The November issue of Vanity Fair carries an in-depth and
mostly laudatory portrait of that legendary giant of an American
writer, Tom Wolfe.
It's an 11,500-word piece by Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball,
Flash Boys and other impressively crafted investigative works.
The article, How Tom Wolfe Became ... Tom Wolfe, will have
strong resonance for anyone familiar with the vast Wolfe oeuvre,
particularly the incisive, compelling journalism over decades as
well as the more recent hefty novels of acute social observation.
For me, I found myself reflecting on a particular achievement of
Wolfe's that shouldn't ever be overlooked. Wolfe was responsible
for, among countless un-put-downable articles, the single most
stirring clarion call that brought Marshall McLuhan to broad
It came in 1965, carried in the Sunday magazine section of the
old New York Herald Tribune, which later survived as New
York magazine. It's fair to say that with it Wolfe started the
process that turned a hitherto largely unknown Canadian
academic (what Wolfe himself called more precisely "a word-of-
mouth celebrity") into a worldwide byword for the media
revolution that has overtaken our culture over the past half-
That article's headline was prophetic as well as provocative:
What if he ... is Right? -- and it delved eagerly, thoroughly and
enlighteningly into McLuhan's original and sometimes gnomic
analyses of communications and society.
Fifty years later, Wolfe now features in an invaluable online
video resource on McLuhan that has, also this month, become
widely available to scholars and public alike. It's The 'Marshall
McLuhan Speaks' Special Collection, created by producers
Stephanie McLuhan and Sandy Pearl, in collaboration with the
Open Education Consortium -- a global network of academic
bodies that in this country includes Harvard University, MIT and
the Smithsonian Institution.
Rightly enough, Wolfe sits at the head of this uniquely
comprehensive archive, in an illuminating video introduction
that he wrote and narrated, on- and off-camera.
Watch Wolfe on McLuhan here (with the added presence of
Producers McLuhan (herself a veteran TV journalist and also
daughter of Marshall) and Pearl (an award-winning news and
arts producer/writer) have pulled together scores of interviews,
lectures, panel discussions and other forms of utterance -- all
recorded in the analog age, in the three decades before Marshall
McLuhan died in 1980.
The Special Collection's importance undeniably lies in the fact,
which its title emphasizes, that here the 20th century sage is,
gratifyingly, speaking for himself.
But I for one am grateful we have Wolfe's words as well,
assessing -- as clearly as he does -- what McLuhan was pointing
Nothing people can use electronic media for -- no message that
anyone, no matter how powerful or persuasive, can deliver --
even begins to compare with what new media have done to
mankind, neurologically and temperamentally.
That is how Wolfe so carefully elucidates McLuhan's
fundamental dictum, "The Medium is the Message" -- which is
now more than ever being demonstrated every minute all across
the word-wide web and in every smartphone.
Read more of David Tereshchuk's media industry insights at
his weekly column, "The Media Beat", with accompanying
video and audio. Listen also to "The Media Beat" podcasts on
demand from Connecticut's NPR station WHDD and at iTunes.
Follow Twitter Author
Follow David Tereshchuk on Twitter:
Follow Tag Links Bottom
Tom Wolfe Marshall McLuhan Mcluhan Woody Allen New Media
AROUND THE WEB