U of T breathes new life into Marshall McLuhan’s Toronto School
Toronto has its fair share of cultural icons. Today, it’s Drake – our chart-topping, Raptors-loving rap superstar whose nickname for Toronto, “the 6ix,” has become a part of our daily lexicon.
In the 1960s, it was a group of forward-thinking intellectuals led by Marshall McLuhan, one of University of Toronto's most famous professors. He became a celebrity as his ideas on mass media, culture and technology attracted fans like John Lennon, Woody Allen and Pierre Trudeau.
"McLuhan famously broke and transcended boundaries – between disciplines, between academia and popular culture, between the local and the global," said U of T President Meric Gertler at the unveiling event.
“[The conference] just speaks to the far reach that he has all over the world, not just here in the city of Toronto,” he said.
"We are really building a community around the label of the Toronto School,” says Paolo Granata, McLuhan Centenary fellow and conference chair.
McLuhan’s insights have never been more relevant than they are today, says U of T alumna and editor of The Toronto School of Communication Theory, Rita Watson.
His ideas eerily foreshadow our Internet-obsessed culture and the rise of social networks.
“He predicted a crisis in the modern era as literate ‘mentalities’ that had evolved in literate cultures tried to integrate the effects of electronic media,” says Watson, who will be speaking at the conference.
McLuhan knew electronic media would change our lives, says Granata.
“This kind of network is where the ideas come from. It’s where innovation comes from,” he says.
(Marshall McLuhan at U of T in 1973, U of T archives)
The Toronto School conference is also an opportunity to give a voice to a more diverse group of media theorists.
“A lot of young women are involved in this conference as student volunteers or as panellists,” says Emma Findlay-White, a fourth-year student at Victoria College in book and media studies and the conference’s volunteer coordinator. “There’s a lot of different ways women are getting their perspective and views out there. It’s important that we’re changing the role women play in media.”
And change is good for the Toronto School.
“We are at the McLuhan Centre not to say what McLuhan said," Granata says. "We are here to do what McLuhan did: foster conversation, participation, foster the awareness about how we can look at the contemporary world.”
In addition to the conference, here are a number of free, public Toronto School events this week:
McLuhan on Campus: Local Inspirations, Global Visions at John M. Kelly Library (runs through Dec. 20) – more info here
Glenn Gould and the Toronto School: Words, Music, Images at Alliance Francaise Toronto – more info here
Margins and Marginalia: The Formation of the Ideas of Frye, Innis and McLuhan at Fisher Rare Book Library – more info here
Edmund Carpenter: Dialogues, Diversions & Digressions at McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology – more info here
Town Hall meeting: Rethinking the Global Village in an era of Cities and Soft Power at Isabel Bader Theatre – more info here