this book visually as well as verbally. Marshall Soules’ photographs have the freshness, punch and poignancy of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street art. Soules often shows the emotional states of those living in the global membrane. Not since Marshall McLuhan’s and Harley Parker’s Counterblast have I seen such a close and enriching collaboration as that of Powe and Soules. Word and image mix, and sometimes meld, beautifully together.

Freefall, Barcelona 2016. Marshall Soules, Photographer.

Throughout the tumbleweed roll of language, Powe speaks in a personal voice in which he’s not afraid to confess self- ironies. The seer into the flux and flow of the cybersphere isn’t on Facebook, doesn’t tweet or use Instagram, doesn’t own an iPhone or wear a watch and stays away from e-mail for two days a week. In fact, like McLuhan, he’s a reader (as well as a teacher and a writer) who, like David Bowie, sends out a phenomenally good reading list to his readers. Don’t miss the three pages of Sources at the end of the book.

I use the phrase “don’t miss” throughout my response to The Charge quite deliberately. The book is like a river. You can step into it anywhere and you can miss things in the flow. The flow begins and doesn’t stop until you close the book or write on the last page where you’re invited to write your own future and that of the planet’s on blank paper.

The section of the book I personally found most enriching is Powe’s long address to the young, those who are often chastised for being non-readers, non-thinkers, non-participants in society. Powe encourages: “I take heart realizing that you sense how to live with unpredictability and shape-shifting” just as “cusp-artists” like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen do, like B.W. Powe and Marshall Soules do.

In lines resembling a personal manifesto, B.W. Powe writes:

Cusp-artists find ways to live long creative lives by conjuring and configuring the ripple and rush, the wild shifts and darkening divisions. We honour them by following up with our homages, our preservations of complexity and inwardness, our pursuit of wonder, our Eros of creating, our enigmatic cultivations of beauty and spirit, our call and response to those (all of us) who are also empathic pilgrims and know wishing-wells and heartbreak.

The Charge in the Global Membrane wouldn’t be a B.W. Powe book without its also being an open and vulnerable heart (“a pasture for gazelles, and a convent for Christian monks… and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran…” from Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi) and an exhortation to soul-making even in, especially in, Electronica. After all, “It isn’t our eyes that need to be wide awake all the time: it’s our souls” which “long for insight and vision.”

You can order The Charge in the Global Membrane (Seattle, WA: NeoPoiesis Press, 2019) on and

SEE MORE STREET ART PHOTOGRAPHS by Marshall Soules from Hamilton Arts & Letters here

J.S. Porter is Culture Critic for The Nancy Duffy Show and contributes to Hamilton Arts & Letters. Porter’s recent work includes two poetry chapbooks – Of Wine and Reading, and Small Discriminations – published by David Zieroth’s Alfred Gustav Press in Vancouver. He was shortlisted for the Vallum magazine chapbook contest for Scraps & Small Discriminations in 2017. In 2018, he co-authored, with Susan McCaslin, Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine. He is currently at work on a new poetry collection, Reedrite.

B.W. Powe is a writer from Toronto. He is the author of The Solitary Outlaw (essay), Outage(novel), Where Seas and Fables Meet (multi-genre) and Decoding Dust (poetry), among other works. He teaches at York University, and he has taught at the University of Catalunya, in Barcelona. He lives in Stouffville, Ontario, and in Córdoba, Spain.

Marshall Soules is the former Chair of Media Studies at Vancouver Island University and author of Media, Persuasion and Propaganda (2015). He has been photographing wall art since the 1980s. The photographs included here are all from The Charge in the Global Membrane, his collaborative work with B.W. Powe.

Published by Springer Nature Switzerland AG
  • Applies the theories of Marshall McLuhan to science fiction studies, which have yet to be considered from this perspective
  • Provides concrete examples of how McLuhan’s theories find their reflection in the aesthetics of classic and new science fiction films, demonstrating that many of his observations can be practically employed in film studies
  • Includes valuable guidelines for researchers interested in conducting similar research

This groundbreaking book uses observations made by Marshall McLuhan to analyze the aesthetics of science fiction films, treating them as visual metaphors or probes into the new reality dominated by electronic media:

–          it considers the relations between the senses and sensuality in Blade Runner, the visually-tactile character of the film, and the status of replicants as humanity’s new clothes;

–          it analyzes the mixture of Eastern and Western aesthetics in Star Wars, analyzing Darth Vader as a combination of the literate and the tribal mindset;

–          it discusses the failure of visual society presented in the Terminator and Alien franchises, the rekindling of horror vacui, tribalism, and the desire to obliterate the past as a result of the simultaneity of the acoustic space;

–          finally, the book discusses the Matrix trilogy and Avatar as being deeply related in terms of the growing importance of tactility, easternization, tribalization, as well as connectivity and the implosion of human civilization.

Table of contents (5 chapters)

  • Clothes Make the Man—The Relation Between the Sensual and the Sexual in Blade Runner (1982)  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 1-14
  • Star Wars as an Aesthetic Melting Pot  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 15-45
  • Horror Vacui and the Critique of Visual Society in Alien and Terminator Films  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 47-72

  • The Digital Natives and the Implosion of Humanity in The Matrix and Avatar  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 73-99

  • Conclusion  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 101-103

Artur Skweres, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Pedagogy and Fine Arts, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. His academic interests include American culture (especially literature and film), as well as theories of comedy and humor. In 2012 he published his first book, entitled Searching for Truth and Freedom: Philip K. Dick’s Works in Light of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Thought, followed by a monograph on the play principle in comedy, titled Homo Ludens as a Comic Character in Selected American Films (2017).

Marshall McLuhan

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

On the Narcosis of Narcissus

By Christopher S. Morrissey  –  June 13, 2019

He could not go.
He wanted neither to eat nor to sleep.
Only to lie there — eyes insatiably
Gazing into the eyes that were no eyes.
This is how his own eyes destroyed him.
— Ted Hughes, “Narcissus”

Unknowingly he desires himself, and
the one who praises is himself praised, and,
while he courts, is courted,
so that, equally, he inflames and burns.
How often he gave his lips in vain to the deceptive pool,
how often, trying to embrace the neck he could see,
he plunged his arms into the water,
but could not catch himself within them!
What he has seen he does not understand,
but what he sees he is on fire for, and
the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
— Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book III, trans. A.S. Kline

In Chapter 4 of Understanding Media (1964), “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis,” Marshall McLuhan describes how technological innovations furnish us with extensions of our own selves, even though we do not realize it. McLuhan notes that narcosis is a Greek word that means “numbness.” Narcissus was so numbed by the image of himself reflected on the water that he did not realize that he was looking at himself. The same is true of us when we use our hi-tech gadgets.

It has become a cliché to say that people who take selfies are “narcissistic.” But perhaps McLuhan can help us redeem this cliché. The sort of Narcissus-narcosis that we experience when we take selfies with our smartphone cameras is significant not so much because it is evidence of vanity. It may very well be. But it need not be. In fact, the number of people taking selfies is so large that it is probably too crude and reductionistic to say that they are all “narcissistic,” as if they are all excessively vain. Rather, it is more accurate to say that everyone with a smartphone is narcissistic in McLuhan’s sense: They are so numb that they do not realize these smartphones are extensions of their own selves. We are all Narcissus now.

That is because it would be a mistake to think that these devices are mere tools, which can be used and not used at will. Rather, they have now become part of our own selves, and to discard them would be a form of total suicide. Therefore, we should turn our attention to our induced numbness instead. How is it that we have become so numb that we do not realize that these gadgets are extensions of our own bodily powers? Like Narcissus, how is that we fail to realize they have become an indivisible part of us? Moreover, they have even become part of us in ways we fail to realize. Our dependence is greater than we imagine.

“With the arrival of electric technology,” writes McLuhan, “man extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. To the degree that this is so, it is a development that suggests a desperate and suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.”

In other words, “autoamputation” is a kind of survival mechanism, by which the body tries to cope with the technological change currently transforming the environment. But the form this attempt at survival takes is the construction of idols. In fact, any use of technology is likened by McLuhan to the beholding of idols. On this point, he quotes Psalm 115, in order to suggest how humans can come to conform themselves to the idols that they behold…
Read the rest at

Christopher S. Morrissey is a Fellow of the Adler-Aquinas Institute and lectures in logic and philosophy at Trinity Western University in Canada. He is also the managing editor of The American Journal of Semiotics and author of “Hesiod: Theogony / Works and Days” (Talonbooks, 2012).

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a 2018 interactive film in the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David SladeNetflix released the standalone film on 28 December 2018. In Bandersnatch, viewers make decisions for the main character, the young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who is adapting a fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game in 1984.
See Wikipedia for additional explanation:

Bandersnatch… McLuhan was right. Again.

 January 5, 2019  –  By Siobhan Oflynn

Having spent about two hours playing through Netflix’ Bandersnatch, what I found really interesting was the hand-holding, what that said about the presumed audience, and how that telegraphed a set of mental model references to that ‘new’ audience for interactive on a Netflix platform.

McLuhan’s argument also seems relevant – that the content of any new medium will be that of an established medium until it develops its own aesthetic language.

“The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.” – Marshall McLuhan. “The Medium is the Message.”

So, no surprise here, initially evoking very clear familiar genres / plot arcs & characters to ease you in. Granted interactive cinema has been around for decades (Bandersnatch solved a bunch of tech challenges we had mid-2000s with Late Fragment), however, my guess is this will be novel to millions on Netflix who get the gamer references (don’t necessarily have to be gamers) and those who will find the progression from intro cues to meta-references engaging.

AND – last thought – Bandersnatch is an experiment generating a massive amount of organic viewer / player behaviour data. What you choose, how long you play, whether you return to it, etc etc. All that user data will feed decisions as to what to do next. It’s a calling card for Netflix & for interactive producers. Does Netflix have a Director of Interactive? Who do you pitch to? I’m guessing there’s an online scramble to figure that out right now.

Read the full article at

Click on the image to enlarge for an expanded view.

Designer Scott Boms recently donated designer Quentin Fiore’shand-annotated mechanical (in publishing, a mechanical is like a prototype for the book) of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage to Letterform Archive in San Francisco and let us all have a look:

“I acquired this after the passing of Marshall’s wife Corinne as we were cleaning out the McLuhan home in Wychwood Park in Toronto. It was stuffed in a cardboard box in the basement and long forgotten…. The story goes that Marshall made barely any edits to Fiore and Agel‘a proposal, including the typo in the name of the book itself, though there are a handful of written annotations through this mechanical”.

Designer Kelli Anderson posted a video on her Instagram stories of Boms flipping through:

Kelli added a bit more background to the famous story about the title (from the McLuhan estate’s website):

“Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? The title is a mistake. After the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover ‘Massage’. The title was supposed to read The Medium is the Message, but the typesetter made an error. After McLuhan saw the typo, he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Thus, there are four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age.”

(As the Oblique Strategies tell us: “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.”)

Read the rest at:

The Medium is the Massage original cover (1967)

Marshall McLuhan, January 21, 1967, photo by Yousuf Karsh (c)

Marshall McLuhan — Prophet of the Internet

Everyone assumes that a tool is just a tool and that’s that. You use it to fulfill a certain function, to assist in a task which the human body could not complete on its own. Tools act as extensions of our body and communications technologies are tools which are extensions of our central nervous system, helping us transmit thoughts, ideas, and gain a greater awareness of things outside of our immediate experience. Language itself is an extraordinary tool which has had a profound impact on the development of our human consciousness although, it seems we don’t really think too much about the impact that tools we use to communicate our language have on our consciousness.

A communications theorist and philosopher by the name of Marshall McLuhan was first to truly realize the impact of the tools themselves apart from the function they perform. He analyzed media in relation to awareness and the senses which certain tools or mediums demanded of the media consumer. This was a revolutionary way of looking at communications because, up until McLuhan, everyone was discussing the media’s effect in relation to the content’s message. During the rise of electronic media such as radio and television, people debated the implications of the spreading of mass messages. Did TV have a negative effect from its broadcasting of vulgar and violent programs, or did it have an enlightening effect because of the informative news outlets and nature documentaries? McLuhan argued that the effect of the media’s content is trivial compared to the effect of the medium in which the content is being delivered. The medium is what really makes the difference because of the awareness which it conditions. Watching a TV program is a much different experience than reading a book, it requires the participation of different senses, and therefore molds perception and changes sensory ratios.

McLuhan’s focus on the sensory perception was the core interest which underlined all of his theories on the effects of media. He viewed all media as an extension of the central nervous system. He saw that the invention of the alphabet caused an intensification of the visual sense as it is relative to auditory sense from the previous form of communication which was spoken word. The shifting priority of senses due to the mediums had an immeasurably powerful effect on society and the way reality is viewed. This is the main idea behind his popular aphorism “the medium is the message.”                                                                                                                                ……….
McLuhan’s investigation into the history of communications from an anthropological perspective is what, I believe, allowed him to predict our current media environment so accurately. He was able to predict the Internet nearly 30 years before its arrival. He wrote in 1962 “The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” Translated to account for modern day internet lingo this description is hauntingly accurate”…  Read the rest at

Editorial Note: This is not a bad essay, except that this author has not checked his primary sources to see if McLuhan actually wrote that quote. Although yes, he did, the two sentences that comprise the quote are a mashup of his quotes from two different books.

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form.” – Marshall McLuhan, “The Invisible Environment: The Future of an Erosion.” Perspecta, Vol. 11 (1967) pp. 162–167. Published by MIT Press.

“A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” – From a 1978 dialogue between Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers titled “Angels to Robots: From Euclidean Space to Einsteinian Space, in The  Global Village’ (1989) by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers, p. 143.

The graphic designer Quentin Fiore in an undated photograph. In the 1960s he collaborated with Marshall McLuhan, Jerry Rubin and Buckminster Fuller. Credit: Fiore Family

By Katharine Q. Seelye   –   May 1, 2019

Bianca Fiore La Porta, his daughter, said the cause was complications of bronchitis.

Mr. Fiore spent much of his career doing conventional design work for large corporations and book jackets for university presses. But he was best known for his book collaborations in the 1960s with McLuhan, the communications theorist, and later with the antiwar activist Jerry Rubin and the inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller.

By the time of their collaboration, McLuhan had already coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” (1964). His point was that the medium in which we acquire information is more important than the information itself. He was speaking chiefly of television and the neurological and temperamental effects of its mosaic of dots and lights on the viewer, but he later enjoyed a revival as an oracle of the cyber age.

Mr. Fiore’s first book with McLuhan was “The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects” (1967). “Massage” was a printer’s error, but McLuhan, a wordsmith who delighted in puns, liked the typo and kept it, believing that it amplified his theory about how different forms of media thoroughly “massage” the senses in the “mass age” of communications.

The book, which Mr. Fiore initiated, was a kinetic interpretation of McLuhan’s philosophy. Some pages were printed backward, to be read in a mirror. Some of the writing was upside down. Some pages contained text superimposed over pictures.

Mr. Fiore said his goal was to reduce “complex ideas to simple signs, glyphs, patches of text.” One of his inspirations was the “long and sad tale” told by a mouse in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the words rendered in the shape of a tail.

He wanted his style to “convey the spirit, the ‘populist’ outcry of the era,” Mr. Fiore said in a 1992 interview with the designer and writer J. Abbott Miller. “The linearity of the text in an average book wouldn’t do. After all, the medium was the message!”

The result was revolutionary in terms of design.

“Fiore took an intensely active role in making McLuhan’s fundamental ideas accessible to an increasingly visually literate audience,” the designer Steven Heller, a former art director for The New York Times Book Review, said in an email.  Read the rest at

Read also on this blog McLuhan’s Most Innovative Book: The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967) –

This unique book is about our media-saturated world today…

We’re immersed in a radical transformation of consciousness and sensibility through the advent of digital communications’ technologies. Everything is in heightened conditions of emergent flux and speed, of spiritual emergency. Responding to the transformations, this word-image work seeks the heartbeat inside the Genesis overdrive of our present. It’s a book of pulses and intuitions expressed in prose and poetry, street art and images, all of which record and reflect our deepening engulfment in manifesting generations of electricity. This book is about the charging of our time, and our charge for perceiving. 

The global membrane is an evolutionary jump from the global village and global theatre into sensory, psychic alteration in which communications bring us at once closer and into sharp, painful divisions. A time of openings—expressions of humane empathy: a time of terrified, terrorizing closings—reactions against uprooting of what we know. Ecology, the afflictions of the Trump phenomenon, the quick-time evolutions of the internet, the rush of data influx, the upsurges in Nationalism, Trolls and Hackers, spiritual distress, crises of identity and A-literacy, #MeToo, the Netgens, the search for silence and rest, the intimations of a worldwide linked consciousness, the transfiguration of digital experience into cellular intimacies and addictions, the crying out of souls longing to grasp and express this dislocating jump-drive and its illuminating hopes, the shape-shifting artistic expressions of the current: all are elements of what we experience.

  • Are you Human? An invitation says on the internet. If so then click here…
  • How do we penetrate the screens and perceive what’s churning out from us and into us?
  • How do we catch the streaming, the breakdowns breakthroughs, the yearnings, the fears of the present?
  • How to describe this inescapable process, the unfolding, our transformations, the devastations, our longing, the effects of hyperdrive?
  • It’s hard to understand radical change when change is erupting in front of you; and when that charge wholly absorbs your attention and sensibility.     

Join us at the Book Launch for B.W. Powe’s new book, “The Charge in the Global Membrane” –

Date And Time: Sat, 11 May 2019, 2:00 PM  –  Location: The Village Hive, 55 Albert St, Markham, Ontario L3P 2T4        View Map



Style and form…
This book is written in the streams of the new, pulling in its vibrations and alarms, its wonders and dislocations, the crystalline phenomena of what blazes at us all-at-once.  In its streaming and feeds you’ll find Donald Trump, the Gaia Principle, cellphones, social media and trolls existing side by side with street art, and with William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Simone Weil, Marshall McLuhan, Teilhard de Chardin, Susan Howe, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell.  It’s a collage-mosaic that absorbs speculations on force and energy, the poetry of theological concern, direct addresses to the reader (breaking the fourth wall), aphorisms, traces and fragments…

Genre – All of them.

The Street art images selected by Marshall Soules…                                                  “Part of a larger documentary (ethnographic) project, the images of street art were photographed as they were found in various cities on particular days. Often, they are the result of collective creativity illustrating the Charge in the streets, and credit for their creation remains with the original artists. I hope these images will provide wider exposure to artists and allow them to spread their news and views.”

Selected Reviews…

“If Marshall McLuhan were to rejoin us today, he would be stunned at how much has changed so quickly. Powe’s Membrane text does the update exactly as McLuhan would. The art work by Marshall Soules is nothing short of amazing.” – W. Terrence Gordon, author of Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding, dramatist and essayist

“B. W. Powe’s The Charge in the Global Membrane is a much-needed intervention in our moment of cultural opening troubled by opposing forces seeking to halt the movement. Ranging from ancient literature and history to space travel, ecological crises, science fiction movies, and the current political turmoil around the globe, this powerful book discloses interconnections among all of these phenomena”. – Jerry Harp, author of Spirit Under Construction

(1931 – 2019)

Birth: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dr. Gerald O’Grady was a legendary media scholar and former University at Buffalo professor of English, who led the media revolution in Buffalo in the early 1970s, making Buffalo among the first cities in the nation to create a public access center for film and video equipment and education.

Dr. O’Grady, an Oxford-educated medieval scholar, established the Center for Media Study at the University at Buffalo and Media Study/Buffalo as a not-for-profit image center for Western New York. While Media Study/Buffalo acquired and lent media equipment to novice and accomplished artists and documentarians, the Center for Media Study formed a creative ensemble of visiting artists to educate graduate students. A steady stream of internationally regarded guest lecturers found an anchor for their activities at the Center for Media Study with an equally regarded assembly of resident faculty-artists from every media discipline.

Gerald O’Grady’s first career was as a medievalist. After studying for a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin (1954-58), he was a Marshall Scholar at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, for the next three years, working with C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Beryl Smalley. He had a huge impact on culture in Buffalo and the world. He was a thought leader, it turned out, along with colleagues John McHale and Marshall McLuhan [he was hugely influenced by Marshall McLuhan]. The plowshare of his medievalist studies became the camera of a new media for the late twentieth century.

Before moving in 1967 to the State University of New York at Buffalo, he established a Media Center in Houston, Texas under the auspices of John and Dominique de Menil, reflecting his interest in the coming impact of technology on education (McLuhan) and his interest its reform. At that time, in film, there existed only graduate programs in production at NYU, UCLA and USC, and he began to explore curricula for the establishment of historical, interpretive and cultural studies in the field of media. He visited over 100 campuses to observe beginning courses and programs in film or cinema study and, to better understand existing institutional structures, taught seven courses at five different universities each week for the next three years, traveling more than 5000 miles each week between Buffalo, Austin, Texas (Department of Radio/Film/Television), Houston and New York City (Columbia University School of the Arts; New York University Department of Cinema Studies, and New School of Social Research Center for Understanding Media).

He established three new organizations, for all of which he simultaneously served as Director: (1) The Educational Communications Center at SUNY at Buffalo that served all of the media production and classroom exhibition needs of 128 departments and included management of the Public Radio Station, a studio transmitting engineering and business courses to industries on cable television, and the foreign language laboratory; (2) The Center for Media Study, an academic department that offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in film, video and digital production and in media interpretation; and (3) Media Study/Buffalo, a regional community development center that provided access to equipment, workshops and nightly exhibition of media to the Buffalo community.

Media Study/Buffalo was a free-standing public not-for-profit institution, independent from the University, of which he was founder and President of the Board. It provided job training for the unemployed and produced public service materials and other programs for community institutions and city/county/state agencies. Through Media Study/Buffalo he became the producer and host of programs to bring the works of independent media-makers to the attention of national television audiences (Film-Makers and The Frontier through WNED-17 PBS in Buffalo, and The Independents through The Learning Channel in Washington, D. C., which was the first satellite transmission of such works to cable and public stations).

He also was Project Director for two prize-winning documentaries for public television, America Lost and Found and The World of the Fair, both supported by The National Endowment for the Humanities. In all of these projects, the focus was on giving a voice to individuals who had not been heard, supporting a full participation of all persons in civil society and he brought together the finest film, sound and video artists in the world. Their presence in Buffalo helped transform an industrial city into one of higher education and cutting edge art.

During these same years, he served on the media panels of the New York State Council for the Arts, the New York Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and played a role in establishing the guidelines for the support of artists and scholars by each agency, while serving on national committees for the John and Mary Markle and Rockefeller Foundations to set priorities for support of national media resources and services.

Also during these years, he delivered through 1995 over 100 lectures on media pedagogy and the support of independent filmmakers to national and international audiences. In 1994 he became a Ford Foundation Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute of Afro-American Research at Harvard, while consulting and teaching globally. (Source:

“Literacy’s been with us now since the nineteenth century and is pretty much accepted to be a universal thrust. My own theory is that we should move towards what I call `mediacy.’ It’s a political issue: one cannot participate in society unless one can use the channels or codes of communication that are current in the time that one lives.” – Gerald O’Grady

Gerald O’Grady published his obituary of Marshall McLuhan in the Buffalo News on January 11, 1981 – “Throwing a Snowball with a Rock in It – A Momentum Mori for Marshall McLuhan.” See

In collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation

Wednesday, April 3rd, 6:00 PM

Mozilla Foundation
366 Adelaide St W Suite 500, Toronto

Everyone Welcome

“The Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI)” – McLuhan Salon, a dialogue with Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation, and Rohinton Medhora, President, Centre for International Governance Innovation, moderated by David Nostbakken, President, CEO, McLuhan Foundation.

Presented by the St. Michael’s College – the McLuhan’s intellectual home in the University of Toronto – and its popular Book & Media Studies program, in conjunction with several high-level academic and cultural institutions, a new series of McLuhan Salons takes place from September 2018 to April 2019 in different dynamic city locations further dissolving the boundaries of the university and the city in bringing the multi-disciplinary multi-practice approaches to bear made famous by Marshall McLuhan.

The McLuhan Salon series is generously supported by the William and Nona Heaslip Foundation.

The event is free and open to the public.

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About the McLuhan Salons: Inspired by the innovative thinking of Marshall McLuhan, the Salons series is committed to make McLuhan’s ideas step out of the university and into the city, to better understand who we are, what matters to us, and where we might be going in a networked and rapidly changing world.