After the publication of Understanding Media, McLuhan received an astonishing amount of publicity, making him perhaps the most publicized English teacher in the twentieth century and arguably the most controversial. This publicity had much to do with the work of two California advertising executives, Gerald Feigen and Howard Gossage, who used personal profits to fund their practice of “genius scouting.” Much enamoured with McLuhan’s work, Feigen and Gossage arranged for McLuhan to meet with editors of several major New York magazines in May 1965 at the Lombardy Hotel in New York. Philip Marchand reports that, as a direct consequence of these meetings, McLuhan was offered the use of an office in the headquarters of both Time and Newsweek, any time he needed it.
In August 1965, Feigen and Gossage held what they called a “McLuhan festival” in the offices of Gossage’s advertising agency in San Francisco. During this “festival”, McLuhan met with advertising executives, members of the mayor’s office, and editors from the San Francisco Chronicle and Ramparts magazine. Perhaps more significant, however, was Tom Wolfe‘s presence at the festival, which he would later write about in his article, “What If He Is Right?”, published in New York Magazine and Wolfe’s own The Pump House Gang. According to Feigen and Gossage, however, their work had only a moderate effect on McLuhan’s eventual celebrity: they later claimed that their work only “probably speeded up the recognition of [McLuhan's] genius by about six months.” In any case, McLuhan soon became a fixture of media discourse. Newsweek magazine did a cover story on him; articles appeared in Life Magazine, Harper’s, Fortune, Esquire, and others. Cartoons about him appeared in The New Yorker. In 1969 Playboy magazine published a lengthy interview with him.
[MW: ? see comment below from Andrew McLuhan] McLuhan was credited with coining the phrase Turn on, tune in, drop out by its popularizer, Timothy Leary in the 1960s. In a 1988 interview with Neil Strauss, Leary stated that slogan was “given to him” by McLuhan during a lunch in New York City. Leary said McLuhan “was very much interested in ideas and marketing, and he started singing something like, ‘Psychedelics hit the spot / Five hundred micrograms, that’s a lot,’ to the tune of a Pepsi commercial. Then he started going, ‘Tune in, turn on, and drop out.’”
During his lifetime and afterward, McLuhan heavily influenced cultural critics, thinkers, and media theorists such as Neil Postman, Jean Baudrillard, Camille Paglia, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, William Irwin Thompson, Paul Levinson, Douglas Rushkoff, Jaron Lanier and John David Ebert, as well as political leaders such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jerry Brown. Andy Warhol was paraphrasing McLuhan with his now famous 15 minutes of fame quote. When asked in the 70s for a way to sedate violences in Angola, he suggested a massive spread of TV devices. In 1991 McLuhan was named as the “patron saint” of Wired Magazine and a quote of his appeared on the masthead for the first ten years of its publication. He is mentioned by name in a Peter Gabriel-penned lyric in the song “Broadway Melody of 1974“. This song appears on the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, from progressive rock band Genesis. The lyric is: “Marshall McLuhan, casual viewin’ head buried in the sand.” McLuhan is also jokingly referred to during an episode of The Sopranos entitled House Arrest. Despite his death in 1980, someone claiming to be McLuhan was posting on a Wired mailing list in 1996. The information this individual provided convinced one writer for Wired that “if the poster was not McLuhan himself, it was a bot programmed with an eerie command of McLuhan’s life and inimitable perspective.”
A new centre known as the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, formed soon after his death in 1980, is the successor to McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto and since 1994 it has been part of the University of Toronto Faculty of Information. The first director was literacy scholar and OISE professor David R. Olsen. From 1983 until 2008, the McLuhan Program was under the direction of Dr. Derrick de Kerckhove who was McLuhan’s student and translator. Since 2008 Professor Dominique Scheffel-Dunand has been Director of the Program.