Explaining Sex to Playboy Magazine, a la Theology of the Body [Marshall McLuhan Monday]

McLuhan with wife Corinne at The University of San Francisco, 1970.

Folks may regard my upholding Marshall McLuhan as a model for the Year of Faith… strange. After all, he never claimed to be a mouthpiece for the Catholic faith, despite his ubiquitous presence in various media.

But I think he is truly a model lay Catholic, and a wonderful model for new evangelizers, because he made a profound impression on the world. His Catholicity could not be ignored by his contemporaries, as I’ll continue to prove in these weekly blogs. In our time, he has been taken as the official Patron Saint of Wired magazine.

We can also see his unmistakably Catholic impression in the subtitle for Playboy magazine’s 1969 interview with him: “A candid conversation with the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media.”

Yes, he engaged Playboy in conversation. Being an ardently devout convert to Catholicism, we might safely assume he wasn’t among the publication’s readership. Yet, his passion to spread awareness of media’s impact on humanity didn’t keep him from accepting Playboy‘s invitation to chat. I greatly admire that.

What I also admire is McLuhan’s call-it-as-he-saw-it attitude toward any subject, including sex and drugs. Clearly, unbridled sexual activity and drug use were growing in popularity when this interview took place. Did popular opinion — and the fact that he was speaking with Playboy — stop McLuhan from making the obvious observations about how it would all lead to empty sex and violence? Nope. He went there, and very matter-of-factly.

And they printed it.

Here’s a bit of the lengthy interview (which covered a vast array of topics). For convenience’s sake, I’ve highlighted McLuhan’s relevant statements:

Once a society enters the all-involving tribal mode, it is inevitable that our attitudes toward sexuality change. We see, for example, the ease with which young people live guiltlessly with one another, or, as among the hippies, in communal ménages. This is completely tribal.

[…] we are all inundated by a tidal wave of emphasis on sex. Far from liberating the libido, however, such onslaughts seem to have induced jaded attitudes and a kind of psychosexual Weltschmerz. No sensitivity of sensual response can survive such an assault, which stimulates the mechanical view of the body as capable of experiencing specific thrills, but not total sexual-emotional involvement and transcendence. It contributes to the schism between sexual enjoyment and reproduction that is so prevalent, and also strengthens the case for homosexuality. Projecting current trends, the love machine would appear a natural development in the near future — not just the current computerized datefinder, but a machine whereby ultimate orgasm is achieved by direct mechanical stimulation of the pleasure circuits of the brain.

McLuhan’s son Eric has said that his father would have greatly enjoyed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and I continue to find evidence for that. McLuhan’s thoughts always remind me — as they demonstrate above — that JPII’s brilliant T.O.B. was not entirely new, but a natural development of Catholic thought.

What’s the ultimate new evangelization message that I learn from McLuhan’s Playboy interview? Let your faith become an integral part of you, and it will resonate in everything you do. Immerse yourself in it, as McLuhan did, and everyone with whom you speak will encounter an unmistakable — and irresistible — witness to Catholicism.

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One comment

  1. Your last line is priceless. It’s fundamental to the faith that you don’t do Catholicism, but that you be, universally, Catholic. It’s transformative and transcendant. I will be sharing this!

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