I’ve been reading the extraordinary biography of Marshall McLuhan by journalist Philip Marchand recently, and one relatively minor blurb about television caught my attention and struck me as amusing enough to share.
When television appeared in the fifties, the McLuhans were the last on their block to purchase a set. Even after the purchase, McLuhan used the device very sparingly. He was careful to put the set in the basement so that it would not dominate the living room. Each week he marked on a copy of TV Guide the programs he wanted to watch and stuck to those choices. He had a soft spot for lighter fare, such as “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Bonanza.” In the seventies, he was captivated by the “Bob Newhart Show,” claiming that the program, in which characters frequently spoke to each other as they were getting into or out of elevators outside Newhart’s office, was the only one that understood the nature of the elevator and the spaces it created.
First of all, I think I’d pay money to see Marshall McLuhan sitting in his basement watching “Hogan’s Heroes,” but that aside it’s quite the character sketch that gives us the modern sage of media opining about the elevator and its relationship to space in the context of the “Bob Newhart Show.” In fact, that idea comes straight out of cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s proxemics with a dash of McLuhan color for good measure. The natural flow of spaces is altered by their arrangement and their position with respect to technology like the elevator. Consider the entrance to a stairwell and how it differs in social context to the staging area of an elevator.
Anyway, it also gives me an excuse to post a clip from The Bob Newhart Show, which was a staple in my parents’ living room when I was growing up. A truly brilliant television series. You’ll have to click the link, but I promise it’s worth it…